Compassion for Our Enemies

Updated 1/8/2014.

We have a minhag to pour out 16 drops of wine, once at each mention of a makah that befell the Egyptians. The earliest mention of this custom is in the Maharil (according to R’ Joseph Tabory, on Avodah), who says the reason is that we are promised “any distress which I placed upon the Egyptians I will not place upon you”. As the cup of wine represents Jewish redemption, thus the drops are us asking Hashem to spare us these troubles and send them to our enemies. It is also documented in numerous places that those who remove the wine with their index finger are commemorating the Egyptian mages’ description of the plagues, “it is the ‘Finger’ of G-d”.

The most common reason we pass around, however, is that we’re diminishing our joy out of compassion for the suffering of other human beings, even the Egyptians. This reason is relatively new, but it is found in such authoritative locations as the hagaddah of R’ SZ Aurbach and appears as a “yeish lomar” (it could be said) in that of R Elyashiv (pg 106, “dam va’eish“).

So the question arose on both Avodah and soc.culture.jewish.moderated whether the value of compassion for our enemies is authentically Jewish, and more relevant for those who saw the references to these hagados, the origin and history of it.

The search seems to center on the question of why we say Chatzi Hallel (an incomplete Hallel; hereafter CH) on the 7th day of Pesach.

The gemara (Eirukhin 10b) gives the reason that from the second day onward, the qorban for that day was the same as the one before. The days of Pesach lack a newness that those of Sukkos have, and therefore there is CH on all but the first day of Pesach, but full Hallel on every day of Sukkos.

The Pesiqta deRav Kahane (Mandelbaum Edition, siman 29, 189a) gives us a different reason. It tells the story of the angels singing/reciting poetry at the crossing of the Red Sea, which was on the 7th day of Pesach, and Hashem stopping them saying “Ma’asei ‘Yadai’ tov’im bayam, va’atem omerim shirah — the work of My ‘Hands’ is drowning in the sea, and you say shirah?”

The Jews, on the other hand, sang “Az Yashir” unimpeded. It would seem to me therefore that we were allowed to rejoice, but there is a limit or a sadness mixed into that joy.

This is midrash is quoted by the Midrash Harninu and the Yalqut Shim’oni (the Perishah points you to Parashas Emor, remez 566).

The Midrash Harninu or the Shibolei haLeqet (our only source for the Midrash Harninu) associate this midrash with “binfol“. This is despite the fact that the pasuq of “binfol” would literally mean not rejoicing at all, and here it’s being used to argue for ambivalence — merging the joy of the neis with the sorrow of what was necessary to be done to the Mitzriyim.

The Beis Yoseif (O”Ch 490:4, “Kol“) cited the gemara, then quotes the Shibolei haLeqet as a second reason.

שבלי הלקט (סי’ קעד סט:) כתב בשם מדרש הרנינו פרשת סוכה שהטעם שאין גומרין ההלל כל ימי הפסח הוא לפי שנטבעו המצריים וכתיב (משלי כד יז) בנפול אויבך אל תשמח.

And in the Shibolei haLeqet it is written in the name of the Midrash Harninu that the reason why we do not finish Hallel on all the days of Pesach[, only on the first] is because the Egyptians drowned. As it says “Binfol oyivkha, al tismakh” (Mishlei 24:17).

The topic of CH was discussed in a column in Jewish Action by R’ Ari Z Zivitofsky. Here are some of the sources he identified.

The Taz gives this diminution of joy as the reason for CH on the 7th day (OC 490:3), as does the Chavos Ya’ir (225).

The Kaf haChaim (O”Ch 685:29) brings down the Yafeh haLeiv (3:3) use this midrash to establish the idea that we mourn the downfall of our enemy in order to explain why there is no berakhah on Parashas Zakhor (remembering the requirement to destroy Amaleiq).

R’ Aharon Kotler (Mishnas R’ Aharon vol III pg 3) says that the gemara‘s reason for CH (that the qorbanos are the same as for the previous day) is meant to address only chol hamo’ed, and our medrash is the primary reason for the 7th day of Pesach.

Which exhausted what I found on CH and R’ Zivitofsky’s column.

Back on Avodah, R’ Jacob Farkas found the Meshekh Chokhmah (Shemos 12:16uveyom“), who uses “binfol” and our medrash as an argument for disassociating Purim and Chanukah from their military victories. We celebrate our salvation, not their downfall. He also cites R’ Shelomo Alkabetz (the author of Lekha Dodi, in Manos haLeivi 9:20 – “Vayikhtov Mordekha“) who writes that because “HQBH does not rejoice in the downfall of the evil”, we too should not rejoice at their downfall — imitatio dei. We therefore celebrate Purim only for our deliverance.

