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Why Pray for the Destruction of our Enemies?

Why Pray for the Destruction of our Enemies?

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Question:

I'm bothered by the prayer that calls for the destruction of our enemies. What if I don't want my enemies to be "uprooted, smashed, destroyed, lowered and subjugated"? Maybe I wish for them understanding and wisdom to realize that they're doing wrong so that they can repent. Is it a problem that I feel this way? Can I maybe replace this part with my own prayer?

Response:

While you ask your question from what some may call a "modern moral standpoint," this sentiment is actually expressed in the Torah and is part of halachah (Torah law), as can be seen from the following episode in the Talmud:1

There were certain hooligans who resided in the neighborhood of Rabbi Meir, and they caused him much misery and anguish. Once, Rabbi Meir prayed for mercy regarding them, so that they would die.2 His wife Beruriah said to him, "What makes you think that such a prayer is permitted? Is it because the verse states3 'Let sinners [chataim] cease from the earth'? But is it written 'chotim'—sinners? Rather it is written 'chataim'—that which causes one to sin, namely the evil inclination. Furthermore, the end of the verse continues, '…and let the wicked be no more.' Since the sins will cease, there will be no more wicked men!

"Rather," she concluded, "pray for them that they should repent, and there will be no more wicked people."

He did pray for them, and they repented.

As we can see clearly from this episode, one should not pray for others to be punished, rather we should pray that they repent and do teshuvah. Which brings us to your question: How can we then do the exact opposite and pray for the wicked to be punished three times a day in an established prayer?4

Furthermore, if we look at the book of Psalms, only a few chapters after the verse that Beruriah cited to teach us that one should pray for the cessation of sins rather than the punishment of the wicked, we find King David doing the exact opposite!

We find King David praying that "when he [King David's enemy] is judged, let him emerge guilty, and let his prayer be accounted as a sin. May his days be few, and may someone else take his office of dignity. May his sons be orphans and his wife a widow. May his sons wander, and [people] should ask and search from their ruins. May a creditor search out all he has, and may strangers despoil his labor. May he have none who extends kindness, and may no one be gracious to his orphans…"5 Hardly a manifestation of the above cited dictum, based on King David's own words, to pray for the cessation of sins but not sinners!

Back to the prayer we are discussing, which is one of the nineteen blessings of the most central Jewish prayer, the Amidah. Originally, the Amidah contained only eighteen blessings. In the generation that witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans, the Jews were further plagued by members of various sects who took delight in informing on the rabbis to the Roman authorities, and in devising various ways of enticing the unsuspecting Jews to abandon the path of their forefathers. It is against this backdrop that the Talmud relates6:

Shimon the cotton merchant arranged the eighteen blessings of the Amidah before Raban Gamliel in Yavneh.7 Raban Gamliel said to the sages: "Is there anyone who knows how to formulate a blessing against the heretics and the wicked?" Shmuel Hakatan ("the small") arose and formulated it.

A little knowledge of the author of this prayer will help us to understand it better. As we know, every word in our prayer is exact, each word reflecting a deeper meaning and intent. It was for this reason that Raban Gamliel, who was the leader of the Jewish community at the time, sought a unique individual that was suited for the formulation of this unique blessing.

Examining Shmuel Hakatan's other sayings (there aren't that many), we find a character that appears in striking contrast to the Shmuel Hakatan who composed a prayer against the heretics. In Ethics of the Fathers we read:

Shmuel Hakatan would say: "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice; when he stumbles, let your heart not be gladdened. Lest G‑d see, and it will be displeasing in His eyes, and He will turn His wrath from him to you."8

Shmuel Hakatan is simply quoting the Book of Proverbs,9 yet the Mishnah cites this in his name. Why? Because this was a statement that typified him; something that would be continually not just on his lips but reflected in his actions. Never mind not praying for the punishment of the wicked, Shmuel Hakatan is of the opinion that even when they are already punished we should not rejoice. Hardly the one you would expect to rise to the occasion of formulating a prayer for the wicked to be punished!

All this leads us to the conclusion that there must be different types of sinners. For some we are permitted to pray that they be punished, while for others we are not.

Again we quote the Ethics:

One who causes the community to be meritorious, no sin will come by his hand. One who causes the community to sin is not given the opportunity to repent.10

Commentaries11 explain that this means to say that Heaven does not help such an individual repent. The doors of repentance are never locked, but for some people, they may require a lot of pounding before they open.

This is the sort of person to whom the blessing against the heretics in the Amidah refers. Yes, we would all prefer to pray that this person repent rather than be punished. Furthermore, even if we could not pray for him to repent for whatever reason, we could just leave him alone and out of our prayers altogether—as long as his actions are not affecting anyone else. Here is an instance, however, where we are simply left no choice. We are told that Heaven does not help him to repent, so of what use is it to pray for him? Yet neither do we have the option to leave him be while he causes others to sin, informing upon us to the authorities and endangering the entire nation physically and spiritually.

