This is What Started the Debate.
On February 4th Brad Smith published the “Local neo-Nazi and Covid-19 denier Erickson dead” in the Rouge Free Press. “By 2019, Erickson had already caused a stir on social media with his posts. Aside from being a vehement Holocaust denier and 9/11 conspiracy theorist – “Biome Michael” was also a staunch anti-GMO activist, hated 5G technology, worried about chemtrails and, not surprisingly over the last year, jumped on the Covid-19 “Plandemic” bandwagon.”
Rabbi David shared this article with several of his friends, resulting with Sara asking a question that started the conversation: “What does one say when someone like Biome Erickson dies?”
First Round of Responses
Two of us responded almost simultaneously.
I believe we say nothing, for it says (Exodus 17:14): “I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven!” Therefore, we do not say Baruch Dayan Emet (Blessed the Judge of Truth), or Z’L (of Blessed Memory). I have already forgotten this Amalek.
My Response was short:
Baruch Dayan Emet.
בָּרוּךְ דָיָן אֶמֶת
It is a true statement. And I also want to remind us (Proverbs 24:17):
If your enemy falls, do not exult;
בִּנְפֹ֣ל א֭וֹיבְךָ אַל תִּשְׂמָ֑ח
With Warm Blessings, Rabbi Emanuel.
Amalek is unredeemable evil. Even Pharaoh was not in that category.
As far as I know Biome [Erickson] never physically hurt anyone, or even threatened them (as far as I know). Nevertheless, if we accept the notion of the purgatory place that we call Geyhinom [purgatory], then it may be correct to pray for his soul which we assume will be repenting over the next year. Maybe if he completes this work from Olam HaBah [The World to Come] he can be a force for good from the other side.
Continuing the Discussion
Though he may not have physically harmed anyone, we know that words are powerful things. There is no telling the emotional harm his words may have inflicted. He represented an ideology that resulted in the death and persecution of untold number of Jews.
I do not say to rejoice, rather, we perhaps we can remain silent? Yet, Ellie Wiesel tells us that we must take sides, because neutrality helps the oppressor and never the victim. How does silence aid the oppressor in this situation? Perhaps it shows a lack of compassion and lovingkindness, to which we all must seek.
It is true that our tradition informs us as Reb David has stated, “if we accept the notion of the purgatory place that we call Geyhinom, then it may be correct to pray for his soul which we assume will be repenting over the next year.” Certainly, it is a noble gesture of forgiveness.
Also, it is true that “Baruch Dayan HaEmet” is a true statement, as Rabbi Emanuel has said. It is always a true statement, in the face of a death or not. And Rabbi Akiva, in support of this notion, said: “Everything God does is for the best” (Brachot 60B).
As teaching points, all three of these rabbis have valid arguments, though I am still looking for the correct personal response to Sarah’s query, “What does one say when someone like Biome dies?”
Perhaps, “May his soul seek its way Home, as the Divine Judge sees fit”? Or “His time in this World is over, Blessed be the True Judge”?
These statements affirm HaShem as Dayan HaEmet, and do not uplift the painful statements this individual made in This World.
Elaborating on Proverbs 24:17
An explanation about Proverbs 24:17 that both I and Shmuel HaKatan (as RDM mentioned) quoted would enhance our understanding. Shmuel HaKatan uses Proverbs 24:17-18 in Pirkei Avot 4:19; alas, he just quotes it, without any explanation!
If your enemy falls, do not exult; If he trips, let your heart not rejoice,
Lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turned from him [your enemy] His wrath.
בִּנְפֹ֣ל א֭וֹיִבְךָ אַל תִּשְׂמָ֑ח וּ֝בִכָּשְׁל֗וֹ אַל יָגֵ֥ל לִבֶּֽךָ׃
פֶּן יִרְאֶ֣ה יְ֭הֹוָה וְרַ֣ע בְּעֵינָ֑יו וְהֵשִׁ֖יב מֵעָלָ֣יו אַפּֽוֹ׃
Thankfully, our sages (Bartenura, Rambam, Ikar Tosafot Yom Tov) provided their insights that clarify the puzzlement. They notice that the word – חָרוֹן – Ḥaron (the heat, the momentary burst of anger) is missing in the second verse. In addition to that, rather than using the verb ‘veshav’ – returned – King Shlomo uses ‘veheshiv’ – turned, replied. They say that because you made God your agent to fulfill your desire [against your enemy], God forgave your enemy. Furthermore: He removed his total anger from the enemy and turned it upon you. Shmuel HaKatan used this teaching very frequently for reasons well known then, making the explanation in Mishnah redundant.
