When I heard the news of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the first thing I thought of was the Jews leaving Egypt.
It wasn’t so much the news of al-Baghdadi’s death that prompted that, but how the news was announced to the world by that epitome of anti-Torah behavior, namely Trump.
The Jews were slaves in Egypt for 210 years, a very long time. And the conditions under which they lived were no picnic, as anyone who has ever attended a Passover Seder knows. It’s why we put salt water on the table to symbolize all the tears they shed as they were so horribly persecuted, were treated as what they were, slaves.
After Pharaoh finally allowed our people to go, he changed his mind and he and his army in their chariots pursued them right up to the Red Sea. It was there that G-d parted the waters to allow the Jews to get to the other side. Once they were safely there, the waters returned to normal and drowned the pursuing Egyptian army.
Needless to say, it was a very happy occasion for the Jews. They were free at last. The Egyptians who had so long tormented them were dead. And so we are told that understandably upon seeing the drowning Egyptians, the angels up in heaven wanted to sing out in joy. G-d, however, immediately silenced them, saying “how dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying.”
King Solomon wrote in his book of Proverbs, “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice” (24:17). In Ezekiel, we read, “As I live, says G-d, I do not wish for the death of the wicked, but for the wicked to repent of their way, so that they may live.”
The point is that the Jewish way is not to rejoice at the loss of life, even the loss of evil life, of our enemies, of the worst people there are.
Look, I know some of you are sick about me pointing out Trump’s sins over and over and frankly I am sick of having to do it. I pray for the day when he is back up in Trump Tower and we don’t have to care about the evil he does and the evil he says.
But for the moment, he is the president of the United States and what he does and what he says matters a lot. And no, I’m not talking so much about how he has eliminated rules put in place after the banking crisis of 2008, thus almost ensuring that somewhere down the line there will be another banking disaster. And I am not talking about all the lobbyists he has put in power to ruin the agencies they are running, how he has eliminated laws protecting endangered species and preventing pollution of our air and water. I am not even talking about all his corruption, using his office to make money for his hotels and blackmailing foreign countries to help his reelection.
I am talking mostly about his talking. The words of a president have a unique power. Indeed, interviews with almost every president of the last 50 years has shown that the thing they most had to adjust to was how powerful every single thing they said was, how much it mattered, how much it effected, how much impact it had.
Trump’s words will long outlast him and will have a negative influence for decades. His obscene ‘fake news,’ to give but one example, is believed by a lot of people who have no idea how much they rely on and need an independent media fulfilling the duty given it by the First Amendment. The sick irony is that Fox News is indeed fake news. The New York Times and Washington Post and other legitimate media perform an incredible public service, but one that a lot of people now doubt thanks to Trump’s repeating those two inciting words, ‘fake news.’
There are so many other examples, but let’s deal now with al-Baghdadi. You know they say it is easy to show grace when you win, are on top, not so easy when you lose, when you are going through tough times. Being graceful when you are down is the real test.
But Trump is so missing of a soul, of any sense of decency, that even in victory, even at a moment of triumph, he finds it impossible to be dignified, shows how graceless he is.
And so in reporting to the nation and the world the death of al-Baghdadi, what struck me is not the intelligence methods he so foolishly revealed, not how he thanked the dictators of Turkey and Russia and attacked democratic European countries, not how he gave Putin advance notice of the raid but not Nancy Pelosi, not how he bragged about taking another country’s oil, exactly the kind of thing that inspires terrorists and demeans the United States, not how he failed to recognize his betrayal of the Kurds and how it made the mission much harder, not how, in the insightful worlds of David Sanger of the New York Times, “The death of the Islamic State’s leader in a daring nighttime raid vindicated the value of three traditional American strengths: robust alliances, faith in intelligence agencies and the projection of military power around the world. But President Trump has regularly derided the first two. And even as he claimed a significant national security victory, the outcome of the raid did little to quell doubts about the wisdom of his push to reduce the United States military presence in Syria at a time when terrorist threats continue to develop in the region.”
