Idaho Murders- Significance & Why. What got into the killer?

We’re being led to believe that the world is falling apart and that things are getting worse and worse by the day. There may be some truth to this notion, but it’s mostly false.

For a full month, the Idaho murder story has dominated headlines, and this story demonstrates my point. It perked my interest and I started reading up on serial killers, and noticed an interesting trend. They all seem to have been from the 70’s.

The fact that a PhD in criminology, who had no crime history, was tracked down in a month is testament to how far DNA and detective work has come. The infamous serial killers went on for decades and killed many, many times before being caught. Of course, it’s important to remind ourselves that this individual in Idaho hasn’t been convicted, and we should let the court work through it’s course. 

But the point is true nonetheless.

Why aren’t there any serial killers of the 2020’s if the world is getting worse and worse by the day? Because would-be serial killers are getting caught after the first one!

This profile of a "normal person" who goes to work by day, spends time with their family, involved at church, but stalks women and never is able to shake the craving for the thrill of murder by night, won't get away with it anymore. This individual in Idaho went back to school, work and continued living a normal and decent life in public.

The only way for someone to kill many people is a mass shooting, which has replaced the problem of serial killers.  Indeed, society needs to solve this problem too. (It is important to note that mass shooters likely have a different motive than this type of murderer- violence as opposed to sexual).  

Of course, tragedies like Idaho are heartbreaking and too much, but murder will have the same end as sexual abuse.

The #MeToo movement dealt a mortal blow to sexual assault, and I’m sure that the amount of predators has gone drastically down since it went viral in 2017.  The mere awareness and acknowledgement of the problem, together with encouraging and supporting victims to speak up, and society's intolerance of letting people get away with it is all it takes. 

I think this Idaho case will deal the death blow to murder in the same way. It may take time until it's completely gone from the face of the earth, but someone out there who’s contemplating such a thing after last week will think much harder now, and hopefully reach out for help, because you just can’t get away with it anymore.

And this DNA, cellphone tracking, video surveillance everywhere and other kinds of detective work is just a reminder of G-d's ever watchful eye upon us, and that everything we do is being recorded.

It’s not even about the punishment. It’s the fear of sin becoming public knowledge (As Rabbi Yochanan told his students on his deathbed, that "you should fear of G-d as much you fear other people knowing about your sins").

Now, why would someone commit such a heinous crime? What was going through the murderers mind?

A few years ago, I wrote something similar to this, and got a lot of pushback.

I believe that I, Yonasan Abrams, could have been that murderer, rapist, thief or abuser etc.

That Talmud makes two comments that I think shed a lot of light on the motives of these kinds of atrocities:

  1. “Once a person has sinned once and twice, [the sin] becomes permitted for him”. The Talmud asks, “And just because someone sinned twice, does it really become permitted?” Talmud answers: “For him [in his mind] it becomes permitted.”- Talmud Bava Basra 164

They ask, how can a person go back and act normal after killing someone? How can they not have remorse?  Why don't they apologize? Are they born psychopaths?

It’s simple. No one believes they themselves are essentially bad. Sure we all have temptations for bad, but at the core, we all believe we are and strive to be good people.

Once a person acts on sinful desires, “cognitive dissonance” starts to set in, and they can simultaneously be a good member of society while having a little carveout for murder, or rape, or porn, or theft, or lying, or cheating or abusiveness, or cruelty…

A sin committed twice becomes “permitted” for this person. This is simple human nature, and anyone could go from being an outstanding member of society to a horrible criminal.

2. “One mitzvah leads to another mitzvah, and one sin leads to another sin.”- Pirkei Avos

Two things are painful the first time, but become easier over time: Sin and charity.

A person sinning for the first time feels uncomfortable, awkward and guilty.  The sin seems impossible... But as time goes on, it gets easier and easier, and the appetite gets bigger. (The Talmud says that there’s a little organ in the body that gets hungry when you feed it and is satiated when you starve it).

As Maimonides comments on the 10 Commandments: Coveting [desiring even a small thing that belongs to another person] leads to theft, which leads to rape, which leads to murder.

No ones first sin was murder. First they stumbled across “sinful” content in a movie or video game. Then they allowed themselves to pleasure themselves in an unhealthy way. Then they obsess over it. Then they start to lead a double life. Then they play violent video games. Then they start to torture animals. Then they sexually abuse. Then they rape. Then they murder.

I guarantee you that whoever murdered these poor college students in Idaho had a long evolution of “small sins”.  Sins that are so small I’d likely be labeled as a crazy radical for even labeling them “sins” before committing this heinous crime.

But it all starts off with one “little” sin.

The good news, though, is that the same principle applies to the positive too.

The first time wearing a yarmulke in public, or going to shul, or taking off work on Shabbos, or giving tzedakah, or holding back the urge to eat something not kosher is really, really hard.  It usually comes with feelings of inadequacy, hypocrisy and plain out fear.

However, each mitzvah that we do builds our tolerance and we need more mitzvah stimulation to experience the same holy “thrill”.

So here’s the takeaway experiment.

Think of one little mitzvah that you’ve been avoiding, and push yourself to do it.

And in a month from now, tell me about it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Abrams


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