Imagine a patient who has a limb with a malignant infection that is slowly spreading throughout the body, so that his only hope for survival is to have the limb amputated. Any doctor who out of misplaced mercy for his patient decides not to amputate, not only is he not helping his patient, he may very well be condemning him to death. While no sane person with even an ounce of compassion wishes to see someone else suffer, let alone lose their limb, when faced with an existential threat we are many times left with no other choice.

Now that we know this, we can better understand the wording of the blessing. We say, "…and may You swiftly uproot, break, crush, and subdue the reign of wickedness speedily in our days." The order of the words is puzzling. If the reign of wickedness is uprooted, broken and crushed, how can it now be subdued? What is left to subdue?

The answer is that this wording follows a teaching of the Zohar, that there are four general forms of evil forces in the world. Three are completely lost to evil, while the fourth one, known as klipat nogah, is a composite of both good and bad. It turns out that in the blessing against the heretics, while we pray for the total eradication of unsalvageable evil, we also pray that whatever good there is mixed up in there should indeed be saved. As the Rebbe writes regarding this part of the blessing of the heretics:

…pause slightly between the words crush and subdue, in consonance with the intent that uproot, break and crush refer to the three forms of evil that must be completely eradicated. Subdue refers to kelipat nogah that needs only to be subdued and can be purified.12

May we merit the day when all evil ceases to exist with the coming of the ultimate Redemption.

Footnotes
1.
Berachot 10a.
2.
The reason death is considered "merciful" in this situation is because G‑d rewards some people in this world in order that there be no rewards left to be rewarded to them in the world to come. However, if they are punished in this world, then there are rewards left for them to be rewarded in the world to come (see Ben Yehoyada ibid).
4.
There are slightly different versions of the Birkat Haminim (the name of the twelfth blessing in the Amidah which is the blessing that we are discussing) and indeed some of these versions only ask for the cessation of wickedness, but not the sinners themselves. However, many versions of this blessing do in fact ask for the wicked to be punished. Furthermore, the question remains regardless, as shall be explained.
5.
Psalms 109.
6.
Berachot 28b.
7.
The order of the blessings were actually established years earlier by the Men of the Great Assembly, however, over the years it was forgotten and it was reinstated by Shimon the cotton merchant (see commentaries ibid).
8.
Ethics of the Fathers, 4:19.
9.
24:17-18.
10.
Ethics of the Fathers, 5:18.
11.
See Midrash Shmuel ibid.
12.
Hayom Yom, Tevet 26.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Eli feruch Malchut December 3, 2014

Who is the enemy? i am the slanderer. i am the wicked etc.. The figures I see outside are nothing but representations of the parts of my soul. when I ask for the slanderers to be "above" hope, "in the first place", when I ask for "all" the wicked (that is even the ones I do not see) to be doomed "in an instant", etc..

then I ask nothing but for the Great One to correct my self.

No reasonable person should see the enemy outside as a friend for "me" inside. for the wicked and the slander is inside and not outside. Reply

Daniel Cali, Colombia via lubavitchnh.com May 1, 2014

The Greatest Commandment? I prayed for the world, that it be overcome with unification, healing, and love and the practical joker G-d is, he changed me instead. Be careful of what we pray for, our enemy is within us. Our enemy is the broken state of ignorance and forgetting of who we truly are. G-d set before us the Shema, and told us to repeat in until we get it, and we’re still repeating it so I guess we haven’t gotten it yet, the world is still a mess. The Shema is the pinnacle of the Blessed Torah, it tells us who we are and how we together create the world we live in. Love our enemies, for a loving friend is more valuable than a dead enemy. Our enemies bless us, as they remind us that we are not yet awake. Get the Shema, and we will have become Israel, and our enemies will vanish. It is written, if you lack, pray that another get it, and before they receive it, you shall have it. Desire the death of our enemies that they may all love us and when we do, G-d will start by making us a more lovable people. Reply

George Grasser HoHoKus, 07423 November 7, 2011

Don't be bothered at all. The death of bad people can help those who are doing good for the community live in peace and prosper. Reply

Anonymous Blacksburg, VA November 4, 2011

Don't just look outward...look inward. It occurred to me some time ago that each of the prayers in the Amidah that (at first glance) seem to be about others, can also be directed at us.

Often I am my own worst enemy. That part of me needs to be defeated.

Often I am proud and need humbling.

Picture yourself as the recipient of these prayers and you will pray them in love. When I am uprooted and challenged, when I am humbled, I grow and become a better person. Wish this upon your "enemies" and it resolves your conflict of interest. Reply

Anonymous Garden City, 12 January 8, 2011

destruction can be a path to light Working with alcoholics I am always amazed at who recovers and who doesnt. It seems to me that unless the malevolent consequences of ones behavior is sufficient to blot out any benefit from a behavior. The behavior stays and destroys a person. In fact it is usually the most hopeless case that gets well where as those who arent so bad return to their deviant behavior. Being crushed can be a very good and fruitful thing. Reply

Joseph December 18, 2010

Why Pray for the Destruction of our Enemies? This is a quite impresive enlightment.Thanks! Reply

