Once upon a time, there was a man who owned several beautiful oxen. They were strong and well-mannered and just a delight. He had a neighbor, however, who was a bad man and very jealous of the beautiful oxen, because the bad man’s oxen were ugly and ill-tempered. And the jealousy of the bad man gave him no rest, so that one day he deliberately let his ill-tempered oxen into the field where the beautiful oxen were grazing and they gored one of them, killing it. The owner of the dead ox was angry at this terrible and deliberate outrage that, in the middle of the night, he entered the field where the ill-tempered oxen were and killed one of them.
The neighboring villagers and cattle people were very moral and ethical people and they were aghast at the man who had taken revenge on the ill-tempered ox and its bad owner. Their leader, Mr. Morality, was especially indignant. “What you did was very immoral,” he told the poor man. “You cannot sink to his level. And you cannot enter someone else’s field even if there is a dangerous ox there. You cannot take the law into your own hands.”
In vain did the poor fellow protest that someone had to teach the bad fellow a lesson and that unless that were done, he would do it again. Nothing helped. Mr. Morality was adamantly ethical: “You do not take the law into your own hands; you do not enter other people’s property; you do not sink to his level.” And with that, Mr. Morality and his merry band of ethical cattlemen walked off, heads high and breasts filled with a sweet sense of righteousness.
The poor man was so beaten that he could not bear the thought of continuing as before. He was so depressed that he decided to sell the rest of his beautiful oxen to anyone who would buy them. To be sure, there was no lack of buyers and, in the end, it was Mr. Morality himself who offered the highest price. Beaming, he took possession of the beautiful, quiet, well-mannered and delightful oxen.
But the change in ownership had not changed the way the bad man felt. Every time he would see the beautiful oxen, he was blinded by jealousy and envy. And so, one night, when he could no longer contain his jealousy, he sent his ugly and ill-tempered oxen into the field of Mr. Morality and they again killed one of the beautiful oxen.
When Mr. Morality heard of what had happened, his anger knew no bounds. And without a second thought, he took a number of his merry ethical friends, entered the field of the bad man and killed not one, but two of his oxen.
When the original owner of the oxen heard of this, he hurried over to Mr. Morality. “I do not understand. What did you do? When I did the same thing, you told me that one does not take the law into one’s own hands; one does not enter other people’s fields and one does not sink to their level. What happened now?”
Mr. Morality looked with pity on the poor, uncomprehending man. “I see that you really don’t understand, poor fellow. Let me explain. There is a difference between your going into his field and my going into his field. In your case, you really should not have done such a thing. In this case, it was my ox…”
I wallow in glee over events in Panama and Romania. O, Panama! O, Romania! I watch as the United States troops go into someone else’s field, invade a foreign country with 25,000 troops, shoot up its capital city, kill some 70 Panamanians, and install their own government.
And then I remember Israel’s invasion of Lebanon after years of attacks on Jewish towns from that country; after scores of Jews were murdered by attacks launched from that land; after life was made a living hell for the Jews of Kiryat Shmona, one third of whom fled the city. And I remember Israeli troops reaching Beirut and installing their Lebanese as President in order to put an end to murder and attacks upon Jews.
And I remember Messrs. Morality! ALL of them! President Reagan, Vice-President Bush, the State Department, the Defense Department and all the merry, ethical Americans (and British and French and, and, and, ad infinitum. Ad nauseum). How they condemned and how they railed and how they moralized and how they ethicalized! Merrily. “You do not sink to the level of the PLO. You do not enter someone else’s field (land). You do not take the law into your own hands.” Messrs. Morality, Post Office Box One Million, Washington, DC.
And so now there is Panama. And should any simple-minded type ask President Morality, High-minded Bush of morality, why he did everything he told Israel it should not do – he would give a sympathetic nod to the poor simpleton who really does not understand, and the answer would be: But it is my ox…
I remember Israeli troops entering the field of Lebanon to capture a Moslem Sheikh who was leader of a group of Moslem Shiite thugs holding Israelis as hostages; and President Morality and his merry ethical State Department cattlemen with their shouts of condemnation! And now I see the same moralists invading the field of Panama to try and catch a thug named Noriega because he deals in drugs that harm Americans and because he tweaks America’s nose. And I finally understand the difference and can even hear President Morality say it: But it is my ox…
And I remember the outcry by all the democrats and anti-racist equality types demanding that William Nakash be extradited from Israel to France and rising up in righteous indignation over the thought that just because someone is a Jew, he should not be extradited. After all, all human beings are equal and being Jewish is no reason to refuse to hand him over to strangers. And what would the world say to any such tribalism! And then I read that under Panamanian, law, a Panamanian cannot be extradited to a foreign county and I understand the difference: But it is my ox…
I watch as, in Romania, the dictator is captured and he and his wife are shot in secret trial, with summary justice dealt out within less than two days and no appeal allowed. And I know that Israel did not give the death penalty to any murdering terrorists and goes through elaborate procedures of “justice” in order that terrorists sit and eat and drink at our expense until they are exchanged for hostages. And I know what the outcry from Romania and other ethical nations would be if Israel would do to murdering terrorists what Romania did to its former President. But I have already learned the difference; THIS IS MY OX…
And having said all that, I do not – as so many professors and intellectual doers on the right – merely weep, complain and wring my soul. I have no intention of wasting a precious few moments of my finite life in the House of Eternal Kvetching, in which so many of the right-wing spend their lives. The lesson for me in this morality lesson of Whose Ox is gored? is not that there are hypocrites in this world. Boker Tov! Good morning! There are hypocrites in the world! Surprise…
For me, the only lesson here is that there is, indeed, a difference. Not the one that the moralists of hypocrisy give, but the objective and eternally true one of divine Torah Law. There is a difference, the one that cannot be grasped unless one has knowledge and sense. In the words of the rabbis, “Im ein da’at havdala minayin?” “If one has no knowledge, how can he differentiate?”
The lesson is that there is objective good and objective evil, objective truth and objective falsehood, and the same action taken against the one is good while the same act done against the other is wrong and evil. Yes, it is good and right and a mitzvah to go into Panama to eliminate the slime named Noriega and yes, how much more so was it right and a mitzvah to enter Lebanon and eliminate the PLO and other Moslem terrorist swine. And yes, it was wrong and evil for the Russians to do exactly the same in Afghanistan and for the Chinese to invade Tibet. Yes, the German bombing of Coventry and London is not the same as the Allied bombing of German cities and yes, the hanging of evil criminals is good and that of decent people, bad, and anyone who does not understand this havdala, differentiation, needs a good grounding in knowledge. Divine knowledge. Torah knowledge.
Until then, at the very least, let the Jew learn the simple message of normal gentiles who – when their basic interests are threatened – do not hesitate to enter strange fields and to kill evil oxen. It is time the Jew learned there is nothing for which to apologize or retreat when his people are killed and his interest threatened. It is time that he learned to tell President Morality and any other merry ethical type: “But it is my ox and no one touches it; understand?”
By Rabbi Meir Kahane