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Does the U.S. Harbor a "Culture of Vengeance"?

Does the U.S. Harbor a "Culture of Vengeance"?

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I consider myself fortunate to be a citizen of a country that, as a theme, has rock-solid values. Its currency, the most widely circulated throughout the world, proudly proclaims the One in whom we trust. Its constitution trail-blazed the modern standards of human dignity. The Rebbe, in fact, often asserted that America is a "nation of kindness." (I'm also very aware that the United States is far from perfect, but, as I said, I'm referring to the rule rather than the exception.)

Two news items caught my attention this week. Both reported on dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in certain areas.

The first story is centered in Scotland, where the Scottish government is coming under fresh pressure – mostly from the U.S. – to justify its decision last year to release Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, on medical grounds. Megrahi, who was serving a life sentence for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 which killed 270 people, was released on "compassionate grounds" because he was suffering from advanced cancer that made it likely – or so it was claimed – that he had less than three months to live. Nearly a year later, however, Megrahi remains alive in Libya, where he was greeted as a hero on his return.

The leader of Scotland's Roman Catholics, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, joined the debate. He contrasted Scotland's "culture of compassion" with what he called a "culture of vengeance" in parts of the United States. "I would rather live in a country where justice is tempered by mercy than exist in one where vengeance and retribution are the norm."

The second story's title says it all: Patients' Last Two Months of Life Cost Medicare $50 Billion Last Year; Is There a Better Way?

Last year, as it turns out, Medicare paid $55 billion (!) just for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients' lives. That's more than the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, or the Department of Education. And it has been estimated that 20 to 30 percent of these medical expenses may have had no meaningful impact.

The article continues: "Now you might think this would have been an obvious thing for Congress to address when it passed health care reform, but as we [CBS's 60 Minutes] reported last November in the midst of the debate, what use to be a bipartisan issue has become a politically explosive one—a perfect example of the rising costs that threaten to bankrupt the country and how hard it is to rein them in..."

Two critiques. One claiming that we are too harsh. Another arguing that we are too soft.


There are situations that call for unbounded kindness, logic-defying kindness, kindness that demands real sacrifice. Such as when human life is at stake.

Abraham personified the attribute of kindness. His kindness flows in the blood of his descendants.

Then there are times when we must be unbendingly harsh, perhaps even unnaturally so. Times when to be soft is a crime against humanity. As Rabbi Eliezer says in the Midrash, "One who has mercy on cruel people, is ultimately being cruel to merciful people."

Isaac was the embodiment of discipline. He, too, is our father. From him we inherited the capacity to be tough as nails.

The key is knowing the appropriate reaction for a particular circumstance.

This is the quality we inherited from Jacob, the "choicest of the Patriarchs": the ability to integrate the qualities of Abraham and Isaac, to know how to temper each with the other, and to know when one is called for exclusively.


Rabbi Naftali Silberberg is a writer, editor and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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sheila ginsberg los angeles, CA September 24, 2010

culture of vengeance The inability to recognize when to be lenient and when to be tough led to horrific results in WW2. Chamberlain was a fool ,much like many of the left-wingers and peacenicks today .His forgiveness and "kindness" to the enemy led to the massacre of millions.The U.S. is the most compassionate country in the world. We help in disasters all over the world. When we have been tough or even belligerent it has been to advance the cause of democracy and peace in the world.It has become fashionable to be self-critical of our wars and meddling in the afffairs of other countries,but the aim has been to create a more peaceful planet, not to simply exploit other countries as some would assert. In regards to that there is a certain realpolitic in terms of protecting our interests ;both economically and politically. If we don't stay strong the entire world is affected. We are a leader and ,as such, receive lots of resentments from those third world cou;ntries. Ultimately, they will benefit . Reply

