From whence it comes
During the month of March, we had some spectacular days. The sun shone and people walked around with smiles on their faces. Winter seemed to have fled. Perhaps because we knew the storms were around the corner, the sense of a stolen summer’s day pervaded our streets. I walked to work in sandals in March!
But I also felt guilty – or rather, I felt I should feel guilty. Wasn’t this a sign of impending doom? Didn’t this mean global warming was really coming? Look out! The sky is falling! How could I feel so happy? But everyone seemed blissful.
Obviously, I don’t seriously think we must be sombre when it’s lovely outside because we see the mild weather as a harbinger of bad tidings. But it does give us pause to think about the principle involved.
Can we benefit from bad tidings? I don’t think we can find good in every evil event that occurs. Certainly, I don’t endorse that awful aphorism, “There’s a silver lining in every cloud.” There isn’t. But when we do encounter some event or person who despite a negative reality displays a positive affect, or somehow causes or does good, how do we react and remember them?
In the April 5 CJN, Sheldon Kirshner wrote an interesting column about an Iraqi general. In it, he noted that Saddam Hussein was “a brutal dictator who transformed Iraq into a model police state.” Saddam killed thousands of his own people and caused national and international crises. Many Iraqis and non-Iraqis, Jews and non-Jews, celebrated on the day he died. But I know of one man, a Jew, who thought differently.
Jews had lived in Iraq for more than 2,000 years. They arrived before there was an Islamic faith. Over the centuries, there were good times and bad times, during which life flourished. But the 1940s inaugurated the last phase of Iraqi Jewish life.
In 1969, on Jan. 27, 11 Jews were hung in Baghdad. Their crime was that they were Jews, suspected of having spied for Israel. They had been jailed and tortured for 10 months, then subjected to a show trial. This man was one of the defendants. All of the others were hung. He doesn’t know why he was singled out and saved. But he does know who saved him – Saddam Hussein. Sometimes bad people do good things.
This man’s direct experience of Saddam is of goodness, of sunlight on a March day. But for me Saddam Hussein is still pure evil. Knowing what I know of my friend, how do I present the story of Saddam Hussein?
Thus, there are times when we experience goodness in the midst of evil. How do we deal with these contradictions and contrary images? Do we remain silent, or do we try to repair the image of the evil one? Are we even allowed to enjoy the goodness amidst evil or misfortune?
In some contexts, like the summer weather in March, these questions are silly. But in others, they assume serious connotations and implications.
Before Yom Hashoah, some of these questions assume far-reaching proportions. At times of great misfortune good does emerge. Surely, we have acknowledged the Righteous Gentiles. Not all those who lived under Nazi rule accepted Nazi ideology or authority. We now know more about the sacrifices some people made to save others and help those slated for death and incarceration. There were those whose humanity dictated human responses to pure evil.
But of course their actions and reactions, which are treated as heroic, expose the immorality and inhumanity of those who went along with Nazi rules. Had they lost their humanity entirely? So how do we present the evil of humans and the goodness of the few? We say people are not all good or all bad. Usually I agree. But the Nazis were all bad. By that I mean what they did was all bad, and we judge them by the effects of their global actions.
But there were rare moments in the sun, and that’s what I’m celebrating today. Not forgetfulness. Remember the criminal and immoral, but also rejoice with the decent and honest.
Don’t lose the full picture.