Rabbi – how should we feel and how relate to the bloody war going on in Europe, where men, women, the elderly and children are attacked. Should we ignore it? Feel vindicated? Be sad? Pray for them?
Rabbi Efrati, head of the Derech Emunah Organization of young israeli Religious Zionist rabbis, Responds:
As we do in the case of every situation in our world, we turn to our Holy Torah, the expression of Hashem's moral and ideal Will, which contains the founding principles of our lives and of the entire world.
The Torah guides us toward loving all of G-d's creations.
This love stems from the deep cognizance that all those created by G-d in His world are meant to express the joy of being in His image.
This love does not come from an emotional response, but from contemplating, recognizing and internalizing that we and all other creations have a moral and heavenly mission, that inside all of us there is the image of the Creator.
This love includes great responsibility, expressed in caring about all of creation, whether animate or inanimate, whether unable or able to speak, in praying for their welfare and trying to fill their needs.
Eventually, this love is expressed emotionally as well, in feelings of empathy for our near and distant surroundings, pain at others' pain, joy in their joy.
These ideas appear in the Tanach, "G-d is good to all and has mercy for all His creations" – all of them, with no exceptions.
HaRav Avraham Yitschak HaCohen Kook zt"l, Israel's first Chief Rabbi and the iconic Torah luminary who delineated the path of Religious Zionism, wrote the following words on the subject of loving other nations and the different people that populate the world:
"Love for those created [by G-d] must live in our hearts and souls, love for each person, love for every one of the nations, the desire to elevate and establish them on a high spiritual and material level, while hatred is reserved only for the evil and depravity in this world. It is impossible to achieve spiritual heights of 'Praise the Lord, call out His Name, tell his wonders to the nations' (Psalms) without inner love, from the depths of the heart and soul, to benefit all nations, improve their condition, ensure their lives.
"This trait allows the spirit of Messiah our King to be upon Israel. In every place where we find allusions to hatred (Tr. Shabbat, 89a) we know definitely that it is aimed at evil, which holds on powerfully to the union of many nations, nowadays and especially in years past when the world's iniquity was was even greater. However, we must know that the essence of life, light and sanctity, do not leave the image of G-d in mankind in general, that every nation and people have a part in it, each according to his worth, and this holy nucleus will elevate everything. It is from this life-imbued point that we wish to see the complete elevation that the world will experience, the light of justice and integrity…and the perfection of all creation and mankind from the start. "
The Rama"k and the Netsi"v preceded Rav Kook on this issue.
The Rama"k wrote the following about loving mankind:
"[Man] should accustom himself to place the love of mankind in his heart, even of the wicked , as if they were his brothers and even more than that until the love in his heart for all people is established, and he must love even the wicked in his heart and say: Would that they repent and be tzaddikim, and be great and favored by G-d …and what will make him love them is reminding himself of their goodness, covering their blemishes and instead of looking at their faults, looking at their good qualities."
The Netzi'v wrote regarding our responsibility and prayers for nations of the world who are suffering:
"It was praiseworthy of our forefathers that besides being tzadikim and hassidim and lovers of G-d as much as is humanly possible, they were also upright people of integrity, that is: they acted towards the nations of the world, even vile idol worshippers, no matter, they acted lovingly to them, caring about their welfare, because this is the continuity of the world. The way we see Avraham prayed for Sodom, despite his hating them and their king because of their wickedness as can be understood in what he said to the King of Sodom, but he wanted them to continue to exist, and in Breishit Raba Parashat Vayera (chap. 49) it says that Hashem said to Avraham: 'You must love justice and hate evil (Psalms 45, 8)' – you loved to defend my creations and to hate to condemn them.. and we were as the 'father of many nations (Breshit 17, 4-5)', as even if the son does not follow a straight path, he [the father] still cares about him and his welfare."
Therefore, we must love the different nations, the different peoples, wish for their good fortune and welfare, pray for world peace and that no harm or sorrow befall G-d's creatures.
We must pray that they repent sincerely, that one nation not lift their sword against another nor study war anymore, by their becoming aware of heavenly ethics, which elucidate fully how all the nations can exist in peace and respect, united although varied, with ethics and integrity, faith in the one Creator - who is not a pagan idol,- but a source of truth and infinite goodness.
Although wars are part of the development of the world, and we say "The master of wars, the sower of charity, the source of salvation..." but we pray for the world as did Bruria and Rabbi Meir, "may evil disappear from the earth" – not those who do evil, but the evil itself, so that the world can progress and so that merciful and kind salvation bloom through choosing the good and not through the exigencies of war.
"All this leads to the important understanding of the moral and true aspects found on both warring sides on the one hand, preserving the national icon of Slavic race and its culture (the rectified ones) and on the other hand, the geographic right of a collective to have a people of its own and develop an independent culture (its positivie aspects).
Wars, however, bring out the dark aspects of nations, as HaRav Kook said.
"If Europe and each of its its peoples attempt to hold on to their status, not with truth and not with charity, they do not know Hashem and His ways and will not desire to follow them.
"This situation is short lived, the light of repentance must appear and each must discard his silver and gold idols and all return to G-d's goodness. The present culture, its literature, foundation, theater and all its institutes and all their worthless laws based on evil and ll the bad deeds and behaviors and transgressions will disappear entirely, and G-d alone will reign supreme on that day.."
Even so, as part of our serving Hashem, we must also distinguish between the shining aspects that exist among the different peoples and describe their national and cultural differences, while, of course, paying attention to the wickedness which is also present, although the mainstream turns toward the good, defend the nations instead of accusing them and exhibiting narrow-minded dislike for anyone who is not Jewish.
