On Tuesday afternoon, two huge explosions ripped through the port of Beirut at 6:07 local time, killing hundreds and wounding thousands more. As of Wednesday morning, the Red Cross reported the death toll to be at least 100 dead with fears that it could go much higher. At least 4,000 people were injured. The explosion generated an enormous shock wave that was actually visible in the videos. Buildings as far away as 6 miles from the source of the explosion were damaged. Streets were filled with shattered glass.
Some people noted the irony of the catastrophe, referring to a threat by Hasan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, in 2016 to rain down rockets on the ammonia stored at the port in Haifa.
“Its simple mathematics,” Nasrallah said at the time. “A few missiles on a few ammonium plants equals the same amount of death as an atomic bomb…you can destroy Lebanon and Dahiyeh. You have the strongest airforce, you have missiles, and you have other means by which to do it. But we can do the same thing to you (Israel) with only a few missiles aimed at a few ammonium plants.”
Nasrallah emphasized that his hope was to kill the 800,000 people who live in Haifa.
Hezbollah, literally “Party of Allah” or “Party of God” is a Shia Islamist terrorist group that has more than one-third of the seats in the Lebanese parliament, giving them veto power. Hezbollah is dedicated to the submission of the Christian Phalangists and is anti-Israel. Its paramilitary wing is considered more powerful than the Lebanese Army and fought a war against Israel in 2006. Hezbollah is estimated to have up to 150,000 rockets with their primary intended target being Israel.
Though Israel and Hezbollah both denied that Israel had anything to do with the explosion, speculation was inevitable. Iran suffered a wave of inexplicable explosions this month targeting military and nuclear sites. Israel has admitted to carrying out hundreds of airstrikes north of its border in an effort to prevent Iranian military dominance ion the region. There is no question Israel has the ability to carry out such a mission, whether by warplane or drone, from a naval platform, or even ground-launched ballistic missiles. Israel could have even carried out covert sabotage.
But the only reason for carrying out such a strike is also the disincentive: Hezbollah’s missiles. Unless the explosion was caused by a massive storehouse of weapons, Israel would not want to provoke an attack that would undoubtedly target its civilians, even one it could successfully retaliate against.
The explosion in Beirut raises the religious issue of whether or not to celebrate tragedies that befall an enemy. Rabbi Shlomo Katz teaches at Yeshiva Simchat Shlomo named after his spiritual mentor, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. He noted that the explosion in Beirut came in precisely the manner Nasrallah threatened would befall Israel.
“This is reminiscent of the way in which Haman’s plans against the Jews were precisely the manner of his downfall,” Rabbi Katz said.
“But when we see a thing like this happen, we realize that we will never really know what the average person in Lebanon feels. They are governed by terrorists who cannot be voted out or overthrown. So we need to mourn the death of every innocent person. Always.”
— Avi Kaner (@AviKaner) August 5, 2020
“But we should be happy that this did not happen as Nasrallah planned. But at the same time, we should take the opportunity to pray for understanding and the revelation of God in this world. I am never sure what it means, ‘measure for measure’. Do we really want to bring into the world what Haman intended, what Nasrallah intended?”
Rabbi Katz noted the verse in Proverbs.
If your enemy falls, do not exult; If he trips, let your heart not rejoice, Lest Hashem see it and be displeased, And avert His wrath from him. Proverbs 24:17-18
Rabbi Katz noted that the explosion took place on the eve of the 15th of Av, a day that is the Jewish festival of dubbed “a holiday of love.” It follows Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av, which is a somber day commemorating the destruction of the Jewish Temples.
“The Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred so its Tikkun (fixing) is the holiday of love that follows,” Rabbi Katz said. “We should always be moving to replace the anger and hatred of our enemies with a love for serving God.”
“If the energy is that we are happy that our enemies fall when we still have so much causeless hatred among ourselves, then that is not really a Tikkun.”
Rabbi Katz noted that King David was a fierce warrior and Jews are commanded to go to war in order to preserve Israel. He related a story about his mentor, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, top illustrate a specifically Jewish approach to war. Rabbi Carlebach, known as the ‘singing rabbi’, attracted many hippies and people who rejected or were rejected by mainstream religion.
Rabbi Katz related how Rabbi Carlebach went to visit the Suez Canal at a time when there was constant shooting between the IDF and the Egyptian army. Rabbi Carlebach, known as Reb Shlomo to his followers was deeply impressed by what he saw.
“The difference between an Egyptian soldier and a Jewish soldier is this,” Reb Shlomo said. “When an Egyptian soldier shoots, he prays that the bullet hits its target. But when a Jewish soldier shoots, he prays that the Messiah will come before the bullet arrives.”