Is it possible that even when you do the right thing it will bring you negative consequences?
Imagine that your Aunt walks into the room, this is the first time you have seen her since she became ill. She looks gaunt and pail, but you want to cheer her up so you tell her that she looks great. She smiles and says youâ€™re just saying that, but you can tell it pleased her. I think most of us would agree that what you did was right. It was a â€˜whiteâ€™ lie which you told for a higher purpose, to cheer her up.
Now letâ€™s say, for the sake of this thought experiment that your children were in the room when you told your Aunt she looked great. They would understand why you said it and they would learn an important lesson; that sometimes it is the right thing to lie when a greater purpose is served. And yet, the next time they ask you how they look and you tell them they look great, they will wonder if you are just saying that to make them feel better. Even though it was the right thing to say to your Aunt, you suffered negative consequences.
I ask this because I canâ€™t help wonder while this war rages in Gaza , a war I have no hesitation in supporting as a legitimate act of self defense; if we still might suffer the consequences from the killing. Is it possible to kill other people and not become cruel?
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz ztl makes this point when he explains the â€˜Covenant of Peaceâ€™ awarded Pinchas after he killed Zimri and Cozbi. He explains that cruel acts leave an impression; we become less sensitive to life. If it werenâ€™t for the â€˜Covenant of Peaceâ€™ Pinchas would have become cruel as a result of his clearly G-d approved act of violence.
We have been put in a terrible position for many years now; we have had to kill others in order to protect ourselves. For a people distinguished for our mercy and compassion this is a particularly poignant challenge. We have to somehow act with violence and at the same time preserve our kindness and caring for others.
One of my mentors, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo may he live long days, told us that he was once approached by a Vietnam veteran who was very troubled. He told Rabbi Cardozo that ever since he returned from Vietnam he felt hollow, empty of compassion. He was certain that he could still kill without feeling. He wanted a cure, something that would make him whole again. Rabbi Cardozo suggested that he find someone who was in need and give to them. Repeated giving is guaranteed to regenerate his sense of compassion and empathy.
It wonâ€™t in any way impair our ability to defend ourselves, if at the same time we find new ways to act with compassion, to give to others in need. Especially now, with the difficult economic situation and so many philanthropies reeling from significant losses, when the tendency would be to pull back and do less, we must strengthen our resolve to find bigger and better ways to give as a nation.