Saturday, May 07, 2011

Hillel On Osama Bin Laden

Every week between Pesach and Shavuos the custom is to learn another chapter of Pirkei Avos. Last week we learned the second chapter. In it there is this very timely mishna which quotes Hillel:

"He also saw a skull that was floating on the surface of the water. He said to it, 'Because you made [others] drown, [others] made you drown. But in the end, those who made you drown will [also] drown.'"


This Mishna requires some explanation to fully appreciate its depth. In a nutshell Hillel is lecturing about how Divine Providence is specific to an individual level. Nothing in the world goes unanswered and G-d punishes measure for measure.

The Meam Loez explains (and this is exactly his words written in 1747):

Hillel therefore addressed the floating head and said, "Surely you killed someone, and after you killed him, you threw him into the sea. You were therefore punished by Providence. It was for this reason that you, too, were killed and thrown into the sea. Providence deals with each individual measure for measure, making the punishment fit the crime. Not only were you killed, but you were thrown into the sea, just like your own victim. If you had not committed murder and disposed of the corpse in the sea, it would not have happened to you.


Many people forget that before there was the September 11th attacks, Bin Laden attacked the US warship USS Cole, as it docked in a Yemenite port. On October 12, 2000 a small boat loaded with explosives approached the ship and exploded putting a 40-by-40-foot gash in the ship's port side. 17 sailors were killed and 39 were injured. Many of the bodies were not recovered for days as parts of the ship had been flooded and it took time till divers could reach them.

"Surely you killed someone, and after you killed him, you threw him into the sea."

And of course, last week President Obama announced:
Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.


It was soon reported:
Sources confirmed... that his body was released into the sea from a U.S. Navy vessel on Monday, likely into the Indian Ocean.


"It was for this reason that you, too, were killed and thrown into the sea."

Of course it is important to explain the final part of Hillel's teaching. "But in the end, those who made you drown will [also] drown."

The Meam Loez explains that is only when those who killed the killer did so for wicked reasons. The example he gives is Pharaoh enslaving the Jews. Actually it was G-d's decree that they should be enslaved. And indeed if Pharaoh had only intended to fulfill the Divine Will he would have been rewarded. But his intentions were wicked and so even though the punishment is decreed in heaven, the one carrying it out can also be punished if he has wicked intentions.

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