The three week period of mourning continues as we commemorate the suffering of the Jewish people. Whether it was crusades, expulsions, pogroms, exterminations, or acts of terror, the root cause of these atrocities was and is hatred and prejudice based on a difference of opinion. Of course human beings have a tendency to not see ideas and beliefs as opinion, they see them as dogma worth killing for. As tragic as war is, it is often perpetrated with a particular goal in mind—a strategic purpose such as power and possession. The Jewish people have known so much suffering when the only reason for persecution was a difference of opinion, a difference in who we are and not what we possess or can offer.
This is why I feel such an affinity and deep sorrow for those murdered in Norway this past week; a tragic and vivid example of suffering due to a difference of opinion. This is a suffering we know so well and which we commemorate this week—and now join with it the loss of life in Norway to our own history of suffering. The stories and photos that came to us about the harrowing experience of (mostly) young adults at a camp retreat looking eye to eye or hearing the breathing of the murderer who showed no compassion.
There may be ideas or beliefs worth dying for but there are none that I can imagine worth murdering for. That is why I feel I must mention a matter in the Torah that has long bothered me. We read in synagogues across the globe this past week the story of Moses and the Israelites taking vengeance upon the Midianites—it is a story of the genocide of a people. Much ink has been spilled by Torah scholars, among them Kabbalists, to explain the rationale for this particular command and its execution. My response is to ask for forgiveness from the people of Midian. It is a reckoning that is long overdue.