The Message of the Knockout

The despicable act known as the “knockout game,” in which groups of inner-city youths randomly target Jews with the intent to “knock them out” with one blow, does not need to be condemned on these pages; it speaks for itself.

But these attacks give us cause for reflection. The Gemara says “Ein puronus ba’ah la’olam elah bishvil Yisrael (Yevamos 72),” the reason bad things happen in the world is ‘because of’ Am Yisrael,’ and Rashi explains that this means that when bad things happen around us or to us we should  examine ourselves, to see where we need to rectify things in our own lives. In this case we have to try to understand why people commit violence with no reason or justification, with no personal gain, and to figure out how we can use what we learn to improve ourselves. So let’s take a deeper look at this particularly horrifying current trend.

The attackers in these cases have walked away leaving their unconscious or dazed victims behind, ignoring the cash or possessions that were there for the taking. These are acts of violence for the sake of violence itself. What can it be that brings people to lose touch with their innate feeling that violence is wrong, and causes them to attack other people without even deriving any benefit from doing so?

It is noteworthy that African-American leaders are speaking out against these senseless acts of violence and strongly denouncing the perpetrators.

Twenty-two years after his incendiary, hate-filled language inflamed the Crown Heights mobs that killed Yankel Rosenbaum, Hy”d, Rev. Al Sharpton took a distinctly different approach.

“This kind of behavior is deplorable and must be condemned by all us,” he said at his weekly National Action Network meeting in Harlem. “We would not be silent if it was the other way around. We cannot be silent or in any way reluctant to confront it when it is coming from our own community.”

Clinical psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Gardere says the acts of violence are a result of young people being desensitized to violence through exposure to violent video games: in other words, their minds have been warped by the video games they play that glorify violence. In addition, they don’t have enough of a sense of direction to realize when something is wrong: “These are young people who have dead-end lives, who have no real goals, who have no educational objectives,” Dr. Gardere told CNN. “They’re doing this to get a thrill…Certainly they are followers…and not leaders.”

It may be natural for a young person to want to follow the crowd, to surrender to peer pressure, to gain that coveted feeling of “belonging,” but it is extremely troubling. This need can easily and naturally lead to behavior that is beyond the confines of the acceptable; in this extreme example, we are witnessing criminal acts of ruthless violence.

While we, baruch Hashem, don’t have the exact same problem that is being exhibited by these vicious attackers, we also have to remember that we live with a higher standard. We have a Torah which encourages constant growth in middos and “walking in the ways of Hashem.”

It is interesting that this phenomenon has hit the news as we approach the exalted chag of Chanukah. Harav Gedalia Schorr, zt”l, explains that the middah ra’ah and motivating force of the Yevanim, the villains of the era, was azus. High-handedly they sought to break down the barriers that made Am Yisrael different and better, so that we should be a nation like all others. Many Jews were caught up in the wave of change that was cunningly blandished before them, becoming traitors to their people as misyavnim. Rav Schorr explains that the Chashmona’im took the very middah of azus from the Yevonim and made it azus d’kedushah, strengthening and “arming” themselves with it to fight “popular opinion” and restore the unadulterated glory of Hashem to the Bais Hamikdash.

Perhaps we should use this opportunity to take a good look at our own lives, trying to see if we are behaving with azus d’kedushah and not chas v’shalom with any other kind of azus.

Perhaps we should also take this opportunity to consider the events under discussion as a reminder. Living as we do in the most hospitable and accommodating country Jews have found shelter in during the long and bitter galus — in a veritable medinah shel chessed — it is sometimes easy for us to forget that we are nevertheless still in galus… There are times we lose sight of that sad fact, getting too comfortable for our own good in this, the most tranquil stopover in our 2,000 years of exile. Although we daven three times a day Vesechezenah eineinu b’shuvecha l’Tzion b’rachamim, it can be very hard to feel the longing for geulah the way our forbears did when we, baruch Hashem, don’t experience galus the way they did.

Let us take these acts of random violence perpetrated on our own people as a wake-up call. Let us use them to inspire us to do whatever we can to bring an end to galus. Hopefully we can rise to this occasion, and we will no longer have a need for “reminders” of any kind.