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A Perspective: Peace Someday, Compassion Now by Alan Magill
A Perspective: Peace Someday, Compassion Now by Alan Magill

Volume 3 , Issue 5

Peace may be the absence of war, but war is not the absence of peace.? Even in the most troubling, chaotic conditions, we are instructed to aid wounded enemy soldiers whenever possible and to treat prisoners of war with respect. One moment we can be at a man's throat, and the next moment we can be doing all that we can to save him.

This exemplifies the remarkable ability of a human being -- to act and feel differently as situations change.

During Passover, we celebrate the incomparable moment when God parted the waters of the Red Sea to allow the Jews to pass through safely. Under the the Egyptians, the Jews had been subject to bondage. Given what the taskmasters had put the Jews through, hatred of the Egyptians might have seemed like an appropriate response. And the fact that during the Exodus God caused the waters of the Red Sea to return thereby drowning the Egyptian soldiers, shows that God's judgment was that they were to die.

According to the Midrash, the angels broke forth into song at the successful crossing of the Red Sea by the Jews. At that point, however, the Almighty admonished them against singing while others of his creatures, the Egyptians, were dying.

And if we are truly on this Earth to emulate God in whatever ways possible, I think that a valuable lesson can be learned from this -- that you can take strong necessary action, and at the same time feel compassion for those who are recipients of a strong judgment.

In a world today that seems so polarized by positions taken on one side of an issue or another, here is a precedent for a middle ground that is not wishy‑washy. Basically, what's done is what needs to be done, and it's carried out to the full extent of what is deserved. But there is also compassion.

When Golda Meir was asked by Gamal Abdul Nasser, then President of Egypt, whether she was angry about all of the casualties that the wars against Israel had caused, she said, ?I may some day forgive you for killing our babies, but I can never forgive you for making us kill your babies.?

This is another important example of how a compassionate outlook did not mean weakness and vacillation. One may ask, if what needed to be done was done in any event, what does this compassionate outlook achieve? I think it achieves a lot, in a small way -- just as a person who touches a mezzuzah on the way out of a door in the middle of a hectic work day is given a small reminder of what they hold dearest; a person in a belligerent time can keep in touch, in a small way, with what he holds dear.

There is a lot one must go through to obtain peace. I recently heard it said that the reason the Sim Shalom prayer (prayer for peace) is at the end of the Amidah, is to teach us that we must have patience and possibly go through a great deal before we can achieve peace. And I believe we can get there if we bring compassion along with us, no matter what our particular circumstances.

Last April, at the first Passover Seder when I dipped my finger in the wine, I remembered the blood of the Egyptians who died during the time of our liberation. Though they were our taskmasters, there are a few moments in a long seder when we are asked to feel compassion for them. At that seder, and at that time -- for about fifteen seconds -- I also thought about the Arabs, adults and children alike, who have died during the rioting during the previous year. I particularly felt for the young children, some under 10 years old, who perished during the rioting. But in that feeling of compassion, there was no negative feeling toward the people who may or may not have pulled the trigger. I was able to understand them as two separate issues. One was the death of God's creatures, plain and simple, without any thought whatsoever as to what series of circumstances had led to their deaths. That was another issue to be discussed at another time.

Compassion for Israelis of all ages -- including young children -- who lost their lives during this period and who were constantly in danger from rock throwing, firebombing and worse, is also a feeling I hold strongly. Concern for Israel's real security needs is also many times paramount in my thinking.

But not for those 15 seconds -- not when I was dipping my finger in the wine in remembrance of the Egyptians who had died. I don't think we're capable of feeling more than one thing strongly at a time. And for those moments, I felt for the Arabs.

I was not taking sides. I was just doing what I believed God would want me to do. (I am not saying that people who did not feel for the Arabs at that part of the seder were not doing what God would want them to do; I was merely making a subjective choice at the time.)

It's unfortunate in this era of polarized positions that it's difficult to talk of compassion for an enemy, without being perceived as being for the enemy and against one's own side.

It is my great hope that we can learn to do what is right, to the degree it's necessary -- however unpleasant doing the right thing may be -- and to do it with pride and our heads held high, always growing and learning in the process.

It is also my great hope that we never lose track of our compassion for those who oppose us, so that all of us -- all of God's creatures -- can one day know the peace, goodness and kindness that hopefully we are on the road to achieving.

The author is a writer, teacher and performer living in Queens, New York.



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