Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maggid: Justice Delayed and Justice Denied . . .

Last night we celebrated the First Seder at our house.
We were eleven people strong.
We were, as Exodus recounts it, "with our young and with our old," with fellow Jews and with "the strangers that dwell amongst us."

Once again, we lit the festival candles and recited the kiddush--the sanctification of the day:
" . . . For you have given to us with love festivals for rejoicing, seasons of celebration, this festival of Matzot, zeman kheruteinu--season of our freedom--in memory of our going out from Egypt . . ."

Once again, we dipped our parsley, broke the middle matzah, and spilled out ten drops for the plagues upon Egypt. Once again, we participated in the Maggid, the Telling of when we came forth from Egypt.

And once again, as I opened the Baskin Haggadah, certain words and certain phrases fairly leapt off the page and into my consciousness; words that I had read time and again, but this year I heard them in the context of the time and the season. Different words and phrases do this each year, and each year it as if I am hearing the Haggadah for the first time.

This year it happened when we came to these words:
"Our rabbis taught: When the Egyptian armies were drowning in the sea, the Heavenly Hosts broke out in songs of jubilation. [The Eternal] silenced them and said: 'My creatures are perishing and you sing praises?'

"Though we descend from those redeemed from brutal Egypt,
and have ourselves rejoiced to see oppressors overcome,
yet our triumph is diminished by the slaughter of the foe,
as the wine within the cup of joy is lessened
when we pour ten drops for the plagues upon Egypt.

"Our rabbis taught: 'The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied' . . . To remember upheaval that follows oppression we pour ten drops for the plagues upon Egypt . . ."
(Central Conference of American Rabbis [1994]. A Passover Haggadah [a.k.a.the Baskin Haggadah], Revised Edition. Drawings by Leonard Baskin. New York. pp. 48-49)

The Hebrew letters of these words turned to flame, dancing off the page towards my eyes as we read them. Earlier in the day the Boychick and I had heard the story of the Lone Survivor, Marcus Luttrell, and his dog, Dasy. We had learned that this Navy Seal, who had survived a terrible battle and had been captured and tortured by the Tailiban, had received a therapy dog as part of his rehabilitiation. This dog has meant the world to him as he experiences the dark night of the soul that is the inevitable consequence of his brutal encounter with the nexus between life and death. This dog not only meant friendship and unconditional love to Marcus, she also represented the living presence of the souls of his team; each letter of Dasy's name represented the name of one of his lost companions. But late one night last week, four men came to the ranch where Marcus now lives with his mother, and they shot his dog dead. They didn't know Marcus. These psychopaths had been killing dogs in the county just for fun. Marcus ended up holding three of the four men at gunpoint, but he didn't shoot, making him a hero once again. He turned the men over to the Texas Rangers after a high-speed chase across four counties.

This is a haunting story, made more heartbreaking still by Marcus' cri de coeur that in Dasy's death, his friends are lost "all over again." Just before the Seder, I came into my room to find the Boychick and the Chem Geek Princess sitting in front of Shayna's crate, as the Boychick related the story to his sister in his cryptic, halting fashion. So when the words of the Haggadah became fire at this place in the Telling, I stopped and asked the Boychick to tell this story, too, at the Seder.

This story belonged in the Seder this year and at this place in the story because given the means and the motive for revenge, Marcus Luttrell did not exact it upon his enemies. But he needs justice.

He said:
" . . . is there any justice? What has happened to us? Who are these guys? It's like I have been trained my whole life to live honorably and to go out and to get the bad guys, and the bad guys have always been some place else. And now the bad guys come to my house and they shoot my dog, and I have to stop because I'm no longer the guy that can exact justice on the bad guys." (Quoted by Glenn Beck on April 7, 2009 on The Glenn Beck Radio Show).

He said:
"I follow a different set of rules now. I . . . just can't get into that kind of stuff any more. And it's not something worth going to prison over . . . I did what I did ( Afganistan: EHL) because I love, I love my country . . . You know, the reason I'm out there busting my ass across seas and the rest of that in the military is so that when I come home and someone decides to murder my dog, justice gets done! I mean that's kind of the point, I think. I'm pretty sure it is . . . fightin' for freedom and all that, that's kind of the idea. Now it's out of my hands, you know, they took it away from me, and then the judicial system's takes care of it . . . but not really. One of 'em's not in jail because . . . like I said before, like I said before . . . if there was a human being out there and four guys stepped out and murdered him, they'd all be in prison. She was like a daughter to me! This guy, this idiot says: 'I wasn't a part, I was just there.' Well, ah, you know, you were all laughing. I didn't see you try to get out of the car . . . so, you're lyin'. He's lyin'. I looked at him, you know, I know when people are lyin' to me . . ." (From The Glenn Beck Show, April 8, 2009. My transcription).

The point that goes with the Seder is this: Justice delayed and justice denied will bring the sword. According to the Telling this is what happened in Egypt, and the innocent suffered right along with the guilty.

Here is a man who has suffered unspeakable things so that "justice will get done." He showed great personal restraint in the face of a great injustice that was done to him and his dog. He had the bad guys in his sights, but he didn't shoot. He called the Texas Rangers, he told them that they needed to catch these guys because he was afraid that otherwise he would kill them. And now he is afraid that one of them will get off with just a slap on the wrist; he does not trust that justice will be done.

It is important that justice be done. Justice must prevail in this case and in every case where great harm is done to one person by others.
If justice is not accomplished, then the innocent suffer at the hands of guilty.
Khamas (senseless violence) becomes rampant on the earth. And with the Rule of Law subverted, those who are wronged will take up the sword.

Our rabbis said: "The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied."

And upheaval and suffering will inevitably follow.

Our rabbis taught: "The Holy One, Blessed be G-d, is urgent about justice, because the world depends upon justice "

And so the world does. Civilization depends upon Justice and the Rule of Law.
Without these, we slide into mob rule, vigilantism, and barbarism.

As we poured ten drops for the plagues upon Egypt, we poured one more, for the evil, senseless killing of Dasy, and the torment it brought her man. And we pray for Marcus Luttrell: Peace be upon him! Be strong for good! Be strong for what is right! And may we all be strengthened to do justice. Hazak. Hazak. V'nithazek!

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