By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. William Petit who, in his extreme hour of grief, taught us a valuable lesson about the nature of evil, forgiveness, and the problem of suffering.
No, not what you would expect. In speaking of the man convicted of killing his wife and two daughters, Petit did not deliver an amoral, slobbering speech about forgiving his wife and daughters' murderer and how all suffering teaches us some valuable lesson, enriching us in the process. On the contrary, he said that the murderer deserved his sentence of death and that the loss of his family would leave a gaping hole in his heart that would never close.
What a relief. Finally someone who does not excuse gross evil, who refuses to forgive monstrous acts of human cruelty, and who says that suffering is not only not redeeming but leaves a permanent wound that never heals.
The facts of the
case are by now well known. On Nov. 8, 2010, Steven Hayes was convicted of
murdering Petit's wife Jennifer Hawke-Petit and received the death penalty. The
jury found him guilty for his crimes in a horrific home invasion in
Tuesday, on the courthouse steps Dr. William Petit, who was savagely beaten in the attack but survived, said this: "We thank the jury for their diligence and consideration. We feel that it was an appropriate verdict. There is some relief, but my family is still gone. It doesn't bring them back. It doesn't bring back the home that we had."
He spoke eloquently of how, although some of the jagged edges of his heart would smooth over slightly with time, the essential hole in his heart and soul would never close. "It's helpful that justice has been served with an appropriate verdict," he said. "I don't think there's ever closure. I think whoever came up with that concept is an imbecile... And I think many of you know it who have lost a parent or a child or a friend, there's never closure. There's a hole, you know. The way I've imagined it straight through, it's a hole with jagged edges and over time the edges may smooth out a little bit, but the hole in your heart and the hole in your soul is still there. So there's never closure. I was very much insulted when people asked me last year that if the death penalty were rendered would that somehow give me closure. Absolutely not. You know, this is not about revenge."
Over the past few years many of us have lost our moral bearings on the subject of evil and human suffering. Many of my Christian brothers and sisters take Jesus' teachings about forgiving our enemies completely out of context. Jesus said to forgive your enemies. Your enemy is the guy who steals your parking space. But God's enemies are men who can rape and slaughter two young women and their mother and torture them before doing so. In Ecclesiastes King Solomon famously says "there is a time to love and a time to hate." This is that time. We must love the Petit family and hate their murderers. Yes, hatred is a valid emotion when directed at the truly evil.
No, I do not believe in revenge. I believe in justice. But only a true hatred of evil compels us to fight wickedness with every legitimate means at our disposal.
When I lived in England during some of the worst years of the Northern Ireland troubles I once heard a man whose father was killed by the IRA for no reason other than he was a Protestant immediately say that as a Christian he is compelled to love his father's murderers. He said he forgave them for killing his father. But no human being, even the man's son, can confer such forgiveness. The act of taking a human life is a crime against God who created life and endowed it with infinite worth. And such acts of misguided magnanimity and forgiveness make a mockery of human love and a shambles of human justice. Murder in cold blood dare not be forgiven. Murderers who have erased the image of God from their countenance through savage acts of brutality have removed themselves from the human family. They are not our brothers and we are under no obligation to love them. Indeed, any love we have in our hearts must be directed at the victims of violence rather than at their culprits.
Yes, Jesus said 'turn the other cheek.' But is anyone so morally lost as to suggest that he meant if someone rapes your wife, give him your daughter to rape as well? Of course, what Jesus meant was to forgive the petty slights that people enact against you. If a friend pretends not to notice you at a party, forgive them. If your husband loses his temper and yells, yes he must apologize. But be quick to forgive. But Jesus never meant that we should not dedicate ourselves to fighting evil.
Psalm 97 makes it clear. "Let those who love the Lord hate evil." It's repeated again in Proverbs Chap 8: "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Yes, hatred has its place, but only under a single condition that was met in the terrible Petit murders: the human confrontation with extreme evil.
Boteach heads This World: The Values Network, an organization dedicated to
promoting universal Jewish values to heal