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18 Sivan 5762 - May 29, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
"And If You Go To War in Your Land Against the Enemy that Oppresses You . . . "

by Yisroel Spiegel

Difficult times are upon us, and it seems that the greatest hardship lies in the element of "the latter troubles erase the memories of the first ones" (Brochos 13a). What is particularly difficult here is the fact that one has no time to ponder and contemplate what has already happened, since before one turns around, another trouble is washing ashore, and the worst of it is that one cannot take a breather to stop and internalize the lessons of the first experience.

"And among those nations you shall find no ease" (Devorim 28:65). This restlessness and uneasiness, says Rashi, is a worse curse in and of itself. For when there is respite, surcease, a person is able to take stock, concentrate and think about the nature of the trouble, its sources and causes, and especially, the consequences. But this is not true when one has not had time to digest the previous trouble and one is still gasping for breath before being inundated by the next wave of trouble.

Nevertheless, Jews must exert themselves to examine the entire chain of events, for one often sees that while every difficulty and tribulation is terrible in itself, for every tragedy and misfortune is difficult for the sufferer to undergo, yet there often is some connecting thread between them, something that unites the separate events into a cohesive, comprehensive unit. It is our obligation to find that unifying element that draws all the events together and joins them into a composite whole.


If we study current events closely, we cannot help noticing a unique phenomenon shared by all the difficult trials which we are experiencing lately. These are troubles that visit Jews by virtue of their Jewishness. And even those victims who happen not to be Jewish, are still very much associated with Jews.

Furthermore, a sign of our times is that the brunt of the antisemitic persecution is concentrated in one spot, precisely in Eretz Yisroel. For in these times, there is hardly a place in the world where Jews are truly threatened and persecuted. The C.I.S., which was until not too long ago the best example of Jewish oppression and suffering, has ceased to exist, and in the Islamic countries hardly any Jews remain. The millions of Jews living mainly in America and Europe live amidst leisure and plenty, enjoying civil rights, unthreatened, and certainly in no apparent danger.

The only place where Jews live under constant danger is in Eretz Yisroel, of all places; here Jews are sniped at as they travel roads; the innocent are wounded and killed; here we find Jewish settlements within gunshot range of their enemies; here suicide bombers infiltrate with their murder paraphernalia and spill Jewish blood like water. And this whole explosive process began at the least expected time, when the Palestinian enemy was under the rule of the most benign and amenable government (from their point of view), a government prepared to meet them on common ground and agree to very generous terms. Who can explain what lay behind their benighted leader who, moments before he could have received so much more than he would have dreamed -- should turn to war, as a result of which our life's routine has been wound backwards to those days before Israeli statehood when we proudly boasted, "The entire country -- a battlefront."

The verse in this week's parsha depicts such a circumstance, where war is thrust upon us, inside our very borders, internally rather than externally. Perhaps this really hints at our situation today, which is non-existent anywhere else in Jewish life: "And if you go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresses you, and you shall blow an alarm with the trumpets, and you shall be remembered before Hashem your G-d, and you shall be saved from your enemies" (Beha'alosecho 10:9).

The Kli Yokor comments: "It is written with a beis, that is, in your land, relating to an enemy who lives within the borders of your land." There were periods in history when Jews were attacked in their dwelling places in the Diaspora, and other times when we were attacked in our homeland from enemies without, such as Arab neighbors beyond our borders. But the war referred to here relates to an enemy living within our borders, a fifth column within our very land.

Such a situation would have been difficult to predict, for many reasons. First of all, because up until recently, the military power of the Palestinians was nil. Today the situation is reversed, no matter how this came about and who is to blame -- even if it was the Israelis themselves who armed them, as the justifiable argument goes. The fact remains that the Palestinian enemy is now a military factor to be considered, a factor which we find it difficult to deal with and for which we can provide a reasonable or possible solution.

