Yom Kippur Thoughts on Choosing Mercy Over Cruelty: Through the Lives of Ambassador Stevens and Netanel Yahalomi

in 36 hours, Jews around the world will enter synagogues for the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, and pray to a merciful God to be sealed in the “Book of Life” for the coming year. In reflecting on our deeds and misdeeds of the past year, the Sages suggest that God will ask whether we were merciful and helpful to others like He is. It is a question the liturgy asks for Jews and Non-jews alike.

Amb. Chris Stevens OBMAs I enter Yom Kippur, I cannot shake the image of the merciful US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, who lent a helping hand to the people of post-Qadaffi Libya. Ambassador Stevens gave of himself to help the long suffering people of Libya build a better society after the removal of the murderous Col. Qadaffi.

As I enter Yom Kippur, I see Lt. Netanel Yahalomi extending his kind hand to the Sudanese refugees on the Sinai border, offering them a drink following their sojourn through the parched Sinai desert. This 20 year old boy with a big smile, a kind heart and colorblind eyes, restoring lifeblood to migrants escaping persecution, terror and the vagaries of the wilderness, is seared in my memory.

Yet the merciful Ambassador Stevens and the kind-hearted Yahalomi kid will not enter Yom Kippur with us. Because when they extended a kind hand, a brutal and merciless, godless Islamic fundamentalist cut it off. Not only did the terrorist cut off the hands of Netanel and Chris but they also cut off kindness and mercy.

Netanel Yahalomi Z”LWe live in a world that needs more mercy and more kindness, not less. We live in a world that needs Chris Stevens and Netanel Yahalomi. As Yom Kippur enters and we ask God for forgiveness and mercy and we turn to our fellow man and ask him to forgive our misdeeds, we should ask ourselves what kind of world we want and who we want in it. As the Talmud says, “he who is merciful to the cruel man will end up being cruel to the merciful man.” We have a stark choice these days between a Godless world of terror and cruelty and a God-ful world of merciful people like Ambassador Stevens and Netanel Yahalomi. Which will we choose?

May we be sealed in the book of life, liberty, success and brotherhood for the coming year.

[Originally published on 24th September 2012 by MIchael Eisenberg]