Yossi Marcus S. Mateo, CA via chabadnp.com May 30, 2010

Excellent! Love the article. Kudos to Rabbi Shurpin. Reply

Sharon Kay Oliver Portales, New Mexico September 9, 2009

G-d's Ways are not our ways I can only tell you a true story (one of many) that happened to me a few years ago. When Saddam Hussein's two sons were assassinated (almost simultaneously), I heard the news and I cried (I mean, I really cried). I said, "G-d, this is crazy. Why am I crying? They were despicable young men. Have you not read about them?" Nothing happened that day. The next morning, when I went onto the Internet to get news from Jerusalem, there was something that said, "G-d does not rejoice even when the wicked perish." It was then I began to talk to G-d again, and a knowing came over me that those young men never knew the love of a father. How many people are there that do not know the love of a father. Their lot in this life may not have allowed them that love; but, who are we to say, that they will not find it in the next life. I hope this helps. Shalom, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Reply

May Millar Edinburgh, Scotland August 24, 2009

The Taliban Afghanistan has been governed, now for many years by what I would describe as "Pure Evil". The women of this unfortunate country are subdued by this evil regime and reduced to slaves. Every day I watch live programs about the essential work our brave soldiers are doing to try to subdue this "Evil Force" and save these unfortuate women from their life of "living hell". The Taliban are similar to the Nazis and must ultimately be destroyed. If our Forces are pulled out, the future of the Afghan women will be very bleak indeed. I sincerely hope our Government decides to keep our troups in Afghanistan as their work is essential. I pray every day for these brave men and women, who are fighting this evil and also pray for the destruction of the evil terrorists, who are sub-human beings and not in "The Light" of "The Eternal Spirit". Reply

Dave Flinkstein London, UK July 28, 2009

Manchester Maffia Manchester is acknowledged as the toughest city in the UK with gun crimes soaring (other Brit cities do not have gun crimes). I had a run in with the Machester Maffia and after several murder attempts, that I survived by sheer luck, I decided to leave Manchester before my luck ran out. Even the GMP or Greater Manchester Police are part of the Maffia in Manchester, I mean serious involvement. About praying for your enemies to be crushed, why not? Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel July 26, 2009

Know Thy Enemy An enemy is a person or institution who/that is clearly dedicated to causing us harm, damage or death. Without this clear indication we cannot tell what the situation is, but with it there is no doubt.
Turning one's enemies to become one's friends is an ideal that is not often practical and although we have the example of Bilam, this was not due to a human intervention. The idea of Nazism is not itself an enemy, we must carefully distinguish between the actors and the theme. Reply

JBJ Orangeville, On July 25, 2009

Who Knows Your Enemies The one with the question seems to assume he KNOWS who his enemies are, only the Lord knows. He also assumes the Lord will do just because he asks, and what he will do. Could enemies be destroyed also by turning them into friends? Is not every option in the universe available to G-d? If he feels sympathetic towards someone then perhaps this is not his enemy. Reply

Dave London, UK July 25, 2009

Identifying the enemy. The Nazis wanted to exterminate the Jews in Europe because they believed in a world wide Jewish conspiracy. The question is how far does rationality have the power to overcome irrationality? The weakness of rationality when confronting irrationality is that rationality cannot easily arouse the strength of emotion aroused by irrationality. Some Nazis actually did not hate Jews yet they believed that Jews should be exterminated because of the intellectual argument that Jews had invented both capitalism and socialism in order to control the world. Let's put it another way. HCFC gases in the atmosphere might possibly raise the world temperature by a couple of centigrades in the 2050's. What does the media say? Innocent CO2 that escapes immediately into space threatens to turn the world into an infernor. There is talk of carbon footprints, taxes to pay for capturing C02. Climate scientists, supposed heat waves caused by C02. The Nazis had racial scientist. HCFC gases are guilty, not CO2 ! Reply

Charles Richman Fripp Island, sc/usa July 24, 2009

Pray to kill our enemies. Jew vs. Jew by Samuel Freedman, the Bernie Madoff horror, and now the Rabbis from NJ and NY caught laundering money are examples of how we at times are our own worse enemy. It is a SHANDA the way some of us commit the sin of turning against ourselves. G-d teaches us not only to guard our tongues but to embrace the ethical-moral teachings of the Torah, Talmud and our forefathers. It's time we paid attention. Whether it was Adam in the Garden of Eden, the Jewish people and the golden calf, or too many of us today--------- we seem not to get the message. Reply

David Chester Petach Tikva, Israel July 23, 2009

Prayers Against our Enemies There are other places where the prayer of our people is turned against those who are enemies. I can think of two (but it is of interest to list them all).

These are the Song of Mirriam (after Pharoh and his soldiers are drowned in the Reed Sea): "Sing unto the Lord, for the horse and rider he has cast into the sea" and the recitation on Seder Night on openning the door and pouring out the cup for Elijah: "Pour out thy wrath against the nations that know you not" (at this dramatic moment in the service I almost feel the air sizzling in hatred).

Would it not be of use for us to see a full explanation of the various kinds of sins and attitude to them that apply? Reply

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