How pertinent are the words of the prayer which we recite after the parshas ho'akeida each morning, "And with Your great kindness, may You remove Your wrath from Your nation, from Your city and from Your land and heritage." We certainly do not cease proffering prayers that Hashem repeal His wrath from His people. But why "from Your city and Your land and Your heritage"? Precisely when millions of Jews are scattered throughout dozens of lands all over the world? Precisely when Jews possess an independent sovereign state, with its own army and all the military hardware that a modern, developed country requires? Precisely when we have a "united Jerusalem", a "whole Jerusalem" which is "the capital of Israel forevermore"? Precisely when "Har Habayis is in our hands"?

But lo, we now have an answer to all of these disturbing questions and we are now able to understand so well the depth of the meaning of that prayer-plea that Hashem remove His wrath not only from His nation, but also from His city, His land and even His heritage. And all those who misguidedly followed the vain, deceptive visions of those preemptors of the Redemption or the various false visionaries of "the first sprouting of the geula" -- are shocked to discover that even after the state was established, and even after reaping all those military victories, we are still left with empty hands, save for all that we must pray for. Not one prayer, one aspect, but all of them: respite for Hashem's people, His city, His land and His heritage!


Let us examine the strange scenario that is unfolding before our eyes. Over a century ago, there arose a rebellious movement that denied the light of Hashem and His guidance, that duped the masses with the false notion that the key to our Redemption lies in our hands, in our own efforts. If they were to remove the Jews from the lands of their exile and concentrate them in their own sovereign land, so they posited, then they would never be persecuted by the gentiles again. Bring them to the land of Israel, create an independent state with a strong army capable of defending itself from the threat of neighboring enemy countries and then, all we would be left to contend with would be the Palestinian Arabs in our midst. A trifle. No problem.

But the reality in which we live now shows how utterly mistaken they were. We still have a problem, a serious and complex one, for we are now standing before the reality of the situation of going "to war against the enemy in your land."

The Divinely predicted process is far more difficult and poignant than man could have imagined, especially when our people are being manipulated by leaders who have their own ideas on how things should be.

It developed that everything is completely opposite from what they deceived themselves into thinking. Millions of Jews did not follow their lead and continue to live dispersed throughout the world, under no specific threat to their existence, whereas we in Eretz Yisroel are, indeed, endangered and to such a degree that it appears as if all the hardship of Jewish exile is concentrated precisely here in our homeland! All those `savants' who sought to learn from the historic examples of other nations could not have predicted such a weird turn of events which is so counter to human logic and common sense.

But the Jewish People is not a logical one. It does not operate under normal rules as do the other nations of the world. The Jewish People is unique. It is a nation which rallies to threats against it by sounding the trumpets. "It is a positive commandment from the Torah to cry out and sound the trumpets for every trouble that threatens the community, as it is written ` . . . against the enemy threatening you, and you shall sound the trumpets etc.' This is one of the ways of repentance. That in times of danger, they shall cry out over it and sound the [trumpets] so that all might know that it was their [evil] deeds that brought this upon them, as it is written, `Your sins caused . . . ' And it is this which will cause that impending trouble to be removed from over you" (Rambam, Taanis 1).

This is the only way in which we are obligated to act, and there cannot be, now in or in the future, any advantage in all of the other tactics, be they political or military, for in effect, all of these `counsels' have already been tried and implemented; none of them were effective and some were even counterproductive and detrimental. It is our obligation to be loyal messengers in rousing, to the best of our ability, the hearts of our People towards teshuva and improving our ways as the only means to remove Heavenly wrath from "Your nation, Your land, Your city and Your heritage."

"And if you go to war in your land against the enemy . . . And you shall be succored from your enemies." "Tzar is an actual, virulent threatening foe, whereas oyev is an enemy who harbors hatred in his heart. It is unusual for one to cry out to Hashem against a potential enemy, only against a present, menacing one. Not against a future trouble in the planning.

Hashem promised us that if we blow the trumpets when faced by an enemy menacing us and return to Him with our whole heart, then `You shall be saved from your enemies.' He will then foil the enemies' schemes" (Oznoyaim laTorah).


