Rabbi Nachman KahanaRabbi Nachman Kahana is an Orthodox Rabbinic Scholar, Rav of Chazon Yechezkel Synagogue – Young Israel of the Old City of Jerusalem, Founder and Director of the Center for Kohanim, and Author of the 14-volume “Mei Menuchot” series on Tosefot, “With All Your Might: The Torah of Eretz Yisrael in the Weekly Parashah”, as well as weekly parasha commentary available where he blogs at http://NachmanKahana.com
Our parasha opens with the army of the Jewish People, Am Yisrael, gaining a stunning defeat over the enemy. Soldiers even have the opportunity to consider such peacetime matters as marriage to enemy women.
In contrast, parashat Behaalotcha (in the Book of Bamidbar) discusses a war which is going very badly, and the Torah directs the kohanim (priests) to sound the cha’tzotrot (silver trumpets) as an appeal to Hashem for help. Wherein lies the difference between a clear defeat of the enemy in our parsha and a possible loss of the war in parshat Behaalotcha?
The answer lies in the wording of the two psukim (verses).
The "bad" war begins with the words (Bamidbar 10,9):
וכי תבאו מלחמה בארצכם על הצר הצרר אתכם והרעתם בחצצרת ונזכרתם לפני ה' אלהיכם ונושעתם מאיביכם:
When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies
The "successful" war begins with the words (Devarim 21,10)
כי תצא למלחמה על איביך ונתנו ה' אלהיך בידך ושבית שביו:
When you go out to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives...
If we permit the enemy to do battle with us in our land, as the pasuk says, "When you go into battle in your own land," then we are inviting defeat. However, when we "go out to war" by bringing the battle into the enemy’s court, then we will be successful.
The enemy may not enter our land: not a soldier, nor a rocket, nor a missile, nor a mortar shell, nor a tunnel, nor a stray bullet. The reprisal for even one infraction will solicit the fiercest reaction, where symmetrical and asymmetrical statistics and numbers play no role.
The book of Melachim (Kings 1 chap. 20) relates the incidents pertaining to the battle between Ahab, King of the northern tribes, and Ben Hadad, King of Aram (today’s Syria).
Ben-Hadad mustered an army led by 32 kings with their horses and chariots, and besieged Samaria, the capital of the northern tribes. After Ben Hadad made impossible demands of the Jewish people, Ahab and his generals understood that war was imminent.
A prophet appeared before Ahab and announced, "This is what the Lord says: ‘Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the Lord.’"
The army of Israel defeated the Arameans. Ben-Hadad escaped on horseback with some of his horsemen, while Ahab’s army overpowered their horses and chariots and inflicted heavy losses on the Arameans.
The prophet returned to Ahab with the warning that Ben Hadad would renew the war in the coming year, and Ahab would again be victorious.
The following spring Ben Hadad declared war, and this time the Jews inflicted a hundred thousand casualties on the Aramean foot soldiers in one day, and a wall collapsed on another 27,000 Aramean soldiers as they attempted to enter the city of Aphek.
Ben Hadad hid in an underground room, knowing that his chances for survival were nil. But his officers said to him, "Look, we have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful. Let us go to the king of Israel with sackcloth around our waists and ropes around our heads. Perhaps he will spare your life." They sent a message to Ahab that Ben Hadad was still alive and is begging for mercy.
Ahab received the message and replied, "Is he still alive? He is my brother." And Ahab permitted Ben Hadad safe passage back to Aram.
The prophet re-appeared to Ahab and said, "You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people".
In the latest round between Israel and Hamas, their military leadership were deep underground trying to escape our bombs.
And although our leaders did not describe them as "our brothers", we permitted these evil men to continue to plan and contrive their expressed intention of destroying the state of Israel, Medinat Yisrael, and murdering every Jew here.
Why are Haniye and Mashaal of Hamas any different from Ben Hadad of Aram? They all overstepped their privilege to live, were it not for the perverse and misguided merciful Jewish nature of our leaders.
When Hashem delivers an arch enemy into our hands, we do not have the right to spare him, despite any or all political and other calculations.
King Solomon taught in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes 7,16-17):
אל תהי צדיק הרבה ואל תתחכם יותר למה תשומם:
אל תרשע הרבה ואל תהי סכל למה תמות בלא עתך:
Do not be overly righteous... Do not be overly wicked
The Midrash (Kohelet Raba 7) explains that the phrase "Do not be overly righteous" refers to King Saul when he spared the life of the evil Agag, King of Amalek. And the phrase "Do not be overly wicked" refers to King Saul when he put to death the Kohanim of the city of Nov.
Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish is quoted in the above Midrash as saying:
כל מי שנעשה רחמן במקום אכזרי סוף שנעשה אכזרי במקום רחמן
Whoever acts with compassion when he should be zealous, will eventually be zealous when he should be compassionate.
The destruction of Jewish homes in Yehuda, Shomron and Gush Katif cries out before the disregard of our political leaders to the mass illegal land grabbing of the Bedouins in the Negev and the illegal building of other Arabs, as in the words of Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish "Whoever acts with compassion when he should be merciless, will eventually be merciless when he should be compassionate"
The unacceptable confusion and distortion of values when man seeks to be more compassionate than the Creator Himself, will eventually lead him to be cruel to those who deserve compassion.
It is the most natural thing for a Jew to return to his ancient homeland. He should be encouraged and helped to settle in any area that the Torah has deemed to be Eretz Yisrael.
There are other distorted ideas which have cropped up in our religious value system.
The parsha ends with the mitzva of militarily destroying Amalek. If an Amalekite brandishing a sword is advancing to kill you, and all you have in your hand is a Gemara, you will die. But if you hold a sword in one hand and a Gemara in the other, he will surely die.
As much as we love peace, and as much as we desire to devote ourselves to the spiritual aspects of life, it appears that for the present, that the Creator who has given us the Torah, has other ideas.
To live as if the Mashiach has already arrived where young men learn Torah in tranquility while being oblivious to the Amalekites who surround us; or holding the belief that other young men should give their lives to protect their right to learn in tranquility, all these are distortions of what is required of a young Jew today in Eretz Yisrael.
Hashem created angels for the heavens to offer praise to Hashem. He also created their counterpart - the Jewish nation - to live a life of Torah in this world, while battling the yetzer hara (evil inclination) on one hand and combatting the evil that men do on the other.
The Ba’al Shem Tov is on record as having said, "I have come to this world to teach people to discern between the essential and non-essential aspects of life".
A clear vision of right from wrong is the greatest gift man can acquire from Hashem.