The Washington Post’s “On Faith” panel was asked to comment on the propriety of “rejoicing” upon Osama bin Laden’s demise. Here is Nathan Diament’s post:
It is appropriate for us to be considering this question just one week after Jews around the world have celebrated Passover. There is a highly relevant rabbinic Midrash which recounts a “conversation” between God and the angels after the miracle at the Red Sea – in which the Jews were saved from the pursuing Egyptians by being afforded the opportunity to cross through the Sea on dry land, and the Egyptians were then destroyed by the returning Sea waters after the Jews’ crossing. The Midrash says that the angels wanted to sing songs of praise to God for the miraculous way he had saved Israel. God incredulously “said to the angels: ‘my creations are drowning in the Sea and you want to sing praise to me?!’” And so the angels did not sing. But, as we know from the book of Exodus, the Jews did – they sang the “Song of Moses” recorded in Exodus 15. This is appropriate, explain the rabbis, because unlike the angels – the Jews were being directly threatened by the Egyptians and so they must praise God for their salvation.
To this day, as we celebrate Passover, Jews demonstrate both these perspectives; we recite the defeat of the Egyptians at the seder meal, but we take drops of wine out of our cups when we recite the ten plagues as a recognition that our cup cannot “runneth over” if our rescue came at the demise of God’s other creations.
It seems from these teachings that it is appropriate for Americans to rejoice at Osama bin Laden’s death. As the events of 9/11/01 showed, we were all threatened by his evil plans as he plotted to kill men and women, adults and children, people of all races and faiths. We must temper our celebration, but we ought to rejoice with appreciation to our soldiers and intelligence operatives, our political leaders and the God that continues to bless America.
Posted by Nathan J. Diament