by Rabbi Brad Hirshfield
As the war in Israel and Gaza continues, as almost 200 kidnapped hostages suffer unknown fates, as millions of Israelis and Gazans live in fear, in a war that was unleashed as the next chapter of Hamas’ stated desire to wipe Israel off the map and take as many Jews with it as possible, I invite us to remember that our responses to this conflict say as much about us as they do about people and causes thousands of miles away.
This war is not only about the existence of Israel and the future of Palestinian national aspirations. It is about each being both compassionate and moral human beings.
How will we guard against sacrificing our compassion in the name of defending morality?
How will we guard against dangerous moral relativism being the fuel of our well-intentioned compassion?
Those are questions for each and every one of us, regardless of politics, geography, faith, or nationality.
To not mourn the death of innocents fails any test of compassion that one might use — regardless of on which side those innocents happen to be.
To not try and alleviate the suffering of innocents would fail that same test.
At the same time, to project equal innocence onto all people impacted by the war when that war began with the purposeful wholesale slaughter of people simply because they were Jewish, or simply because they were in Israel, even if they were not Jewish, would fail any test of moral clarity that one might use.
The two sides in this conflict are simply not morally equal. That is a demonstrable fact, even if it is uncomfortable for almost all pro-Palestinian people to admit.
That does not mean that they should necessarily give up being pro-Palestine. It does mean that they need to overcome dangerous moral relativism as the foundation of their views.
They must do this not for my sake or the sake of Israel. They must do this for the sake of their own souls and for the soul of their struggle.
After all, when has a fight fueled by such false moral equivalence ever ended well for those who fell prey to that kind of thinking?
The answer is simple: never. And for those of us who already know all too well that the two sides of this conflict are not morally equal, we must continually challenge ourselves to remain compassionate — to make the distinction, both in thought and in practice, between the terrorist cause against which we fight and the individual people who suffer as a result of that fight.
That is why, to share an extreme example, there are Hamas terrorists being treated in Israeli hospitals, sometimes just down the hall from those they tried to murder.
May we all find the faith, the wisdom and the strength to be both genuinely compassionate and morally resolute in a world that often invites us to choose between the two.