My clarification on Baruch Dayan (Ha)Emet
According to my limited knowledge, the wording “Dayan Ha-Emet” are said by those who are relatives of the deceased. Mourners who say Kaddish and do K’ri-ah (tearing the cloth) would say the ‘Dayan HaEmet’ blessing with ‘Shem v’Malkhut’: “Blessed are you, HaShem, King of the universe, Judge of The Truth (Ha-Emet). Others who closely know the deceased would only say ‘Barukh Dayan HaEment’. All others, would just say ‘Barukh Dayan Emet’ when hearing the news about one who passed away. And it really does not matter whether it is a friend or a foe. A loss of life is sad – no matter what; for someone it is devastating.
In fact, Talmud teaches us that Barukh Dayan Emet was said over many more cases and not only upon death. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One who sees… …an amputee, a blind person, a flat-headed person, a lame person, one afflicted with boils, or spotted people recites: Blessed…the true Judge – … ״בָּרוּךְ דַּיָּן אֱמֶת״ (Berakhot 58b). And (Berakhot 54a), “for good tidings, one recites: Blessed…Who is good and Who does good. Even for bad tidings, one recites: Blessed…the true Judge.” Today we do not use the Blessed the True Judge for anything but for the passing away of a person.
So, I reiterate my answer to Sara’s question: we say – Barukh Dayan Emet, and – we do not rejoice in the fall of our enemies. Full Stop.
Wishing us all a beautiful day with continued sunshine, yet another blessing from HaShem!
Warm Blessings, Rabbi Emanuel
Third Round of the Debate
A couple weeks later, Passion chimed in with one word, “agree” in response to RDM’s initial opinion. That initiated the last (at least for now…) exchange of thoughts on the subject.
Sarah Brings in Rav Kook to the Conversation:
Boker Tov (good morning),
Yesterday I learned a very humbling lesson from a teaching of Rav Kook (Ein Aya on Shabbat, 5:21).
In this teaching, Rav Kook refers to Talmud, Shabbat Tractate 55a:7-8. This passage describes an argument between the Holy One, Blessed be He, and the Attribute of Justice. Justice claims that the righteous who do not protest against evil deeds are as liable as the evil doers. Unlike the Supernal, human beings cannot know what will be the effect of their protest on the evil doers.
Rav Kook contends that Rasha’im “evil” people do bad things, even though their soul is fundamentally good, yet they feel forced to do what they do.
Then there are righteous people who do nothing, do not stand up against evil or bring to the world through action the good that is in their heart.
Without action in the world, the righteous are not better than the wicked.
Doing evil acts does not emanate from an evil core. He writes “…doesn’t the supernal surveyor survey even to all of the hiding places in the heart of the most complete rasha’im? And in them it will also be found that it was not only a free choice to be completely bad that caused their evil and ruined status, but rather there were many different reasons, many of which were not in their control.”
So, who are we to judge – between the righteous and the wicked?
Passion: Wonderful teaching, Sarah!
Rabbi Emanuel: Kudos, Sarah! Beautifully made D’rash! I full heatedly agree with the teaching you bring forth!
The only judgement we can express is for actions that are evil; and we have to counteract, counterbalance, these actions with good actions, good deeds. Being silent to actions is not an option. You, Sarah, and many of us, speak up against Antisemitism and similar wrongdoings. We also take actions to fight against evil deeds and mend the effects of such actions.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Z”TzL quotes John Donne: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” The second part of the verse, that Rabbi Sacks did not include in his book ‘Morality’ is: “And therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
For me, a death of a human being, is a moment for reflection, a bell toll that calls me to exercise compassion and widen my view of that person, trying to find something good in that person, along with acknowledging one’s evil deeds.
The Other Bookend:
RDM: Wow!! You know, this man in his death has brought good into the world. He stimulated this important discussion amongst us, affirming the principle that something good exists in every human being. And it is our responsibility to find it.