In Parashat Vayera we cease to deal with individuals and begin to deal with nations. God “muses aloud” about whether to confide in Avraham the upcoming destruction of the nearby metropolis of S’dom. It is no coincidence that the destruction of S’dom is foretold in the very passage in which God speaks of Avraham’s descendants’ doing what is just and right. But why does Avraham then try to oppose God’s justice?
Yes, we should do all we can to win our battles; we can’t afford not to. But giving up our values will not help us win. It will only cost us our self-respect and the morale of our soldiers. To take on the values of our enemies is to surrender to them, to become them. Is that what we want to do? Certainly it’s what our enemies want us to do. Many in the Arab countries would love for us to sink into barbarism and so lose both reason to fight and the means of doing so. They know that our flourishing economy gives us a material advantage over any combination of Arab states. But all this is built on love of life, not death.
I suppose, it was inevitable: the strident calls for revenge. After all, do we not say “Hashem yikom damam”? Is this not a call for revenge? No, it is not! Rather, it is an affirmation in ultimate justice when it is needed most. Our traditions allow us—in fact, encourage us—to be ourselves, to be fully human. We aren’t required to be more than human, but we aren’t allowed to be less either.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” Jewish tradition has tackled the question from both the halakhic and the hashkafic aspects. The halakhic view of it uses the concept of g’mul to express the way our actions in the world rebound upon us. Meanwhile, the hashkafic view assumes that, regardless of how it may look to us, Justice is in fact a conserved quantity.