R’ Dov Kay points us to the Netziv’s intro to HaEimeq Davar, Bereishis. The Netziv defines the rabbinic title for Bereishis — “Seifer haYesharim” — as the book about those who showed concern even for the wicked, that this quality is what defines being yashar. He holds up Avraham’s attitude toward the people of Sedom as an example for us to follow.

So, regardless of whether this is the reason for CH on Pesach day 7 or for spilling wine at the seider, or just a lesson one can learn post-facto from one or both of these, I think we have succeeded in well establishing the Jewishness of the idea that we have compassion for the death of even evil people.

(In an earlier devar Torah I suggest that this mixture of emotions is a necessary element before an event is called a “yeshu’ah” in Tanakh. That it is in common between Noach getting saved, and why the rainbow is a mixed message, why Lot’s wife was punished for turning back when she was saved, and our case of the mal’akhim at Yam Suf, who had no right to sing praises since people had died and it wasn’t they who were saved.)

Similarly, this recognition of the role of ambivalence is found in the halakhah that someone who is left a large inheritence must say both the berakhah of “Dayan emes“, mourning the death, and “hatov vehameitiv” on becoming wealthy.

Here, the balance must be struck between two verses: “binfol oyivkha al tismakh — when your enemy falls do not rejoice” (Mishlei 24:17) and “ba’avod reshaim rinah — with the destruction of evil there are shouts of happiness” (11:10). The Zohar writes that the happiness is only when the destruction is to cure the evil, and therefore comes with their atonement. When they die because they are oyevim, enemies, who need to be eliminated to save the good rather than in the right time for their own sake, there is no joy. The gemara‘s resolutions (Sanherin 39b) is that while Hashem does not rejoice, He does call upon others to rejoice. However the Maharsha relates this back to the story of “the work of My “Hands’ is drowning…” The others rejoice at being the beneficiary of G-d’s good, even while recognizing the loss necessary for us to be saved from the wicked.

Interesting is one of the gemara’s proof-texts, found also in the Yerushalmi parallel at 4:9, 23b, is from a battle in Hodu Lashem, ki le’olam chasdo — Sing to Hashem, for His lovingkindness is eternal.” Rav Yochanan notes that two words are missing compared to the version in Hallel, “ki tov — for He is Good”. Because we do not consider the death of the wicked good. It is important to note that this is about the death of non-Jews, of longstanding enemies of the Jewish people since the Exodus! In the Yerushalmi, this is held in contrast to “ba’avod resha’im rinah — one should rejoice at the loss of the wicked” to yield a different resolution than the Maharsha’s understanding of the Bavli. The loss of the wicked through teshuvah would have been a source of joy, their downfall through death is to be mourned.

One can’t say (despite the idea’s popularity in some circles), it’s an assimilated liberal or Christian value that was brought in through liberal Judaisms, or promoted by kiruv workers who want a more palatable Judaism to sell.

So why doesn’t “mi shemeracheim al ha’achzarim… — one who is merciful to the cruel will in the end be cruel to the merciful” apply? Perhaps it is because we aren’t talking about ignoring the very real need for their destruction. Unlike Sha’ul, who inappropriately saved Agag, we are not saying the Mitzriyim should have been spared. Rather, that it’s sad that things had come to this.

Someone who r”l needs to have a leg amputated should have it removed. He’ll mourn its loss and the loss of everything he could have done with it, but will still give his okay for its removal. “Mi shemeracheim” is the doctor who lets the patient die because he had pity on the leg.

You may also like...

No Responses

  1. Gavriel says:

    As a related point see the Medresh Tanchuma, parshas Mattos #3. Hashem tells Moshe to take nekama for the Jewish people from the Midyanim but we see that Moshe himself did not take part in the war. The question is posed: why did Moshe send others to fight the war when Hashem asked Moshe to do it himself? The Medresh answers that since Moshe grew up in Midyan it would not have been right for him to personally wage war against them. It seems that hakoras hatov also plays a role in how we relate to our enemies, even when God Himself declares them to be our enemies.
    (As an aside, it’s interesting to note that according to Rashi the reason why we waged war only against Midyan and not against Moav was because of the difference in their intentions. Since Moav was simply scared of the Jewish people and acted out of what they thought was self defense, they were spared.)

  1. March 2, 2018 – ט״ו באדר תשע״ח

    […] This post highlights and elaborates on one thought taken from an earlier post, “Compassion for our Enemies“. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *