By Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis
The Nile is a river in Egypt. It was in the Nile that Pharaoh decreed Jewish babies be drowned. It was in the Nile that the enslavement of the Jewish people turned into the extermination of the Jewish people. It all began at the Nile.
But in Brooklyn, where I’m from, there’s another word that sounds like the Nile, but it’s spelled “D-E-N-I-A-L.”
Why did the Egyptians turn against the Jews? After all, the Jewish people were a benefit to Egypt. Joseph came to Egypt as a slave child and rose to become the prime minister of the Egyptian empire. He single-handedly rescued the Egyptians from economic ruin and starvation.
What went wrong?
The Torah (Exodus 1:8) tells us: “Vayakam melech chadash asher lo yada et Yosef” (“A new king arose over Egypt who knew not Joseph”). But how was it possible not to know Joseph? It wasn’t that many years since Joseph had died. His impact was still significantly felt.
Rashi comments: “Asa atzmo k’ilu lo y’dao” (“Pharaoh caused himself not to know”). It was all a matter of denial.
Yes, the Nile is a river in Egypt, but denial — defined in the dictionary as “a refusal to admit the truth or reality” — was a problem way back then, and more and more it’s becoming a problem in our world today.
On Wednesday, Dec. 2, Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, walked into a Christmas party for his co-workers at a community service center in San Bernardino, Calif. The two were wearing body armor and were carrying automatic rifles, pipe bombs and pistols. They opened fire, killed 14, and wounded 17.
Thank G-d a bomb they had with them did not go off, or there would have been much greater carnage. Later they were cornered and killed by police.
The news media jumped into action and gave the attack constant coverage for one day. The rest of the media — along with most of America — carried on like business as usual.
Business as usual? This was the first serious terror attack in America since 9/11. How many have to die before we take terrorism more seriously? Is it 130 like in Paris? Three thousand like on 9/11? How much lower will America sink before it regains its senses?
The police and media, taking their lead from President Barack Obama, said the shooting may be a case of “mixed motives” and initially declined to call it “terrorism.” It took two days for the FBI to consider publically that it might be terrorism.
Was it workplace violence like the shooting at Fort Hood, which really wasn’t? This couple just happened to have camouflage suits, assault rifles, pipe bombs and thousands of rounds of ammunition handy should anyone tick them off at work?
We know Farook and Malik were very religious, had contact with radical Islamic elements and spent time in Saudi Arabia, and the wife pledged allegiance to Islamic State on Facebook.
The obvious conclusion is that they were jihadists who killed in the name of Islam. But in America today you can’t state the obvious. To do so is considered irresponsible. If you’re in denial about terrorism, however, you’ll never be able to do much about it.
What was the inspiring message given by our president in the wake of this terror attack (before his speech Sunday night, Dec. 6)? He said the massacre demonstrates that the United States needs stricter gun laws. As for the motives of the shooters, Obama shrugged. “We don’t yet know.”
In other words, while ignoring what in all likelihood drove Farook and his wife to murder innocent people, Obama laid responsibility for the carnage at the feet of his political opponents who reject his demands for stricter gun control.
Note that California has some of the most stringent gun control laws in America, and the guns used in the attack were obtained legally.
Now I was an advocate of gun control in the past, but these kinds of incidents highlight the fact that this couple could reload their weapons, kill and wound so many without interruption. Why? Because no one with a gun was there to stop them.
In almost every recent terror attack in Israel, the Palestinian terrorists were shot immediately, before they could do more harm, because someone on the street had a gun.
Like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, Obama chose to press the immediately irrelevant point of gun control while ignoring the immediate crisis of terrorism that threatens America.
It’s maddening to see the hemming and hawing about the difference between terrorism and workplace violence. If Syed Farook murdered his co-workers because they insulted him, so what?
The issue is that after being insulted, he and his wife proceeded to execute a detailed plan of attack with highly sophisticated weapons and bombs that were stored in their home along with other dangerous weapons that were undoubtedly readied for another attack. This was a terrorist act, and it’s irresponsible to say otherwise.
The increasing tendency among the politically correct to narrow the definition of terrorism to relate only to entirely undifferentiated violence is concerning. For example, Secretary of State John Kerry a couple of weeks ago distinguished between the Charlie Hebdo attack with the related attack on Jews in January and the larger attack in Paris last month — because, he said, the Nov. 13 attackers had less of a rationale for the offense.
Then the foreign minister of France advanced a similar argument, noting how terrorism in France had advanced from attacks against Jews to attacks against “ordinary citizens” — as if Jews are different and not like ordinary citizens and Jewish blood is not as precious.
Now here in the United States we are saying you can’t be a terrorist if you’re mad at the person you’ve killed. Oy vey!
One more thing, and this is perhaps the most frightening. Several of Farook’s neighbors said they noticed “suspicious activity” at the home of this terrorist couple. One of them told police, “They were actually doing a lot of work out in the garage that was kind of suspicious.”
Some of them suspected they might be making bombs. In fact, we now know that the garage was a makeshift bomb factory. However, the neighbors said they did not report their suspicions to the police for fear of being accused of racial profiling. Perhaps if one of them had made the call, the 31 victims would be going on with their lives.
As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it probably is a duck. My friends, we live in dangerous times, and by the looks of things, it probably will get even more dangerous. If Americans can’t stand with one voice and identify terrorism when we see it, and if we choose instead to obsess over gun control and avoiding hurt feelings, G-d help us all.
The Nile is a river in Egypt. May G-d help lift us out of our denial. Amen!
Rabbi Kunis is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim.