Do We Celebrate the Death of A Wicked Person

Dear Rabbi Fried,

There’s been a lot of debate around out house lately if it’s proper to throw a party in celebration of the death of the arch-terrorist Arafat. My sister feels that the death of someone who’s killed so many Jews deserves a major bash. I don’t have a good reason to argue with her, but deep down feel there’s something Jewishly wrong with doing that. What can you say about this?

Justin

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Dear Justin,

Many have raised this question, and I think it’s on all our minds, many being torn on how to react. It was clearly a serious political blunder for those few who held celebrations and dances in the streets in Israel, as they provided perfect photo opportunities for the “balanced” media to say that we are the same as the Palestinians who dance when suicide bombers destroyed families and lives.

Any open celebrations by Jews, in America as well, risk the same interpretation by those looking to equate us with terrorists, and for that reason alone we should refrain. 

Politics aside, we need to understand the proper approach we should take as Jews.

The Mishnah states: “Shmuel HaKatan says, when your enemy falls do not rejoice, and when he stumbles let your heart not be glad; for the Lord may see it, be displeased, and turn away His wrath from him to you.” 

This is a unique Mishnah, as the entire statement of Shmuel HaKatan is a direct quote of two verses in Proverbs written hundreds of years before him by King Solomon. The reason these verses are quoted in the name of this latter Rabbi is because this Jewish leader and sage made them the motto of his life.

“HaKatan” means the small one, or the humble one. He would not allow himself any haughtiness or self-aggrandizement even over the downfall of evildoers, since he would always be looking for ways to improve himself and be more concerned with his own shortcomings. If we focus our attention upon outside evildoers we may forget about our own need for self-improvement, the need to eradicate even the slightest traces of evil which may have crept into our thoughts and actions. Such an approach could, God forbid, alter His wrath to be taken out upon us.

The commentaries to that Mishnah raise a contradiction, that another verse in Proverbs says: “The loss of the wicked brings joyous song.” They explain that this last verse is not referring to the loss of the wicked person, rather the wickedness he represented. The demise of a wicked person is always a reason for sadness; that that person left the world without repenting and correcting his ways. That is a human tragedy.

The net loss of wickedness is a reason for joy. The word chosen for “joyous song” is rinah, the same joyous song we will sing in Messianic times when all evil will be eradicated.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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