A radio piece by Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur on RCJ on Jan. 23 2015
It is a time for self-criticism, and introspection, and, everywhere, we can read: how did we get here? What blame lies with us, with the schools, with the prisons, and with the authorities? The French Republic’s strength, like any individual’s, is to be able to examine and question itself about its responsibility.
However, such salutary introspection should never make the guilty innocent, or eclipse their responsibility to make victims of them in place of the victims, or to make irresponsible missiles of them, remotely guided by our faults and shortcomings.
Making the guilty face up to THEIR responsibility lies at the core of elementary morals that should be recalled today.
Morals that no text tells us about better than the episode of the most famous biblical murder: I am talking about the murder of Abel by Cain.
Over the last few days, hearing comments on the childhoods of the murderers, on their traumatisms and humiliations, I have often thought of these verses from Genesis… of the first two brothers in History, whose childhood is recounted to us as follows:
On day, they each brought an offering to the Lord. The Lord looked with favour on Abel’s offering, but not on Cain’s, leaving Cain angry and frustrated. Cain would appear to have been the victim of a terrible injustice, he was hurt, and in the words of the Bible, his countenance fell. God then spoke to him, a little like a worried parent, saying: im teitiv seta – “If you act righteously, you will be uplifted”, Petach hatat rovetz veata timshol bo – “sin crouches at your door, and you shall be its desire, but you can rule over it”.
In a few words, Cain is brought face to face with his responsibilities by a God who wants to teach him, and who says to him: you are free, free to make of your pain and injustice something other than hate that consumes you. In you is strength to be resilient, power to elevate that can lift you from crestfallenness.
But Cain does nothing with that freedom, and, in the next verse, rises up against his brother and slays him. And yet, without a doubt, he sees himself as a victim. He tells himself he is not fully responsible, witness the famous rhetorical question that he asks God in answer to God’s question about Abel’s whereabouts: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Hashomer achi anochi? The Midrash interprets Cain’s question by using an allegory, and says to us: Imagine a burglar who commits a theft without being caught in the act. When the keeper of the house finally does catch up with him, the burglar says to the keeper: it’s not my fault, you should have guarded the place better. It was your responsibility, not mine!
The first criminal in the Torah is a man who pleads not guilty and puts the blame on God, and on the world, in the name of the injustice done to him, and in the name of his sufferings.
This episode at the beginning of the Torah poses this same question to each of us, to all those who have been victims of any injustice: what are you going to do with your suffering, with your resentment? Are you going to use it as a weapon against your brother? Or, on the contrary, are you going to extract from it the source of your responsibility with regard to your neighbour?
Today, we need to examine our lives, our schools, our prisons, our values… and we need to take a genuinely introspective look at ourselves. We also need to hold the murderers fully responsible… because to make others irresponsible is to disdain them and to deny them their human dignity and human freedom.
The French Republic’s motto says nothing less: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”. Denying others the freedom of their actions and of their intentions, and their equal responsibilities, precludes being able to require them to be fully their brothers’ keepers.
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Obscurantism?, by Antoine Strobel-Dahan, Editor-in-chief of Tenou'a
A Eulogy for Elsa Cayat, Who Laughed at Her Killers, by Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, Editorial Director of Tenou'ad