How should we react when our enemies are destroyed?
In this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Beshalach, as the new-born Jewish nation watches the Egyptian army drowning in the Red Sea, they sing shira, a song of praise to God. The 18 verses highlight God’s strength and might, and they describe the fear that other nations felt after hearing about the strongest nation’s mighty forces being wiped out!
The Sages teach us, in a midrash, that when the angels saw what was happening “down below,” they too wanted to sing and praise God. But God chastised them and said: “My creations are drowning, and you want to sing?!”
This scene, depicted in the midrash, is very powerful and raises two thought-provoking questions (i.e. “table talk”):
· Why would God be upset about these “bad guys” drowning? He did it to them, and they deserved it! How do you explain this reaction that the sages are describing?
· If the Jews are singing praises, and their song is in the Torah for all eternity, then presumably it’s a good thing they did. So why can’t the angels sing along and join in the thanksgiving?
Perhaps we can answer –
God “does what He has to do,” but that doesn’t mean it isn’t tragic that there are bad people. It is so sad that people choose to hurt people, and punished they must be! But God mourns that loss of a human being who just couldn’t use his/her life in the right way. How can we internalize this message, and where can we apply some of this perspective?
For the angels to sing, when they had no immediate gain from the salvation, is too insensitive. When the Jews sing about their victory and freedom in these verses, the emphasis is on what they gained, not the lives that were lost! But for the angels – i.e. outsiders and onlookers – singing to God just looks like you’re cheering for someone’s fall and demise. That is not appropriate.
As Pirkei Avot records, in Chapter 4 Mishnah 24, Shmuel haKattan says, quoting a verse from Proverbs: “When your enemy falls, be not glad, and when he stumbles let your heart be not joyous. Lest God see it and it displease Him, and He will turn His wrath from Him [to you]” (Chapter 3, verse 5).
We learn from here to be very careful about the thoughts we have for other people. We all know about the command to love your fellow neighbor, but here a standard is being set for the way we feel about an enemy, someone who harmed us.
What does that teach you? How can you take this message and apply it to your life and situations you experience?