The Babylonian Talmud gets us part of the way there:
Certain brigands were in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood used to trouble him greatly, and he prayed that they would die.Â Beruriah his wife said to him, “What is your opinion?” [i.e. on what text do you base your prayer]?”Â [He replied,] “because it is written [Psalms 104:35], “May sinners vanish from the earth.”Â [She responded,] “Does it say ‘sinners’?”Â [No!]Â It says ‘sins.'” [End evil, not evil doers.]Â “Furthermore [she continued], go down to the end of the verse: ‘The wicked will be no more.’Â Since their sinning will stop, will there ‘no longer be sinners’?Â Rather, you should pray that they repent, then ‘the wicked will be no more.”
Rabbi Meir prayed for mercy upon them, and they repented.
(Berachot 10a)Â I read Beruriah’s point as being that evil is not simply the thing that is encased in those people over there.Â Obviously, Bin Laden was about as evil as you are going to get, but evil is in all of us, and rejoicing at the death of the wicked carries us into thinking that when we kill evil people we kill evil.
An obvious point?Â Perhaps, when I put it that way.Â But I can’t help thinking about the way the culture treats evil.Â My daughter is 6 years old.Â She watches Disney movies.Â In Disney movies — and really in Hollywood movies generally — the whole conceit is about 1)Â distinguishing the “good guy/girl”Â from the “bad guy/girl”; and 2) rooting for the former to triumph over the latter, which inÂ the movies is eventually what happens.Â And we rejoice.
But that is not the way evilÂ lives.Â It isÂ more thanÂ a bad guy “out there”;Â it is a parasite.Â It destroyed Bin Laden, and it can destroy us by making us more like Bin Laden.Â Not like him, of course: but closer to him than we would want to admit.Â And of course we can do a lot of evil things because we know that we are “the good guys.”Â And how do we know that we are the good guys?Â Because we know where evil is: it is in Bin Laden.Â We are not in Bin Laden, and thus we are not evil.
The writer of Proverbs knew this 2,000 years ago.Â Chapter 11, Verse 10: “When the wicked perish, there is jubilation.”Â But Chapter 24, Verses 17-18: Â “do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it, and be displeased.”Â In other words, people do precisely what displeases God.Â Evil is inherent in our nature, not just someone else’s.
So while we can be happy that Bin Laden is dead, we should not rejoice about it. Let us be content that, in this case, justice was done, but not rejoice.Â If we rejoice, we will meet the enemy, and he will be us.