Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
For the last seven years, I have patterned this D'var Torah in a standard
way. I quote a verse, ask a question and then I relate a story. I then
conclude by explaining my answer to the Biblical question, hoping that the
story I related has some enlightening or plausible connection.
In the topsy-turvy world we live in, I'd like to do something different
this week. I'd like to relate a few stories first, ask a question on the
almost incomprehensible stories, and then relate a verse from the Torah,
with the hope that the Torah's prescience will help us to in some way
Hussein Nasr was a failed suicide bomber. He plowed an explosive-laden
truck into an Israel army post. He wanted to kill himself along with as
many Israeli soldiers as possible. He was only partially successful in his
mission, as the only one blown to bits by his evil scheme was he himself.
Like proud relatives filming a family simcha (happy occasion), the Islamic
Resistance Movement (Hamas) took a video of his truck plowing into the
Israeli post. Until Nasr's 71-year-old father, Hassan, heard of his son's
actions, he said that he had no idea his son belonged to Hamas. But when he
heard about the attack on Israeli radio, he declared, "I am proud of him.
The whole world is proud of him. Even the land is proud of him here," he said.
Here's another story, that defines a new level of chutzpah.
The proud mother
of Iman Atalalla, who killed Israeli soldiers by detonating a bomb-laden
car, submitted forms requesting welfare payments of $150 a month through
the Islamic Rescue Committee -- regarded in Israel as a Hamas fund-raising
On the welfare application, the bomber's family wrote: "Died: September 12
1993; Place: Gaza; Circumstances of incident: suicide mission in
The terrorist was single, aged 20, and came from a
family of nine. The family called Atalalla "polite and moral," and said he
"fasted Mondays and Thursdays, prayed and read Koran." Describing his
attack that killed two Israeli soldiers, the report said: "When 'his prey'
approached he switched on the ignition, approached the enemy's vehicle and
set off explosives, which sent a male and female soldier to [their deaths, and]
the shahid (martyr) went to Paradise."
Finally, from The New York Times this past Sunday, 10/21/2001:
"I named my
son Osama because I want to make him a mujahid. Right now there is war, but
he is a child. When he is a young man, there might be war again, and I will
prepare him for that war. I will sacrifice my son, and I don't care if he
is my most beloved thing. For all of my six sons, I wanted them to be
mujahedeen. If they get killed it is nothing. This world is very short."
The question is simple. Where does such moral depravity come from? How is
it possible that parents consider their progeny heroes for blowing
themselves up while killing others? How is it humanly possible for a
mother and a father to be proud parents of monsters who commit such
In this week's portion Hagar, Avram's maidservant, is driven from his home
by Avram's wife, Sara. As Hagar wanders the desert, she is found by an
angel who approaches her at a wellspring.
The angel prophesizes, "Behold, you will conceive, and give birth to a son;
you shall name him Ishmael, for Hashem has heard your prayer. And he shall
be a wild man - his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand
against him; and over all his brothers shall he dwell." (Genesis
16:11-12) Powerful words. Predictions of a fate that dooms Ishmael to a
violent life one that the commentaries interpret as "Ishmael being a
highwayman and bandit, everyone will hate him, fear him, and battle
him." Yet Hagar's response to this bestowing is as incomprehensibly
baffling. She lauds the angel and "she called the Name of Hashem Who spoke
to her 'You are the G-d of Vision.'" (Genesis 16:13).
Imagine. Hagar is told that her son will be a wild man, who attacks and
terrorizes, yet she does not protest nor does she pray that his fate should
be altered. Rather she responds with praise and exaltation for a "G-d of
vision." It sounds like she is content, even proud, and frankly I just
don't get it. And though I'm clueless about Hagar's attitude, perhaps now
I know why her descendants don't think much differently.
It is obvious that not all of them do, of course. Everyone controls his or
her own destiny. But maybe there is a national predisposition to violence.
Maybe these parents are genetically infused with pride, knowing that the
promise to their forebear has borne its rotten fruit. The values imparted
from a nomadic matriarch have been transmitted like a deadly virus to her
grandchildren, and Hagar's satisfaction is now theirs.
So this misplaced pride is not a new story. It's 3000 years old. And if you
don't believe me, you can look it up.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky is the Rosh Mesivta (Dean of the High School) at Mesivta Ateres Yaakov, the High School Division of Yeshiva of South Shore.
Rabbi Kamenetzky is the author of Drasha - a weekly class on the Torah portion. Subscribe to Drasha and other Torah.org classes.
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