The situation is a difficult one, even with an internal enemy. He strikes hard, felling many victims. Many people are perplexed by this saddening forecast. Even those who call for power tactics are confused and don't know exactly what to suggest, what logical solution can get us out of this mess. Who can give a viable chance to occasional spells of quiet after almost all the experts recognize the conditions in practical terms and doubt any possibility of the enemy eventually laying down their arms. All this intensifies the confusion and even leads to depression.

But this is not news, either, for did the prophet not predict, "This is a people robbed and spoiled; they are all of them snared in holes and they are hid in prison houses; they are for a prey and none delivers, for a spoil and none says: restore. Who among you will give ear . . . Who gave Yaakov for a spoil and Yisroel to the robbers? Did not Hashem, against Whom we have sinned . . .? "

And the Malbim comments: "In the way that you presented the question it appears as if the reason for Yisroel having been spoiled and robbed is incidental, and you ask why Hashem did not save? Why the hand of circumstance ruled to reduce Israel to the opposite of Hashem's cherished select. But if you turn back from the effect and search out the cause, you will admit that nothing is happenstance. And if Israel has, indeed, become spoils, it must be because Hashem so willed it! And now we must ask why Hashem did this.

"And now that we ask why this came about, it cannot be that Hashem desired to destroy His people for we know that He made the Torah great and demanding for the sake of His righteousness, because He purposely desired to make His children worthy and meritorious. The reason, then, must be that they sinned against Him, they abused the very thing by which He sought to provide them with merit. He endowed the Torah with many obligations and commandments, but they refused to keep them. They shunned His ways; their hearts turned away, as they did in body. They violated the Torah with equanimity."

In total contrast to all the foolish, imbecilic notions touted by various causes, including those who boast the descriptive title of "religious orthodox" and who blame this state of affairs on our "not giving Zahal a free hand to win," is the warning of the novi who sets this misconception in proper perspective, "Who gave Yaakov for a spoil? Is it not Hashem, against Whom we sinned and Whose ways they refused to pursue, and Whose Torah they did not heed?"

This message is repeated in our parsha, "If you go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresses you, you shall blow upon the trumpets and you shall be remembered before Hashem, and you will be saved from your enemies." We must turn to Hashem with all our hearts to be saved, and not to repeat the stupidity bordering on heresy of turning to the false idols of might and military power.


Since there is no evil that does not have some good (Tzror Hamor 24,2), it seems that in a certain sense, some benefit is sprouting from this present military approach which has been taken since the beginning of 5761, and perhaps we can couple to it what we once heard from Maran R' Yaakov Kamenetsky zt'l upon the occasion of a visit to his home in Monsey, two years after the Yom Kippur War.

His words related to that difficult war, to the thousands of war victims it claimed and the messages to be gleaned therefrom. Surprisingly, he said, "People are accustomed to thinking that the Six Day War was a so-called `good war,' whereas the Yom Kippur War was a devastating one. From a Torah perspective, it is quite the opposite. One must always examine the spiritual outcome and we thus see that after the Six Day War, there prevailed a euphoric atmosphere of cochi ve'otzem yodi, `the might of my arm' gained this victory, as a result of which there was a heightened accusation against Torah scholars and their military deferment.

On the other hand, the Yom Kippur War was characterized by a low military profile. Israeli pride took a beating; the halo of courage and heroism was tarnished, which created the first buds of the blessed Israeli tshuva movement.

This, said HaGaon R' Yaakov, is how we must look at events: do they cause a spiritual weakening or a strengthening? As tragic and harsh as the Yom Kippur War was, it still resulted in Jews taking stock, stopping to measure events on a world scale of spiritual values; they began to draw near to their roots and sources.

This present war also contains beneficial seeds, for our very eyes see and our ears hear how Israeli pride has suffered a severe blow. No longer is the Israeli an invincible know-it- all or do-it-all. Many are those who are beginning to admit that they are far from omnipotent. Our powers are limited, and even the prime minister admits that military might is not the answer. Sometimes one must restrain oneself and not strike, contain oneself and not retaliate. The view from the Prime Minister's position, he admits without hesitation, is very different than from that of the Opposition.

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