HaRav Kook zt"l wrote:
"The highest level of loving creatures is that of loving mankind, and that must spread among all men – despite different opinions in belief and religion, despite all the different races and climates, it is proper to understand the ways of the nations and other groups, learn their characteristics and attributes as much as possible, in order to know how to base this human love on near-practical foundations. It is only on a soul replete with love of living things and of mankind can love of nation rise with noble and great spiritual and realistic pride, while narrow vision that causes seeing everything outside the special nation's borders or even outside Israel's borders as ugly and impure, points to a terrible darkness that leads to general destruction of every positive spiritual construction whose light every sensitive soul hopes to see."
We must remember that true salvation does not appear without the rise of the Torah of He who has the power to save, in that mankind will attempt more and more to clarify the ethical aspects of what mankind is, why we were created, what our mission is, through deep understanding of the Bible. From this, every national hue will find a blessed place in the world's existence.
We, the Jewish nation, were created to lead in G-dly ethics in this world, to influence integrity and awe of G-d by means of great love for all creatures.
And that is why, in addition to prayer for world peace and morality, we must increase awe of G-d, honesty, holiness and purity, study of Torah within ourselves, as a nation that is the essence of existence, in whom rests the spark of the world's soul – the sole nation through whom the world can arise and recognize its Creator.
"All nations develop and act according to their natural ways of movement, the wars deepen their individual values, until that has been maximilized. Israel is the mirror of the world, and as long as there is a nation extant that has not been developed completely including all its tactics, there is darkness in the light absorbed by Knesset Yisrael. That is why when the different monarchies fight each other, that completes them, and Israel will experience the birth of its completeness and anticipate the arrival of Mashiach…speedily, in our days.
"Awaken, arise to your tasks! G-d's call is powerfully heard, we discern it in the depths of our souls and in the movement of our lives. Israel must reveal the source of its life, stand ready on its spiritual bases and (Dvari 4, 7) 'Who is a great nation with a G-d so close to him" a nation that knows the basis of its G-d. The world's culture is transient, man's spirit weakens, darkness covers the nations (Yeshayahu 60, 2) 'darkness will cover the earth and fog the nations.' The hour is here, the light of the world, the true light of G-d, the light of Israel's G-d, revealed by His miraculous nation, must be revealed consciously, and must enter the inner depths of the nation, make it cognizant of its own unified strengths, aware of the G-d dwelling within it, and once that is realized, know how to reveal its life's wellsprings, know how base its vision on its own sources. Instead of drawing them from alien well, Israel is called to draw from its own depths."
When it comes to the feeling of revenge on the nations, one must take care and clarify the truth and reject the emotional baser level feelings of revenge whose source is hatred. The issue of revenge is not emotional, but comes from the depths of the G-dly ruling to educate the world and bring it to its mission.
Sometimes when there is no repentance, a spiritual purification is necessary and that may involve harsh judgment. But vengeance whose source is a desire to inflict pain in order to calm oneself, is unacceptable, as HaRav Kook elucidates in Olat R'aya
"If revenge, as seen among mankind, is a trait coming from hatred, from the soul's weakness and wickedness, from fury on evil that was done in the past – it cannot be related to any of G-d's attributes, to our merciful Father, source of loving kindness and goodness. That is why we must understand the contents of expression of revenge…that it can come to enlighten the world with all its good treasure, to remove what darkens life and existence in general, because while they are still here they darken the world, and G-d, who said 'Let there be light' removes the darkness and those causing it, so that light will appear in the world, to gladden all of creation."
We must, of course always keep in mind that we hate evil with all our might, and dedicatedly battle the enemy.
However, this comes from love for G-d and his creatures, as our desire to rectify sometimes forces us, leaving us no choice, to kill in an obligatory war of mitzvah or in the rounds of nations fighting one another.
In destroying evildoers there is joy at the result but sadness about how it is achieved. The result is the end of evil in the world, and that is blessed, the means are by killing, and that causes sadness. We would prefer that they return to Hashem.
That is why King David buried his enemies after war, to stress that the war did not arise from hatred but from love of truth and love of their souls. Whoever comes from that ideological place, will not be damaged by victory over others. It says "and He will grant you mercy, and have mercy towards you".-.I will not fear becoming cruel because You are with me, I fight in the Name of the Lord and love of His creatures, not because of hatred of man, but hatred of evil deeds.
He who comes from this ideology, feels sad at the pain of creatures, and makes a division between that and G-d's conducting His world with truth and justice and our prayers that they repent so that they can be saved with mercy and chessed as much as can be.
This is what HaRav Kook zt"l said about the nations in Europe who fought one another in his time (WWI).
"The world's sorrow is very worrying…the ways of peace and love of truth, are for all of G-d's creations who are in difficult straits, all deserve mercy and pity..let us hope that Hashem sees the suffering of His people and the world and makes haste to open the gates of salvation and good will...we will say to the sword of destruction – enough! (Igrot Ha'raya)
Therefore, we would prefer that all those on earth understand that they must all bow to You, without the need for wars and revenge and pray for that outcome.
"The nations will rejoice and praise You, because You will judge peoples fairly, and You will lead them on earth forever (Psalms 67, 5)
Rabbi Baruch Efrati studied at Merkaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem and serves as a rabbi in Efrat. He is a prolific and much-read writer on Torah issues and heads the "Derech Emunah" (Way of Torah) movement of young Israeli Orthodox rabbis.