Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said today that if Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were assassinated, he would not shed a tear. I find this response entirely understandable, disturbing that it was said, and contrary to a powerful spiritual teaching from Jewish tradition about the emotions we attach to fighting against that which we think of as evil.
Wiesel’s claim that he would feel no sadness if President Ahmadinejad were assassinated makes sense, especially given Wiesel’s belief that the Iranian leader is perhaps the world most dangerous man. Even if his analysis of the danger Ahmadinejad presents is not entirely correct, the idea that one can not imagine feeling remorse over the death of an enemy is understandable.
What disturbs me is that Wiesel, with all of the moral authority his word carries for so many people, made the claim. Why does he need to brag about his remorselessness? Does he think that his not crying proves how evil Ahmadinejad must be? Does he think that feeling sadness is a mark of moral clarity and strength? If so, then Weisel should think about a powerful midrash which addresses these questions.
According to the Rabbis, the angels were singing when the Egyptians were being drowned in the Red Sea. Like Wiesel, the angels felt no remorse for those who pursued the Jewish people and sought their destruction. Like Wiesel, the angels’ response is entirely understandable. It’s also not acceptable to God.
Hearing the angels sing, God roars “How can you sing when my creations are drowning in the sea?”
Imagine a God who both drowns those deemed to be evil, but refuses the joy of that necessary victory. Sounds like a lesson for Elie Wiesel and all those who cheer expressions of remorselessness as proof of moral consciousness.
Of course, it’s also a lesson for all of us when we imagine that just because doing something would make us uncomfortable, we ought not to do it. The ethical strength of a strong position is not guaranteed by the emotional clarity it provides. In fact, it may be just the opposite.
Jewish tradition does not compel us to love our enemies, but it does, at least in this instance, insist that we not celebrate their demise.
There are things worth fighting for, but it seems to me that part of that fight must also include the ability to cry for the losses of our enemies. Without that ability, we are probably more like them than we would like to admit.