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Sunday, 22 October 2017

Are human beings innately evil?

Daf Yomi Sanhedrin 96


Nebuzaradan, the general of the Babylonian army was the tyrant who destroyed Jerusalem, ending the First Commonwealth.   A mighty warrior, he entered the city, ploughing down anyone who stood in his path, right up to the Holy Temple.  When he reached the Sanctuary, he saw the blood of the Prophet Zechariah boiling, which had not calmed since he was killed by his fellow Jews.  

Nebuzaradan asked the priests, “What is this?”
They replied, “It is the blood of sacrifices that was spilled.”
Nebuzaradan said to them, “Bring animals and I will test to determine if the blood of the animals is similar to the blood that is boiling.” He slaughtered the animals and their blood was not similar to the boiling blood.
Nebuzaradan said to the priests, “Reveal the source of that blood to me, and if not I will comb your flesh with an iron comb.”

The priests said to Nebuzaradan, “This blood is the blood of a priest and a prophet who prophesied for the Jewish people with regard to the destruction of Jerusalem and whom they killed.”
He said to the priests, “I will pacify the blood so the boiling will stop.” He brought the Sages and killed them over the blood and its boiling did not cease. He brought schoolchildren and killed them over the blood and its boiling did not cease. He brought young priests and killed them over the blood and its boiling did not cease. He continued killing until he killed 940,000 people over the blood, and still the boiling did not cease. 

Nebuzaradan approached the blood and said, “Zechariah, Zechariah, the worthy among them I killed on your behalf. Would it be satisfactory for you if I were to kill them all?”  Immediately the boiling ceased.
Nebuzaradan contemplated repentance, saying to himself, “If they, who caused only one person to perish, gained atonement only after all this killing, then how about myself, what will be required for me to gain atonement?  He deserted his army and dispatched a last will to his house and converted.

Naaman the Aramean became a resident of Israel.  Nebuzaradan converted to Judaism. The descendants of (the wicked general) Sisera studied Torah in Jerusalem. The descendants of Sennacherib taught Torah in public. And who are they? Shemaya and Avtalyon.  The descendants of Haman studied Torah in Bnei Brak.

Wasn’t Haman an Amalekite?  Whatever happened to wiping out Amalek?  How could we have accepted his grandchildren as converts, let alone yeshiva bochurim?  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: we have here a laundry list of all the worst antisemites who, either personally or their descendants, ended up joining the Jewish people!  It’s almost unbelievable that we accepted Nebuzaradan as a convert, after the terrible atrocities he committed, what were we thinking?? 

When we left Egypt, we were attacked by the Amalekites.  At the consummation of our victory, the Torah instructed us to “erase the memory of Amalek.”  But who were the Amalekites and where did they come from?  How do we find them to eradicate them?

Although in Tanach we find locales of their residence, the Torah initially ascribes to them nomadic status.  They were wanderers in the desert, who “encountered” us and attacked.  The Torah is implying that the concept of Amalek has no fixed abode.  Hitler and the Nazi Germans were most certainly Amalekites.  And yet, today Germany is one of the most welcoming countries in the world for Jews and other immigrants.  The Spaniards, at one point, burned Jews at the stake; recently, they’ve extended an invitation for Jews of Spanish descent to return to the country.  Even the worst Amalekites and their children are not beyond redemption.

Sometimes we dismiss certain people or nations as inherently anti-Jewish, or worse yet, rotten to the core.  Heaven forbid!  Every person in this world was created in the image of G-d and is essentially good.  At first, we may not appreciate their innate holiness.  But if we maintain our faith in G-d and man, we will persevere in our efforts to rehabilitate even the lowest of the low.


Domestic, regional, and global peace can only come with a prior belief in the goodness of every human being.  Only when you see every human being as a child of the Almighty will you discover the good person concealed deep inside.  May we merit to see the G-dliness of every human being revealed speedily in our days!