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		                                    Thinking Torah Blog		                                </span>

11/02/2023 02:00:03 PM


Rabbi Josh Whinston

We often refer to them as collateral damage, the unintentional casualties of war, but the Torah describes them as innocents. In this week's Torah portion, Vayera, we encounter a profound interaction between God and Abraham. God informs Abraham about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham pleads with God to spare the cities. Abraham's approach is to advocate for the potential innocents in these cities. He initially asks God to spare the cities if 50 innocents are found, eventually persuading God to agree to save them if just 10 innocents can be identified.

Whenever I’ve studied this text, I’ve always focused on Abraham’s audacity to argue with God and his ability to get God to reconsider the impending destruction. This interaction between God and Abraham is one of the moral highlights in all of Torah. And yet, we know if there are less than 10 innocent people in Sodom, the town will be destroyed. There could be nine completely innocent individuals, yet they would suffer the same fate as the guilty. Do we justify this because, before Abraham's plea, the number of innocents at risk could have been much higher, perhaps 100 or even 200?

From our security in the United States, we have the (grotesque?) privilege of having the conversation about Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinians without having much, if any, skin in the game. However we may feel about the ongoing war, I am sure we all rationalize our position to some extent. Some of us may argue, “The loss of innocent Palestinian lives is tragic, but Hamas murdered nearly 1,400 innocents on October 7th and holds nearly 240 hostages in Gaza. What other options does Israel have?” Others may say, “Israel is a historic tragedy on the world stage, it wasn’t a ‘land without a people.’ No, the Palestinian people have lived there for generations. I don’t like the loss of innocent Israeli lives, but the Israelis shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” Of course, there are other positions as well, and certainly with more nuance than provided above, but most positions require a rationalization for the loss of innocent life.

The baseline for war is horrible, and in truth, I don’t have any good answers or profound statements to make about war and the inevitable loss of innocent lives. It is horrible. But I do know, as this war grinds on, we must not look away from the pain of all of those involved. We must not rationalize away the complete tragedy that we see unfolding. When we let our own pain blind us to the pain of others, we lose much more than innocent lives, we lose our humanity. Don’t let the war in Gaza lead you to lose your humanity.

Tue, December 5 2023 22 Kislev 5784