Sunday, September 16, 2007

A response to "The Symbolic Violence of Vegetables"

Miriam Segura
at Reshimu noted how so many of the prayers said over the symbolic foods at the Rosh HaShanah meal express violent sentiments, that our enemies be cut off, wiped off, and otherwise destroyed, and wonders why such extreme measures are called for, instead of a more peaceful resolution.

In a comment there, I suggested:

I believe that the two readings of the verse from Tehillim that you cite do not represent Beruriah decisively besting her husband (Brachos 10a), but rather represent two different worldviews. Beruriah challenged R' Meir's practice of praying for the death of his tormentors, remarking that he could as easily pray for them to do teshuva, but R' Meir's worldview appears to be a more realistic one.

It's often tempting to attribute our enemies' opinions to foolishness and lack of thought, in that if only they would listen to our arguments, they would immediately defect to our side, but the truth is often less rose-tinted; our enemies also have complex ideologies, even acknowledging that in many cases they were developed from a bottom-up perspective, and cannot be expected to easily change their ways (desired, yes; expected, no). Moreso, this attitude change cannot easily be prayerfully requested from God, Who as a rule does not instill fear of God in people. Hence, we and R' Meir choose the more realistic violent alternative in our prayers for our enemies; we cannot afford to infinitely wait for the waning of their recalcitrance. Avraham was as willing to take up the sledgehammer as the tent hammer and the sword as the chalaf.

Nonetheless, many of our tefillos at the Rosh HaShanah meal can still be viewed through idealistic Berurian lenses following the footsteps of the commentators on Yonah, who note that his prophecy of an upheaval in Nineveh was accomplished as well by the sackcloth and prayer that turned it into a more righteous society as it would have been by the fire and brimstone that would have turned it into Sodomite ruins. So, too, if our enemies see the error of their ways, the fact that they are no longer besieging our gates would indeed constitute a removal, completion, or any other of the terms we utilize in expressing our hopes for them.



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