To Right the Un-right-able Wrongs

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There are songs that speak to me, some lost in time, others forever timeless. The Man of La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream” has always been a call to action for me, a truth so deep it seemed unbelievable that mankind could still view a quest such as this to be insanity.

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To be better far than you are
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

– Lyrics of The Impossible Dream (Man of La Mancha)

In a sense, the song (and the story) presents us with a challenge that we all face in our lives.

Do you fight evil when you don’t know if you can win? More, do you fight it knowing you can only lose? There is an answer in Judaism, though to many of us refuse to hear it. The answer, I have always believed, is yes. We fight and even if we lose, we are better for having fought – even if we die in the battle. Choose life, God commands us, and we should. But not life above ALL else…definitely life above almost everything.

This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far
To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause
And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest

– Lyrics of The Impossible Dream (Man of La Mancha)

In my early twenties, I was faced with such a dilemma, presented for the first time, by Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg. He was a leading Conservative Rabbi, a champion of American Jews, and he was, I am convinced to this day, wrong. The day after the US government approved the sale of a sophisticated weapons and surveillance system, Rabbi Hertzberg walked into a crowded classroom in Columbia University and in anger he stated that he had warned the American Jewish leadership not to fight the US government. His position was that you do not fight if you cannot win.

I argued with him about right and wrong and he said that I was naive. Perhaps I was. Perhaps I still am. Perhaps I always will be.

Recently, the US announced that it had learned that Bashar Assad, president of Syria, had begun using crematoria to burn the bodies of “prisoners” in Syria, obliterating their identities, their past and any future they might have had. To choose to be cremated is not a Jewish concept but it is an individual one; to be cremated by a government seeking to hide its crimes against humanity is something else entirely.

Reacting to this information, a former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces went on record saying that it was time for Israel to remove Assad from power (and from among the living).

I agree.

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

– Lyrics of The Impossible Dream (Man of La Mancha)

I wrote an article on my personal blog entitled, “Can you cry for your enemy?” and was correctly challenged about what happens after Assad is taken out? What would we have accomplished? Why should Israel bother when the rest of the world does virtually nothing?

All true, what can I say?

Why should we risk the lives of Israeli pilots and our other soldiers? True, so true.

And yet…

If more evil will come tomorrow, that doesn’t change the obligation to fight it today. What will happen after Assad falls? I have no idea. If we are lucky, the country will splinter into two livable parts or stay so splintered they won’t have time to bother us.

What would we accomplish…we’ll remove one evil from this world. That’s really all we can do. To strive, with our last ounce of courage…to try to right the unrightable wrongs…to be true to ourselves.

The world would be a better place if fewer people held up mirrors and more people challenged windmills.

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