SHOFTIM (Deuteronomy 15:18 21:9) — “War, Torah-Style”

THE MONTH OF ELUL

The Month of Elul is upon us once again.  On the first day of the month of Elul (today, August 25), Moses climbed Mount Sinai to beg G-d to forgive the People of Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf.  Forty days later, on the first Yom Kippur, Moses returned with a second set of Tablets, and forgiveness for the Israelites.

This final month before Rosh Hashanah is a time for introspection and preparation for the High Holidays. It is a time to ask G-d to grant us a year of peace, security, health, and prosperity.  It is a time for getting our spiritual house in order. It is the time for us to make sure we are doing what’s right. (See the suggestions at the end of  “Advice for the Foxholes of Life”.)

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SHOFTIM — “War, Torah-Style”

We’ve all been frustrated and disgusted by the one-sided media reporting on the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.  Our enemies have grabbed every opportunity to present Israel as an evil aggressor who indiscriminately fires upon hospitals and ambulances.  (By the way, speaking of ambulances, check out this video of a supposedly neutral U.N. ambulance providing a getaway for terrorists in Gaza.)

CNN et al go to great lengths to catalog the wanton destruction the Israelis have unleashed upon the “innocent civilians” of Lebanon.  (Who, by the way, overwhelmingly supported the Hezbollah’s abduction of Israeli soldiers and refusal to return them.)  Yet, the merciless raining down of rockets on non-military, non-threatening targets throughout Northern Israel is largely ignored.

Yes, the Israelis are terrible people.  That’s why they risk their own lives by not firing upon terrorists using human shields until AFTER they have begun to fire their deadly rockets.

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A few thoughts about the Jewish mode of warfare:ritten by the Daas Zekainim:

 “… Because great is peace, for G-d changed the story when Sarah said ‘My husband is old.’  (G-d told Abraham that Sarah had said that SHE was too old to have children, even though she had actually said that HE, Abraham was too old, so that Abraham wouldn’t be offended by his wife’s words) … for the sake of peace.  Also, the Priestly Blessing ends with the word “Peace,” as does the Shemoneh Esrei (the central prayer of each Service, recited three times a day.) … and our Sages have taught that we are to greet idol worshipers for the sake of peace … and we support poor idol worshipers together with the poor of Israel for the sake of peace, and therefore, G-d blesses his nation with peace, as it is written, ‘G-d will bless His nation with peace’ ” (Psalms, 29:11)

Our nation CRAVES peace.  We are ADDICTED to peace.  We abhor war.  Contrast this with the religion of our enemies, who revel in the murder of non-believers, who promise eternal rewards to those who kill innocent Jews and Christians.

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When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it or to seize it, do not destroy its trees … Is a tree of the field a man who will come against you in the siege?…Only a tree that you know is not a food tree, it you may destroy and cut down…  (Ibid, verses 19-20)

See how concerned the Torah is about life!  Even in the heat of battle, one must show deference to the fact that a fruit tree is a source of human sustenance.  This verse is the source for “Jewish ecology.”  We are not permitted to be wasteful.  We may not waste food or any other commodity.  It is a sin to destroy for no reason. l question, “Is a tree of the field a man who will come against you in the siege?..”  The fruit tree is not your enemy; why destroy it for no reason?

 G-d gave us a planet and told us to cultivate it and care for it. The State of Israel was established, and they made the desert bloom.  One of my earliest memories as a child is that of my mother selling Trees for Israel.  We don’t destroy things for no reason, and we certainly don’t attack people for no reason.  (By the way, speaking of trees, where is the liberal, Greenpeace, tree-hugging, spotted-owl-protecting, ANWR-blocking outrage over the million-plus trees in Northern Israel that were destroyed by Hezbollah rockets?!)

No, we don’t like to wage war, and we don’t like to destroy.  But some times we have to.  Let’s look at the verses about trees again:

When you besiege a city for many days to wage war against it or to seize it, do not destroy its trees … Is a tree of the field a man who will come against you in the siege?… 

Daas Zakainim translates the verse a little differently than some of the other commentaries: 

…do not destroy its trees UNLESS the tree of the field IS BEING USED BY a man who will come against you in the siege…

Daas Zekainim understands this verse as saying that although we are normally averse to destroying useful things such as fruit trees, if an enemy is hiding in an apple orchard waiting to ambush you, you must destroy the trees to protect yourself.

Sound familiar?  Think of human shields.  Israel had no interest in destroying residential neighborhoods.  But when an enemy hides among the fruit trees, the Torah is clear as to the necessary evil that must be done…

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One last thought.  Let’s look again at the Mitzvah to seek peace with an enemy:

When you approach a city to wage war against it, you must propose a peaceful settlement…

Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.  Is it a perfect situation?  No, of course not.  But they’re not shooting at each other either.  Peace is good.  But, …

If they reject your peace offer and declare war, you shall lay siege to the city (Ibid, verse 12)

Rashi explains this verse with an observation that says it all: “Scripture is proclaiming to you that if they don’t make peace with you, they will eventually wage war against you, if you leave them and walk away.”

