In the last Torah portion of Genesis, Jacob lies on his deathbed. Frail yet determined, he summons his twelve sons, along with Joseph’s children, to his bedside. To some he offers praise and blessings, while others receive chastisement. Two sons in particular, Simeon and Levi, are rebuked for their violent tendencies. Jacob exclaims, “Simeon and Levi are a pair; weapons of violence their kinship… for in their anger they slew men; and when it pleased them, they maimed animals” (Genesis 49: 5-6). Earlier in Genesis, Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a man in a neighboring town. Simeon and Levi then killed every male in that town and seized all the women, children, livestock, and property as revenge. Simeon and Levi punished the entire town for the crimes of a few.
Although not always as extreme as Simeon and Levi’s revenge, targeting innocent people for violence in response to the acts of a few happens far too often in the world today. It remains a major problem in modern times. Recently, we have seen these forms of unjust violence carried out in many parts of the world – in Paris and San Bernardino, and in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian extremists who commit acts of terror, including past suicide bombings and the present stabbings and shootings of innocent Israeli civilians, are targeting innocent people as a way of lashing out against the Israeli government and its occupation of Palestinian territories. By attacking innocent people and terrorizing many more, the terrorists create new forms of injustice.
Similarly, the acts of Israeli vigilantes in committing price tag attacks against innocent Palestinians, and arson attacks on mosques, churches, and Palestinian homes constitute a form of gratuitous violence that was admonished by Jacob. So, too, does the Israeli occupation of the West Bank act in many ways as a form of violence against the Palestinian people. Many of the Israeli government’s official and unofficial policies against the Palestinians are justified by them as a necessary response to the actions of a few extremists. For example, the Israeli policy of demolishing Palestinian terrorists’ homes punishes often innocent family members and neighbors for the acts of one guilty person who in most cases has been killed or captured. Other examples include the restriction of movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza.
Jacob understood the grave and immoral consequences of committing violence against innocent people as a vengeful response to crimes of others. He attempted to eliminate its imposition from Israelite society. Regarding Simeon and Levi, Jacob declared, “[L]et my soul not come into their council… I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel” (Genesis 49: 6-7). Unfortunately, much of the world has not yet learned from Jacob’s clear warning. Targeting innocent people simply because they belong to the same racial, religious, or ethnic group as the perpetrator, is an unjust form of punishment and vengeance. It is immoral in principle, contrary to Jewish values, and creates a vicious, violent cycle. This cycle of violence in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and elsewhere, desperately needs to be broken. Will you help us reverse the trend?