It’s very, very early, when a person should be asleep, lest melancholy thoughts intrude on the familiar, but totally irrational, optimism that keeps one functioning in the face of the absolute certainty that every human life will sooner or later come to its end.
In these days of The Corona, as Israelis like to refer to it, there are plenty of ends to go around. The other day, the rabbis of the Talmud were speculating about nature of the World to Come. Like myself, I imagine they were of an age that makes it impossible to ignore the end of the road that stands before them. And then they went back to the seemingly interminable discussion about courtyards and wells, and bringing water to animals (or bringing the animals to water) on Shabbat.
I have a daughter, a child of the 1960s, who has a chronic disease that makes her life bitter and painful. She thinks about ending her life. It is selfish of me, but I don’t want her to leave. It would tear my heart. She has arguments; I don’t want to hear them. I’m irrational too, in the face of the ultimate irrationality.
Nobody wants to outlive their children. In Israel the death of a young person is treated like a national tragedy, whether it’s the result of accident, disease, or terrorism. Last week, a young (39) rabbi, Shai Ohayon, was murdered by an Arab terrorist, stabbed to death in the street, the first such murder in a year. Only a few hundred people attended his funeral due to Coronavirus restrictions; normally such a funeral draws thousands.
The terrorist was taken alive, which means that he will probably be imprisoned for no more than 20 years in a quite comfortable prison (much nicer than American prisons) along with other Palestinian terrorists, and the Palestinian Authority will pay a very generous salary to his family. An illegal outpost that was set up in Shai Ohayon’s name was forcibly evacuated by police, and Arabs celebrated as they burned what was left. More irrationality.
Everyone finds (or doesn’t find) a way to confront the brute, empirical fact that human life, your own life, is bounded, and the irrationality of human actions in the face of that. Some individuals feel the presence of Hashem. They are the luckiest ones. Hashem is a mystery to me, but I am comforted by the fact that I am part of a people, and it will continue without me. And I have nine grandchildren, all of whom are part of my people.
Our enemies want to extinguish our people. It’s that simple. All the geopolitical stuff is peripheral. That’s why there were pogroms and a Holocaust, that’s why the Palestinian Arabs stab us, why the Iranian regime wants a nuclear bomb, and why sophisticated Europeans and American academics think that the creation of a Jewish state was a mistake. That is even why the clever Jewish kids of “If Not Now” act as they do.
Superman was Jewish. His creators were Jewish, so he was Jewish. Like my grandchildren. If I were Superman I would gather up those young American Jews of If Not Now and fly them back in time (Superman can do this, by flying at greater than light speed) and show them the history of the Jewish people in front of their eyes, show them how shallow their presumption of caring for the oppressed of the world is. I would show them things that would make them understand what a people is and why it’s important to care for your people.
There are a lot of things I would do if I were Superman. I’m not, none of us are, and we just have to do what we can.