Loved to Death: the Fatal Embrace of Ignorance

The following is a guest post by JewishIsrael member Mordechai Yaakov Allen

I remember Donnie. He was one of the kindest, most gentle souls in our small town. And though he was…some say “slow”…he was also one of the strongest boys in high school. No one, including Donnie, knew just how strong he was. With no observable temper whatsoever, he wanted to be everybody’s friend, and to my knowledge he had no enemies. He only wanted to please. If you needed team members for any event requiring single-minded, enthusiastic-bordering-on-fanatical allegiance to the cause of victory, Donnie was your man. Just tell him what to do and watch the fun.

It was late winter/early spring 1963, and the Mighty Mississippi was roaring at flood stage. Our small town was one of several similar villages in the Southeast corner of the state situated within ten miles of the river, and protected by an earthen levee. What made these few thousand acres of rich bottom land so vulnerable was the fact that the Mississippi made a southwest turn just above the junction of the Iowa River and cut a deep, ever-widening and treacherous channel on its western bank at Oakville. Moving rapidly at eye level on the east side of the levee on normal days, the Mississippi became a beast at flood stage, a persistent, 44 foot wall of brown, debris-laden, violently churning water traveling at a volume and speed of 2.5 million cubic feet per second. It relentlessly challenged the integrity of our levee, producing an incredible, deafening roar and making it easy to imagine how the waters of the Yam Suf annihilated the armies of Pharaoh.

Every able-bodied male from the age of twelve and upward was enlisted to fill, tote and stack sandbags in the hope of shoring-up the levee to further protect towns, homes, lives and livelihoods. There were hundreds of men and boys, called from businesses, factories, homes farms, and schools; dressed in suits, company uniforms, overhauls and gym clothes; wielding shovels, pallets, wheelbarrows and bags in an exhilarating, single-minded determination to win the contest. Donnie, of course, was in his element. He would give his all with his team to please and to serve. The high stakes imposed by the Mighty Mississippi in its brutish threat to life and home only stoked his enthusiasm and honed his focus. This was his moment.

The old tale of the little Dutch boy who saved Holland from the sea by inserting his finger in a hole in the dike finds veracity and merit in physical law. Before the day was out, that law, in turn, would morph Donnie’s intended triumph into a tragedy. Though armed with the best of intensions, his efforts would produce the worst of effects.

It all started so right, but went so wrong. Donnie was where he thought he should be, doing what he thought he should do. He was single-minded – his enthusiasm bordering on fanatical – using his great strength, motivated by his great desire. He was working at top speed making incredible progress, but he couldn’t hear the voice of those shouting directions, those shouting warnings.

Donnie’s desire and devotion, his great strength and fanatical enthusiasm – operating without the benefit of knowledge and direction – became the catalyst (some said “the cause”) of great tragedy. He only escaped a dismal life of derision, rejection and bitterness by the fact that he was among those swept away by the unforgiving, natural forces of the day.

It’s a lesson worth learning by anyone, but especially those…some say “slow”…individuals who think they know what they are doing, but clearly do not hear the voice of those shouting directions, those shouting warnings. For example, Katuvim Beis (II Chronicles) 7:12-22 says:

12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, 14 and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. 17 As for you, if you walk before Me as your father David walked, even to do according to all that I have commanded you, and will keep My statutes and My ordinances, 18 then I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to be ruler in Israel.’

19 “But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will uproot you from My land which I have given you, and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 21 As for this house, which was exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ 22 And they will say, ‘Because they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them from the land of Egypt, and they adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this adversity on them.’”

Are there, indeed, those in Eretz Israel who have forsaken the Lord, the God of their fathers? Are there, indeed, those in Eretz Israel who have adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them? Moreover, are there, indeed, those in Eretz Israel who are serving as agents for these other gods?

Is there, indeed, an army of Donnies in Eretz Israel with desire and devotion, great strength and fanatical enthusiasm who only want to please, but operating without the benefit of knowledge and direction, who are, in fact, the catalyst (some say “the cause”) of what may yet be a great tragedy?

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