Sklar: Purim, Poland Remind Us to Know Our Enemies
OpinionGuest Column

Sklar: Purim, Poland Remind Us to Know Our Enemies

History shows that misplaced compassion can be destructive.

Samuel curses Saul for failing to kill Agag in a 1530 sketch by Hans Holbein (via Wikimedia Commons).
Samuel curses Saul for failing to kill Agag in a 1530 sketch by Hans Holbein (via Wikimedia Commons).

Our sages of the Talmud taught us: “He who becomes compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate.” What does that mean?

In modern days we interpret that statement to mean that a forgiving attitude toward one unworthy of forgiveness ultimately constitutes a blow toward the innocent members of society. For example, a government that does not act to suppress terrorism forsakes its obligations toward the safety of its people.

Jews around the world recently celebrated the holiday of Purim. You know that the villain in the story is Haman, but did you know that his full name is Haman the Agagite, meaning the descendant of Agag. Who was Agag?

When the Israelites were wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt, they were attacked by a tribe called the Amalekites. The Israelites survived that encounter, but the incident was not forgotten.

Years later, the Israelites’ first king, Saul, was instructed by G-d through the prophet Samuel to kill all the Amalekites. But Saul, in a misguided compassionate moment, decided to spare Agag, their king.

As the story goes, Samuel killed Agag afterward, but nothing is noted about Agag’s wife and children. So it is possible that one of Agag’s descendants centuries later was Haman the Agagite, whose family might have had their own grudges against the Jews.

Saul’s misplaced compassion and failure to wipe out the family of King Agag of Amalek cost him the kingship of Israel and almost resulted in the extermination of the Jews when Haman the Agagite persuaded the Persian king Ahasuerus to issue a proclamation against the lives of all the Jews in the Persian Empire.

The lesson is that compassion is not always in our best interest when it comes to our enemies. We need to identify our enemies and hold them responsible. We need to be vigilant about those who are anti-Semitic and wish to destroy us, even today.

Almost at the same time as we were celebrating Purim, a law was enacted in Poland criminalizing free speech about what happened there during the Holocaust. It imposes fines and prison time for anyone who claims that Poland or the Polish people bore any responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis on Polish soil.

The Israeli government and many Holocaust survivors fear that the true aim of this law is to repress research and debate about Poles and to make it impossible for Polish historians to discuss and record history accurately.

We know there is a long history of anti-Semitism in Poland, predating and postdating the German occupation during World War II. Anti-Semitism was a traditional feature of Polish political and economic life.

That anti-Semitic sentiment enabled many Poles to accept Nazi racial theories and persecute the Jews as vigorously as did the Germans. Jews in at least a dozen Polish towns were killed by the Polish Home Guard, which was the dominant Polish resistance movement under Nazi occupation.

The March of the Living, a leading Holocaust education program, issued a statement deeply regretting the passage by the Polish parliament of this new law. Although the March of the Living begged the president of Poland to refrain from signing the bill into law, he did not accede to their request, and the law took effect.

Hadassah also issued a statement protesting the Polish law and affirming Hadassah’s stand with the government of Israel, saying, “we have no tolerance for distorting the truth, for rewriting history or for Holocaust denial.”

By supporting Hadassah, we not only benefit from its ongoing, lifesaving care and medical research; we also benefit as Jews who are opposed to anti-Semitism, fighting it wherever in the world new Hamans arise and seek to annihilate us.

Livia Sklar is the vice president for education of Hadassah Greater Atlanta’s Metulla Group.

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