Friday, March 15, 2019

Forty-Nine Victims -- Ominous Alignment in the Christchurch Massacre

Horrific news out of New Zealand.

As Jews and humans of moral conscience, our hearts and prayers are with the victims, families, the local and broader Muslim community in NZ and worldwide.

We condemn murder in the strongest of terms. All human lives matter. 

The only lives that don't matter are that of murderers, such as the one who perpetrated yesterday's atrocity against innocent humans in Christchurch, who had gathered to worship their Divine Creator in Whose image we are all created. 

Perhaps not coincidentally, the last massacre that left 49 victims was in an Orlando nightclub in 2016.*

It happened on Shavuot, the holiday on which we received the Torah at Mt Sinai on the 50th day from the Exodus, after counting the omer for 49 days.

This massacre occurred right before Purim, commemorating the time when Haman had intended to hang Mordechai on a gallows 50 cubits high. Why? For his simple "crime" of refusing to bow to Haman.

In a dramatic reversal  ("ונהפוך הוא"), Haman's plot was overturned, and he was hanged on the very same 50-cubit gallows  that he had prepared for Mordechai, the Jew who would not bow.

What's the deal with forty-nine?

In Judaic thought, 49 represents the fullness and totality of human potential. All seven emotional qualities  (ie loving-kindness, judgment, compassion, perseverance, humility, connectivity, sovereignty) that are unique to humans, times seven of those same qualities, denoting integration and complexity of human character, equals forty nine.

That's why we count seven weeks to receive till Shavuot.

It represents the fullness of human initiative and experience, attaining the ultimate in human potential on our own merits. Of course, the Torah itself is all-transcendent, supra-rational, and beyond human comprehension. Hence it's given on the fiftieth day as a gift from above.

Haman understood that his plot against the Mordechai and the Jews would surely fail if he'd aim for the first forty-nine cubits. Jews are not bad people, and as such, undeserving of wholesale slaughter. Surely Mordechai the Jew, a mentsh and genuine human being of highest moral caliber, was not guilty for execution, not in the human court nor in the heavenly court.

However, on a gallows fifty cubits high, beyond the realm of human (or even angelic) comprehension, G-d is all-transcendent, unfathomable and unpredictable. Anything could happen. Even something as inscrutable and unfathomable as a Holocaust or lynching of Mordechai the Jew, or of the cruel merciless deaths of innocent people praying in their house of worship on their holy day.

It was here, at level 50, where Haman hoped to access the unthinkable opportunity to carry out his planned genocide against a nation of innocents, led by their fearless and virtuous leader who would not bow, and rightfully so. For in the realm of fifty, virtues and vices don't matter. It's all immaterial and non-existent before a higher reality of Oneness. "All before Him is like naught."

Even Moses yearned for level 50, the "fiftieth" humanly-unattainable gate of understanding. He yearned for it so much, he became sick! Hebrew word for ill person is חולה choleh. This word has the numerical value of 49!

Although he never attained it in his lifetime, G-d granted him an appreciation of it upon his death, from a lofty height of Mount Nebo. In Hebrew, that's נבו, which may be read: "Nun is in him," or "on it." Nun is the Hebrew letter that stands for numeral 50. As a final letter, long nun is a single long line that begins from above and descends beneath the line, much like the gallows Haman constructed. It represents the achievement of something incomprehensible and beyond human imagination.

For Haman, this was a gamble, a casting of lots. Nothing is impossible in the realm of impossibilities. 

Fortunately, G-d had other plans at that fateful juncture. Thanks to Esther's unparalleled sacrifice and selfless heroism, she accessed the incomprehensible "fiftieth gate" and effected a total reversal to Haman's nefarious plot.

The concerted efforts of Esther the Jewess who would not cower, and Mordechai the Jew who would not bow, saved the day.

In our times, wannabee-Hamans abound. Nowhere is safe. Not mosques, nightclubs, elementary schools, theaters, or anywhere else. It started in synagogues, schools and pizza shops in Israel, but has now become a worldwide phenomenon, as it has countless other times in history.

The Jews are always the first targets, but never do they remain the only ones.

As Jews and humans of moral conscience, we are all Esther's and Mordechai's in potentia.

We must not bow. We must stand up, protest, and fight for the truth.

Surely we shall win. Purim serves as our eternal reminder.

Forty-nine slain souls represent a destruction of the fullness of human potential. These forty-nine people didn't deserve to die. Their deaths are incomprehensible.

It doesn't matter if the victims are different from you, have different beliefs or different lifestyles that you or I might not personally agree with.

Presumably in Orlando, the murderer happened to be Muslim and the victims mostly Christian. In New Zealand, it was the reverse. But in the broader picture, it's all irrelevant.

What matters is that we are all human.

Forty-nine deaths (in both places) represent an intractable global illness. (חולה = 49). 

It's time for the cure, the fiftieth gate of understanding.

Yes, the unattainable will be attained when we all (as one human race) re-devote ourselves to a higher morality that cannot be tampered with, a set of Divine values that transcend human reason in which all human life matters unconditionally.

We revisit this timeless lesson every year on Purim**, when we celebrate Esther's and Mordechai's miracles of the past, and our own ultimate miracles of the future, the True and Complete Redemption.

May it be speedily in our days!

Shabbat Shalom.

*At the time, I penned an article called "Ominous Alignment of the Orlando Massacre" that I decided not to publish. The pain was raw, and I felt it might have seemed somewhat insensitive to utilize the tragic occasion to expound on a Torah lesson, however timely. It's with similar hesitation that I publish this present blog post. If anyone wishes to read my unpublished post from 2016, it's available for viewing upon request. It's a lot different than this blog post above, and perhaps might have been seen as a lot more insensitive than this one.

**Fascinatingly, Purim is described in the Talmud as the time that Jews historically reaffirmed their commitment to accepting the Torah at Mount Sinai. Yet another link between the two ominous 49-victim massacres. Every year on Purim, we relive the reaffirming of that commitment to the Torah, the "fiftieth gate" that will cure the ills of humanity that are epitomized by yesterday's carnage.