Anonymous Cambridge August 24, 2010

To Zach Grumet Compassion is not passive, but on the contrary, quite active...to have compassion for those that hate us, for those that wish us ill-will, is one of the most radical acts that we can do in this life...to stand up to them with openness, with love and compassion, with forgiveness, is far more difficult than giving them a bloody nose (and far more productive). And when we take this stance, the right physical actions follow naturally (which can include refraining from violence, hate, etc). Yes, it may seem idealistic, but it IS possible. Just look at MLK, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and others...it is up to us...we are all holy people, sometimes we do unholy things... Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel August 24, 2010

The Culture of Vengeance is at Home The US is a mixture of so many cultures that it is not surprising that it harbours vengeance too. What you are saying is that it also harbours good and kind attitudes to minorities. But what about majorities who are learning to their cost that the competition to become wealthy is driving them into homelessness and poverty?

The US pays no attention to the Mosiac attitude to the fair sharing of opportunities to earn a living and because of ths there is a need to change. But as Jews we are also behaving exactly the same and as a result the numbers of unemployed in Israel are increasing and the polarization of our society is growing.

What we need is the recognizition of the moral benefit when the rights to use of the land are more fairly shared. This can be done technically by a taxation system based on land values instead of earnings and income. But to achieve this we first need to accept the profound ideas of the Tanach for communal opportunity sharing and teaching by example Reply

Zack Grumet Woodbridge, VA USA August 15, 2010

Bigotry and Anti-Semitism My Father taught me, Tolerate no bigotry!
Sometimes a bloody nose can change a persons perspective. To be passive while encountering an act of hate is to in essence support it. Sometimes being a Jew is just tough. But that is our lot.
Life is sweet for those whom will only take the time to savor it Reply

Denise Toronto August 15, 2010

I think that's idealistic We have a horrible cruel boss. The two Jewish women in the office have been very nice to him and to all the office - we bring in food sometimes, gifts etc. He sees as us weak (neither of us can afford to leave) and continues being cruel and pushing us to the limit. He is like a Nazi and I don't think there was much that could change their minds either about their victims. Reply

Anonymous Guilford, CT August 15, 2010

how to handle those who would destroy us Every time there is an act of anti-semitism, no matter what it is, we need to seize the opportunity to use it as a springboard for communal discussion amongst all of us as to why it is happening and how to reach out with love and support to those carrying out these acts. Find the people responsible and work with them to bring them into the liglht of G-d's love. Gentiles are relieved when they learln that they too can act and live righteously. The Rebbe told us clearly to bring light into the darkness; that there can be no darkness if there is light and love there. Every human being wants to be able to respect themselves and to be loved. If they ulnderstood that all people are here to help spiritually uplift the world we know so that a little spark ofo the holy Shechina could come and live here with us, they would be glad and grateful to be able to participate. Reply

Denise (again) August 14, 2010

To Sarah Leah I am enjoying (is that the right word?) this discussion. If you are saying that ultimately every single country in the world is going to turn against the Jews then yes, I agree with you.

Is it your opinion that we should all move to Israel?

When I first came to Cda. I found Jews here ridiculously paranoid about anti-semitism but in the past few years it has become a reality. Reply

84Mystic Huntsville, Alabama August 13, 2010

Judgment vs Mercy I have seen elsewhere at chabad.org, a discussion about ancient Israel's Death Penalty being harsh. I will be blunt here, and say that Death is more merciful than life in prison without the possibility of parole. Our prison system SHOULD be about rehabilitation (correction) but it's not. It's hard to say WHAT it's about. It's a wonder how anyone who COULD be rehabilitated would receive the corrective help needed in the zoo that is the American prison system. The criminally insane (people who can't be rehabilitated) should receive the death penalty instead of life; it is merciful, and reduces prison costs. Life in prison is a waste of tax payers money and is about revenge, not rehabilitation (correction) Furthermore, the punishment should fit the crime, but we all know what really happens. POLITICS AND JUSTICE FOR MONEY ! Reply

