This has been a difficult week.
Last Shabbat, we prayed for the safety of three Israeli teens. On June 12, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach disappeared after leaving their yeshiva. World jewry came together in solidarity as we prayed for their safe return. Their bodies were discovered on Monday.
Two days later, tragedy struck again. 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder was kidnapped near his home in East Jerusalem. A few hours after this kidnapping, police found his burnt body.
While planning for their sons funerals, the three Israeli families requested that there be no talk of retribution or revenge. However, during the funeral service for these three lost sons, hundreds of Jewish nationalists marched in Jerusalem, shouting "death to the Arabs." As one of my colleagues remarked, This is not my Israel.
Naftali Fraenkel, the uncle of one of the slain Israeli boys, renounced this sort of retribution and revenge: There is no difference between Arab blood and Jewish blood.
The three Israeli students belonged to a yeshiva headed by the renowned teacher Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. Steinsaltz said, Our boys were killed because they were Jews. Therefore, to best honor their memories - indeed, to confront evil, we must act always as proud Jews, in our deeds and through our lives.
This week's Torah portion contains a poignant parallel to these recent, painful events.
The prophet Balaam is hired by Balak to curse the Jews. Balaam is the most renowned prophet in the land, and Balak knows that the curse that tumbles forth from Balaam's mouth will transform into a harsh reality for the Israelites.
I'm going to summarize an amazingly fantastic story, but when the time comes to curse the Israelites, there is a startling occurrence. There he is, looking down upon the Israelite nation, his enemy ... and instead of cursing the Israelites, his words are something else entirely: Mah Tovu Ohalecha Ya'akov - How good are your tents O, Jacob, and your dwellings, O Israel.
Every morning when Jews gather together in friendship and prayer, we sing these words that first came out of the mouth of a sworn enemy of the Israelites. The beautiful blessing that we recite was meant to be a curse.
Deuteronomy tells us: tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice, justice you shall pursue. The word for justice, tzedek is repeated twice. Our rabbis teach that the word's repetition is there to remind us that when we pursue justice, it must be done with justice. with mercy. with love.
In Judaism, the ends do not justify the means. Revenge and retribution may satisfy our baser instincts, but they are not the right thing to do, and certainly not the Jewish thing to do.
It is my prayer that both Arabs and Jews recognize the painful futility of escalating violence and hatred. It is my prayer that we mourn the lives of these four boys by heeding Rabbi Steinsaltz advice and live proud, authentic Jewish lives.
When experiencing these feelings of rage and anger, hurt and hopelessness, it is easy to join the cacophony of voices that contribute to the edifice of curses ... of hatred and revenge. or retribution. Or, we can pursue justice with justice. If we all did this, we too would turn our curses into blessings. May this be God's will