One Nation Under G-d
This week's Torah portion begins with Hashem's command to "Oppress the
Midianites and smite them". We are instructed to exact justice for the way
they cunningly enticed the Jewish people to worship their idol, Peor, and
seduced the Israelite nation into promiscuity.
The Midianites' scheme to defeat the Jewish people by dispatching their
daughters to lure Jewish men into sinning succeeded in ensnaring thousands.
Those Jews who succumbed were punished by a deadly plague. There is obvious
justice in Hashem's command to the Jewish nation to retaliate against the
Midianites for their evil-minded plot. But the commentaries teach that the
hostility toward Midian did not end with the desert battle. The Jewish
people were commanded to harbor enmity toward the Midianties for all future
generations. Why? Why punish the offspring with lasting rejection?
Perhaps a closer look at the heartbreaking events that took place in
Brooklyn 3 years ago this week, can provide insight into the roots of this command. The savage, degenerate attack on a defenseless Jewish child by another Jew must
be probed for its searing commentary on features of our own community and
The incident appalled and horrified us. Our shared grief brought a renewed
awareness of the depth of our solidarity with one another. We witnessed how
all segments of the community rallied as soon as Leiby's disappearance
became public. It galvanized all segments of the community, as Jews (and
local neighbors) of all stripes and backgrounds frantically searched for
him. Now that the details of his brutal murder have surfaced, the public's
attention has turned to ensuring that the perpetrator is brought to justice.
Much of the focus has also been channeled towards preventing the recurrence
of violent and tragic events of this nature; toward educating the public
about safety guidelines to protect our children and communities from
perverts and predators.
As observant Jews we understand that everything that transpires in life
carries a deeper personal message to us, and it is important that we try to
ascertain what positive aspects of growth we can harness from this dreadful
episode. How can we decipher the hidden message that lies beneath such a
Our forebearers have taught us that we must examine our past to chart a
pathway to our future, and thus our first frame of reference needs to be the
Tanach itself. One finds a parallel to the depraved violence committed last
week by one Jew against another in the story of Pilegesh B'giva, Shoftim
chapter 19. A brief outline of the events surrounding this shocking
narrative is in order.
The scriptures tell us how an unidentified Levite, who married a woman
from Bais Lechem Yehuda, experienced marital strife with his concubine. She
had abruptly left him to return to her father's home. With the aim of
restoring family harmony, he went to his father in law's home to induce her
to return. Upon their journey home, they traveled through the tribe of
Benjamin's territory and sought overnight accommodations in the town of
Givah. As they waited in the town square, they realized that no one was
willing to provide them with lodging. They soon realized that the people of
Givah were inhospitable and were callously ignoring them.
An elderly man saw their plight and with genuine warmth, welcomed them to
his home, offering them a lavish feast and overnight accommodations. Before
long, a mob descended on his home and what followed was eerily similar to
the tragic events related in Parshas Vayeira when the malachim visited Lot
in Sodom. The mob demanded that the guests be delivered into their hands so
that they could get to know them and 'sodomize' them. The host, seeing how
events were spiraling out of control, beseeched the rabble not to molest his
guests. Finally, in order to save their lives, they delivered the guest's
concubine to the wild crowd, who indulged their savage lust by violating her
throughout the night.
In the morning, the woman lay dead at the door of her host. Her husband
lifted her dead body onto his mule and took her home. Rather than bury her,
he cut her up into twelve parts and sent her limbs to the twelve tribes to
alert them to the catastrophe that had taken place. The commentaries explain
he wanted to shock people into an awareness of the cancerous malaise that
had eaten into the fabric of the nation.
Although the Jewish people are comprised of twelve individual tribes, we are
all one body beating with one heart and throbbing with one soul. Abhorrent
behavior exhibited by one tribe highlights the spiritual stagnation and
apathy that can disconnect the nation as a whole from their life source,
The entire Jewish population, shaken to the core, rallied to this startling
message. The verses go on to describe the tribe of Benjamin's refusal to
punish the perpetrators appropriately. To protest their passive tolerance of
the unspeakable crimes committed, the tribes waged a civil war against the
tribe of Benjamin, almost completely decimating it. Only six hundred young
men from Benjamin managed to miraculously flee the carnage of battle. With
the aid of the entire Jewish people, the survivors rebuilt their tribe. They
were assisted in their quest to remarry and rebuild their decimated
The newly formed and purified tribe of Benjamin was replanted and its rise
to prominence was once again assured.