Anonymous Indianapolis, IN August 13, 2010

Compassion Creates The Dilemma With regard to Medicare spending, it was the nation's compassion that created this dilemma in the first place. As a country, the US government decided it should demand tribute from every working person over the course of a lifetime and give it back to them vis a vis Medicare and Social Security upon retirement. Lo and behold, now that this is an "entitlement," the recipients and their families believe they should use all the medical care that the system affords. Had funding for medical care been kept with the individual, then each individual would have to make a reasoned decision whether or not to go the distance with end-of-life treatments. And no, I don't believe in "death panels" - those decisions should stay with the individual and family, not with a bunch of government bureaucrats. Reply

Anonymous Cambridge, MA August 13, 2010

"One who has mercy on cruel people, is ultimately being cruel to merciful people"--this is the type of archaic thinking that will keep the world in a perpetual state of war. Compassion should be offered to all people regardless of our judgments concerning their character. We must exercise our hearts toward the merciful and cruel alike, for we are all made from G-d's infinite light. Reply

Rachel Garber Phila , PA USA August 13, 2010

Compassio vs Venegence I have mixed feeling abt that, I recently read that the US and Israel are the only industrialized nations that sentence child urders,life without parole, not surprised abt the US, but very dismayed at Israel. We know, or should know, that kids brains are not fully developed and aren't always capable of understanding the consequences of their deeds. In this country we see movies and TV shows of people being "killed" and then popping up the next day in another movie. Can kids comprhend that they person they killed won't "pop up" the next day. Regarding compassion, I have issues with freeing someone like the man involved in the Lockerbie bombing, I think that is carrying compassion too far, was he not receiving the medical treatment he needed? Regarding the Medicare issue, weren't people raising a stink a few months ago, about "death panels" Either we want Medicare to pay for these people or doctors can advise people of their options, we seem to want it both ways. Reply

Anonymous K.C., Mo. August 13, 2010

It was not their call. What is the point of condemning a crime, if the punishments can be rescinded ? If a country is unwilling to submit to terrorism, it will have to hold its position without waivering. It is not veangence to require a criminal to serve a sentence, it is the honoring of a debt. for Scotland to determine the fate of an international terrorist without consulting the international community is beyond insensitive, it is arrogant. Reply

Sarah Leah Jerusalem, Israel August 13, 2010

Sleepwalking Preference of US policies aimed at Canada? Not yet. The veneer of tolerance that has been "shown" to US Jews is not going to last too long. US domestic and foreign policies are making things more and more intolerable for the general population. The only thing that has preserved the illusion tolerance of Jews for the present is their money and vote.

However, one only has to look at the US Constitution being make a mockery of by those in the highest echelons of the gov't, along with the decidedly pro-Arab policies to see where the true influence is coming from. The Ground Zero Mosque is a poster for this. Shariah law rearing its ugly head in the US is another dose of cold water that should be waking people up. The US (Obama) pandering to the Arabs is another. There is a hiatus in this at present, for a bit, due to Nov. elections at hand-Jewish $/votes are needed.

Appointees are amoral, ignorant but in sync with POTUS politics.

IT IS TIME TO STOP SLEEPWALKING. Reply

Denise Toronto August 12, 2010

The belly of Esau? Jews have thrived in the US and encountered mainly tolerance. I'd rather have the US imposing its values than China, Pakistan, any Arab country, France.... Reply

sarah leah Jerusalem, Israel August 12, 2010

US Harbors Culture of Vengeance You cite examples from Scriptures - all these people did everything for the sake of Heaven.

The only Culture of Vengeance which is truly being harbored - nay, nurtured - is Islam. None of the acts of so-called mercy have been motivated by anything more than greed, money, power. There is nothing on the positive balance side of the sheet.

What Jews are comprised of is one thing - but the United States? You are in the belly of Esau. Reply

What's the latest news? For that information, check your local or national news outlet. In this blog we will discuss the "why?"

Not "why did this event occur?" but "why did I find out about it?" There must be a reason. It must contain a lesson I can use to better myself and my surroundings. Together we will find the lessons...
Naftali SilberbergRabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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