No, what struck me most of all, frightened me most of all, was the ugliness of how he spoke about al-Baghdadi. And before I continue, let me make clear to my dimwitted friends of the right wing, no, I am not defending this murderous terrorist, and yes, I am glad he is dead. What I am doing is trying to act like the Torah teaches. And that is “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice.” But rejoice Trump did, gloat Trump did, spike the football Trump did.
I read the entire transcript of Trump’s rambling, semi-coherent, mental patient like statement and follow up press conference. Here verbatim are some actual things he said. The repetition is all his.
“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way. His body was mutilated by the blast. The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him. He died in a vicious and violent way, as a coward, running and crying.
“He died like a dog. He died like a coward. He died like a dog, he died like a coward. He was whimpering, screaming, and crying. He didn’t die a hero. He died a coward — crying, whimpering, screaming.
“They brought body parts back with them. There wasn’t much left. The vest blew up, but there are still substantial pieces that they brought back. He died in a ruthless, vicious manner. That I can tell you. He was screaming, crying, and whimpering. And he was scared out of his mind.
“He was also a coward. And he didn’t want to die. He was an animal, and he was a gutless animal.”
Let’s forget for a moment that we don’t know if any of his many claims that al-Baghdadi was whimpering and crying and screaming are true. Trump’s secretary of defense said he had no knowledge of that. His chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he had no knowledge of that. Trump claimed he watched it all, saying it was ‘like a movie.’ Only problem is there was no video of what happened in the tunnel where al-Baghdadi died. No video. Trump did not see what happened, does not know if al-Baghdadi was crying and whimpering and screaming.
But that’s beside the point. The point is what was the point of all that ugly language, that rejoicing in how he died like a dog, that glee in saying he was crying and whimpering and screaming.
The Torah tells us very clearly and specifically not to do that. Even if we have a Jewish daughter and son in law and even if that Jewish son in law’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Indeed, the angels were stopped from singing after the Egyptians, our great, brutal enemy, our slave masters, drowned, because G-d himself said “how dare you sing for joy when My creatures are dying.”
That is how a human being, created in the image of G-d, is to behave. Even when he defeats his enemy, even when evil is vanquished, we do not rejoice, we do not mock, we do not belittle, we do not defame, we do not say all the things Trump said in that press conference.
I know right wingers have minds that are sealed shut when it comes to Trump, I know right wingers see Barack Obama as the devil, and so I know it’s useless to suggest, but for those Jews who still have an open mind, go to YouTube and watch a video of the statement Obama made when he announced the killing of Osama bin Laden. Then watch a video of Trump announcing the killing of al-Baghdadi. You will know you are still a functioning Jew if you can see which is the Jewish way to react after the death of your evil enemy and which goes against what the Torah teaches about reacting after the death of your evil enemy.
I care so much about this because while Trump himself will one day, soon G-d willing, be gone from the scene, the example he set will not. A lot of people watched that press conference, heard his words and are coarsened by it, emboldened by it, will emulate it, will be less human because of it. And our whole society will thus be less civil, will be more nasty, less holy, more depraved. Watch any Trump rally and you see how ordinary people kvell from the ugly words.
I despise Trump but I was upset when he attended the World Series game and many in the crowd shouted ‘lock him up.’ For it showed that we have all been infected, to a greater or lesser extent, by this disgusting creature. We feel it is okay to shout ‘lock him up’ because he made it okay to say ‘lock her up.’ We feel it is okay to say the worst things about others because read his twitter account and you see what he says about everyone from Meryl Streep to James Mattis, his love for killers like Putin and Erdogan and Kim and MBS, his name calling of Merkel and Macron and Schiff.
We should all have been happy to hear that al-Baghdadi had been killed. We all should have been appalled at how Trump told us about it. His words made it easier for us to rejoice when we shouldn’t, treat others, even our enemies, as we shouldn’t, robbed us of our compassion.
Maimonides taught us that the essence of Judaism is kindness. Trump shows us the essence of him is scuminess.