The harrowing story of Pilegesh BeGivah is difficult to read and comprehend.
The episode happened shortly after the death of Joshua among a people that
had just settled into their portion of the Holy land. How could the people
of Givah have been so depraved and carnal? The verses give us a definitive
answer. These people had absorbed the Sodomite philosophy of neighboring
cultures that encouraged uninhibited gratification of one's lusts without
regard to others' feelings and rights. Everything was rationalized in the
name of "if I want it, I deserve it; it's my right and nothing else
This mindset had infiltrated the town of Givah, whose inhabitants should
have been duly punished for their crimes, and the behavior they exhibited
totally uprooted. But this did not happen. The horrific crimes committed
against a helpless woman failed to trigger in the tribe of Binyamin a level
of public outrage that would testify to the moral fiber of the general
population. In place of revulsion and fury, there was apathy, indifference.
The failure to respond appropriately signaled that a malignant philosophy
had taken root, one that threatened the entire Jewish people.
That moral rot had to be painfully expunged before its toxic effects could
infect the nation.
Our generation too, faces a tsunami of Sodomite culture and philosophy. The
child killer surely watched and absorbed the ubiquitous images flaunting
violence and immorality that abound in the media and in movies. During
questioning he freely admitted what prompted him to cruelly asphyxiate the
victim. 'I saw posters with my video image on them and I panicked"! He
abandoned all rational thinking to protect his own skin and to secure his
petty self interest. Boundaries of decency and personal dignity have been
crushed in the headlong rush to license the expression of every carnal
instinct. Narcissism and excessive self indulgence are chalked up to freedom
of choice and individual lifestyle. The pursuit of my happiness has become
the end goal itself.
Deep down, we cannot escape the reality that any individual's act carries
repercussions that affects us all. We are one people spiritually and
organically bonded with one collective soul. When a noxious toxin infects
one part of our body, it can soon threaten and poison the spiritual health
of our nation as a whole. This was the message that the Levite in the
Pilegesh B'givah narrative imparted by dismembering his wife and dispatching
her body parts to all the tribes.
It is a message that perhaps we would do well to ponder.
We are all aware of the dangerous predators and pedophiles that lurk in the
shadows of our communities, waiting to prey upon innocent children. We take
appropriate measures to protect ourselves, our families and our communities
from their perilous reach. But we must also safeguard ourselves from an
equally insidious danger posed by the Sodomite culture of our times: the
steady bombardment in every media outlet of provocative images that excite
our basest instincts.
The prevailing culture of permissiveness has sanctioned 'alternative
lifestyles' to the point of embracing decadent behavior. We are fast losing
our sense of revulsion towards moral degeneracy. We no longer have an acute
sense of its corrosive effect on the kedusha and purity of the Jewish
In a spectacular display of achdus and unity, we shared the collective grief
of Leiby's abduction and brutal killing. We acted similar to the people in
Biblical times who rallied as one man to the Benjamite border to determine
what had happened. Now we too, like our forebearers, must ensure that such a
display of animal savagery will never recur in our community. We too must
now seek to implement the necessary steps to ensure that last week's
atrocity will never be repeated.
But while focusing on the practical side of such a campaign, we must also
protect ourselves and our families from the invisible but toxic effects of
the degenerate culture surrounding us that surely contributed to
it'shappening.'Tzror es hamidyanim vehikisem osem"-retaliate and smite the
Midianites, says the Torah, not for who they are but for what they
As a consequence of our taking the necessary precautions to shield the
purity of our minds and bodies, we too will surely be united as one nation
under one G-d.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Naftali Reich
Text Copyright © 2014 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.