Tuesday, September 07, 2004


There’s something really disturbing about us Westerners. We don’t seem to be comfortable with the concept of evil. Whenever we hear about an abused spouse or child, or about dozens of innocent civilians being blown up on buses, or about thousands of people killed in one day on hijacked airplanes and in the buildings at which those airplanes were deliberately aimed, we find excuses for the perpetrators. Abusers were themselves victims of abuse, we say, so they couldn’t help themselves. And terrorists—or “freedom fighters” as they are misnamed by those who make excuses for them—were made so desperate by the oppression they suffered that they had no other choice. Since the perpetrators couldn’t possibly be evil, then surely the victims must have done something to deserve their fate.


We always have a choice between good and evil. People who do the kinds of things mentioned above do so because, for whatever reason and for whatever length of time, they have chosen evil. And they are responsible for that choice.

By the standards of those who would justify terrorists and mass murderers, we Jews have the perfect excuse to have invented the explosive belt. We have been persecuted for centuries, enduring stunning hatred, massacres of entire communities over false accusations, laws forbidding us to own land and restricting where we could live, in what trades we could engage, how many of us could receive an education and even how many of us could marry. By the misguided standards of those who excuse terrorism and its perpetrators we have every reason to be angry, and to kill for our anger. Yet, as a people, we never have. Instead we have contributed far more to human civilization than our tiny share of the population. (Just take a look at the list of Jews who have won Nobel Prizes and think how much more we could have accomplished if we hadn’t had to cope with two thousand years’ worth of hatred, incitement, restrictions and murder.)

That’s because early in our history, we learned that no matter what happens to us, we must always take responsibility for our choices. Playing victim is never an option. God gave us an explicit choice between life and good, and death and evil, and told us clearly: Choose life.

But that’s just one example. Every human being makes the choice between good and evil every moment of every day. The scum who took over the school in Beslan, torturing and murdering hundreds of people, including more than one hundred fifty children, made their choice. And in that scene of unrelenting horror one courageous man, Yannis Kanidis, an elderly teacher of Greek extraction, made his.

Read about this extraordinary man here.

May he rest in peace.

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