Don’t leave a difficult job unfinished.  Israel walked away from a non-disarmed Hezbollah six years ago, and learned a painful lesson.  They have now once again walked away from a non-disarmed Hezbollah.

May G-d protect us all from the results of that mistake.

Is it time, perhaps, for a Torah class at the U.N.?

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives 

“Improve Your Vision” (2009) 

…Not every “rich” man is rich, and not every “wise” man is wise.   It depends upon your mode of reference…

… when I was approaching the end of first grade, I was a bit nervous because I saw what hard work those second graders had!  The kids in second grade seemed a lot more advanced than I was.  But that was only because I was a first grader!

If, however, King Solomon, the wisest of men, referred to someone as being wise, it is safe to assume that this is a truly wise person.  All the more so, says the Chofetz Chaim, if G-d Himself refers to someone as wise.

…a bribe will blind the eye of the wise… 

Read more.

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“War, Torah-Style” (2006)

… CNN et al go to great lengths to catalog the wanton destruction the Israelis have unleashed upon the “innocent civilians” of  Lebanon.  (Who, by the way, overwhelmingly supported the Hezbollah’s abduction of Israeli soldiers and refusal to return them.)  Yet, the merciless raining down of rockets on non-military, non-threatening targets throughout     Northern Israelis largely ignored.

Yes, the Israelis are terrible people.  That’s why they risk their own lives by not firing upon terrorists using human shields until AFTER they have begun to fire their deadly rockets…

One of my earliest memories as a child is that of my mother selling Trees for Israel.  We don’t destroy things for no reason, and we certainly don’t attack people for no reason.  (By the way, speaking of trees, where is the liberal, Greenpeace, tree-hugging, spotted-owl-protecting, ANWR-blocking outrage over the million-plus trees in Northern Israel that were destroyed by Hezbollah rockets?!)…

Read more.

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“Fuhgettaboutit!”  (2005)

…The Torah recognizes that sometimes there will be a lack of clarity as to matters of Law.  That is why G-d established the Sanhedrin…

The Torah gives the Sanhedrin the right to interpret Torah Law…

But what if the Sanhedrin makes a mistake?  What if this council of the 71 greatest sages of Israel vote on how to apply Torah Law, and their interpretation is not in concert with what Moses handed down to Joshua from Sinai?…

Read more.

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“Royal Pain” (2004)

… Rabbi Chaim of Sanz was one of the great Chassidic leaders.  His followers treated him like royalty.  As is the case with many Chassidic Rebbes, he dressed opulently.  Among other things, he wore gold shoes.  (I imagine they were probably leather shoes, overlaid with gold leaf.)

One winter day, his followers noticed blood stains in the Rebbe’s footprints in the snow.  When they investigated, they discovered that the Rebbe’s shoes had no bottoms! …

Read more.

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“Candles, Kings, and Impeachment” (2003)

… The Rabbis saw a potential for “sloppy Kashruth.”  If I can put a slice of cheese on my salami sandwich, why can’t I cook a cheeseburger?  …

When I was about ten years old, I joined a Little League team. …  I knew next to nothing about baseball.  I was learning how to throw and catch in the outfield, while the coach was hitting balls to be fielded.

“Seplowitz!” yelled the coach.  “Go into left field!”

Facing the coach at home plate, I turned to my left and walked straight into right field.

“No!” screamed the coach in frustration. “LEFT Field!  LEFT Field!  On MY left, not YOURS!” …

Read more.

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“Clean Hands and Clear Conscience” (2002)

The elders … will wash their hands … and say, “Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see….

Isn’t it strange that the elders would make such a statement?  Do we really suspect the elders of spilling innocent blood?  Do the rabbinic leaders have to publicly state that they are not murderers?!  Would anyone actually think to accuse the LEADERS of committing this heinous crime? …

Read more.

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“Onward Jewish Soldiers” (2001)

When you go into battle against your enemies . . . The officers will address the people, and say, “Is there anyone among you who has built a new house and has not begun to live in it?  Let him go home, so that he will not die in war and have another man live in it.” (Deuteronomy 20:1,5)

How’s that for a draft deferment?  The Torah continues: “Is there anyone among you who has planted a vineyard and has not redeemed its first crop?  . . . Is there anyone among you who has betrothed a woman and not married her? . . . Go home . . . Is there anyone among you who is afraid or faint hearted? . . .Go home.” (Verses 6-8)

What a way to run an army!  The Torah almost seems to be providing a plan for anyone looking to avoid the draft without having to run to  Canada! …

Read more.

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“Advice for the Foxholes of Life” (2000)

They say that there are no atheists in the foxholes.  When the chips are down in time of need, and we have no other place to turn, we always remember G d and ask Him for His protection.  But will He answer our prayers?  Will He say, “Of course My child, I’ve been waiting for you to call upon Me”?  Or will He ask, “Now you call Me?!  Where were you all the time that you thought you didn’t need Me?!” …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2010 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey,  New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on August 25, 2006 at 11:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

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