Levi ChazenLevi Chazen is the Director of the English Division of Yeshivat HaRa´ayon HaYehudi in Jerusalem. He has been working tirelessly over the years in the yeshiva´s many charitable projects in Jerusalem and nationally.
We find in this week's parsha that G-d commands the Jewish people to wage war against the Midianites. They immediately begin to gather the army and prepare for war. Interestingly enough, though, they did not send out flyers warning the Midianites of the incoming battle, nor did they tell them that they had 6 hours to remove themselves from the area before the attack. They did not "talk the talk", like so many people today - but they indeed walked the walk!
For the Jewish army of Moses knew they were going to avenge G-d's honor on the Midianites, who had caused 24,000 Jews to die in the plague.
So the Jewish army goes out in full force and kills all the males of Midian and their kings. But is that fair, you ask? Did all the males participate in causing the Jewish people to sin? Surely there were innocent among them - shouldn't they have been left to live? Not only did the Jewish army kill all the males, but when the Jewish army returned to camp, they found a very angry Moses.
The Torah tells us that Moses' anger was kindled when he saw that the women were left alive, and he said: How is it possible that those who led the Jewish people to sin are still alive? The command then went out to immediately to put to death all the women of Midian who were capable of sexual relationships. But surely, you may ask, weren't there some women who were innocent, who did not participate in this sin?
We see here the authentic Jewish answer to those questions during warfare against enemies: There are no innocents when it comes to fighting the enemies of the Jewish people.
The Midrash teaches us: G-d said to Moses - Why did you describe the war as "My revenge?" You are in actuality avenging yourselves, for the Midianites caused the Jewish people great damage.
Moses replied: Master of the Universe, You know that if we were uncircumcised and worshiped idols, just like them, they certainly would not have come to attack us or tried to destroy us. It is only because we accepted upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven that they came to hate us; therefore, this war is in Your honor".
We learn from this that G-d commanded Moses to avenge the honor of the Jewish people, and Moses, in turn, told the Jewish people to avenge G-d's honor - making Jewish honor and G-d's honor one and the same. The Jewish people represent G-d in this world.
When the Jews are being attacked with rocks or missiles, it is not just against the Jewish people, but also against the Master of the Universe and a desecration of G-d's Holy Name. When the Jewish people take revenge against their enemies, they sanctify G-d's name through the act of vengeance; it is the revenge of G-d himself.
When it comes to G-d's honor, there can be no delays, no ceasefires or leaflets! Rather, we find that Moses immediately went out to do battle and take revenge, in spite of the fact that his own life would end soon afterwards. For G-d had told Moses: "After you take revenge on the Midianites, you'll be gathered to your people". Knowing this, Moses could have put off the war for days, weeks or months. But realizing that G-d's honor was at stake, he immediately assembled the army and went out to war, content in the knowledge that more important than his own life, was the Honor of G-d's great Name.
This is the lesson for today, too. In Jewish wars there is no such concept as "innocent" - there is no sending out of leaflets! Rather, the Chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d's Name) must be fully wiped out - without delay!