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The brutal slaying of an angel

At exactly 12:55pm this Sunday, G-d bestowed His greatest gift upon my wife and myself as we welcomed our third child into this world. Our Sages teach us that the soul of a child originates in the most sublime and lofty planes of holiness before it begins its descent into this dark and tainted world. Hence the baby’s vocal cry of outrage and torment at being torn from its previous perfect existence. As my son screamed his tears of frustration, I began texting my family and friends, sharing the joyful news with them.

This week the Jewish community suffered a devastating blow after it was discovered that a missing 8-year-old Chasidic boy, Leiby Kletzky, had been brutally assaulted and murdered, with parts of his body discovered in a refrigerator and a dumpster.

No words can describe this monstrous tragedy. No thoughts can fathom the mind of the murderer Levi Aron. What kind of barbarian would senselessly slaughter an angelic 8-year-old? No child, no person deserves such a cruel fate. No parent should have to endure the anguish of Leiby’s parents. And like every parent who heard the news, I immediately began contemplating the safety of my own children.

Bringing a child into a world whose streets are darkened by evil monsters is undoubtedly an act of total trust in G-d. Each time we overcome our fears and bring a new life into this world we are affirming our belief that no matter how much wickedness surrounds us, it will be conquered. Goodness will prevail.

Today we celebrate the holiday of the 12th of Tammuz. This day marks the birth of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, and his release from an unjust imprisonment 47 years later.

The Rebbe had been arrested by agents of Russia’s GPU and Yevsektzia (Jewish Unit of the Communist Party) because of his ceaseless activities to preserve Judaism throughout the Soviet Union. So severe was his crime that he was sentenced to death. International pressure led officials to commute the sentence to exile and subsequently to release him completely.  

Many stories are related about the Rebbe’s imprisonment, but one of the most famous occurred when the Rebbe was confronted by a guard who pointed a pistol at him and declared, “This toy has led many people to talk.” The Rebbe calmly replied, “That toy can only intimidate one who believes in two gods and one world, not one who believes in one G-d and two worlds.” The Rebbe taught us how to sustain an unrelenting faith in G-d, how to trust in Him even in the face of unyielding pain.

I have absolutely no answers to the brutal slaying of Leiby. I don’t think any human being can rationalize such a crime. All we can do during this painful time is cry out to the Almighty G-d and demand an end to this terrible exile. Only Moshiach can end our troubles. Yet amid all the confusion and pain, there is one thing that remains vividly clear to me. I will continue to raise my children in this world, I will continue to have faith and trust in G-d.

This is the essence of the holiday of the 12th of Tammuz. There is one G-d and there are two worlds. Our world is dark and unforgiving. Yet, as I hold my 5-day-old son tight in my arms, I look into his face and see a sweet purity, an untainted innocence. I see G-d in his eyes, in his face, in his smile. And I know that despite the chaos around us, G-d exists. One G-d, two worlds.

Did Casey Anthony Walk Away Free?

This week I logged into my Facebook page only to be greeted by a massive outpouring of rage in response to Casey Anthony’s non-guilty verdict.
 
Two year old Caylee  Anthony of Orlando, Florida disappeared in June 2008. Her skeletal remains were found five months after her grandmother, Cindy Anthony, reported her missing, on December 11, 2008.
 
All fingers pointed furiously at the child’s mother Casey who had partied for a month after her daughter’s death without revealing Caylee was missing.  Despite a lot of evidence that she was guilty, the jury wasn’t satisfied with the facts.
 
Just like my Facebook followers, citizens all over the United States were livid upon learning the decision of the jury. Within minutes of the verdict being publicized, there were almost 4 000 associated news stories and blog entries tracked by Google. CNN broke all previous records of page views. Twitter reportedly published more than 325 000 related comments, and Facebook tallied posts at more than ten every second.
 
Casey Anthony has become the most vilified woman in America, condemned as a compulsive liar and heartless mother who murdered her own daughter so that she could spend her life shopping and partying.
 
How does the Torah view Casey Anthony?
 
The following law is cited in Maimonides’ Laws of Sanhedrin: "If a Sanhedrin (Jewish Court of Law) opens a capital case with a unanimous guilty verdict, the accused is exempt, until some merit is found to acquit him; then, those who convict will be in the majority, and then he will be put to death." What this means is that if 37 out of the 71 judges of Sanhedrin declare a person guilty, and the other 34 are adamant he is innocent, he is sentenced to death. If 70 say guilty and one says not, he also dies. But if all 71 pronounce him guilty he walks out scot-free. If a majority court declare a man guilty then we sentence him to death, yet if the decision is unanimous he walks free – where is the logic?
 
The answer boils down to the purpose of the murderer’s death. Do we kill him to extract vengeance, to remove this evil creature from society, or to cleanse his soul? Judaism maintains the latter—the only way the accused can atone for his heinous crime and thus purify his soul is through his own death.  Therefore since the death penalty serves as atonement, it can only be applied in a case where atonement is a possibility through death. Certain crimes, however, are considered so severe that no death penalty can provide the necessary penitence. These crimes are so horrific that the defendant, as it were, is not worthy of being put to death by the court and thereby attaining expiation for the crime.
 
So in a case where not a single judge on the Sanhedrin could put forth any argument in his favor, he would be exempt from the death penalty-- not due to innocence on his part-- but rather because his sin is too great to deserve the "easy" atonement this method would offer.
 
Yet, although the individual may walk free from the court, he certainly cannot escape G-d's judgment. For G-d, the fairest judge of all, will see to it that the person be punished accordingly. Because at the end of the day, no guilty party ever wins freedom. Trust G-d to make sure this person pays for what he did.
 
In the case of Casey Anthony, I have no idea what happened that night, and I don’t think anybody besides Casey herself knows. The jury acquitted her based on lack of evidence; however one thing is certain-- if she did indeed murder her child and deserves retribution, it will come her way.
 
So for all my outraged Facebook friends who demand justice, rest assured, there will be justice! For although one may escape a jury’s wrath, there’s no running from the wrath of G-d.

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