Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Walk Article


Ki Tetze-5771

Rabbi David Walk


            It's a war out there.  We use expressions like that all the times.  We say it in business; we compare it to crime; we express it in sports, especially football, which is full of bombs and blitzes.  Sun Tzu, the brilliant military strategist of ancient China, was perhaps the most quoted authority in the last quarter of the twentieth century.  Humans are fascinated by war.  Robert E. Lee said it best, "It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it."  There's always a war happening on the History and Military channels.  And saddest of all, there has not been a year of my life without a war going on somewhere.  So, what does Judaism say about war?  From the end of last week's parsha through this week's Torah reading, we have many rules of warfare.

            What's interesting about these many laws of warfare, is that we really don't have an explanation for legitimate causes of war.  Instead we have instructions about how to wage war.  Except for the initial conquest of Israel and the eternal war against our arch nemesis, Amalek, we aren't instructed about when we should march to war.  Indeed, the majority of the wars described in the post-conquest Bible stories are cases of Israel being invaded, in other words defensive wars.  The list of invaders is long, Midian, Moav, Amorites, Egypt, Philistines, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome.  The Talmud discusses various causae belli, the Torah itself is quite silent on the subject.  Wars don't seem to need reasons; they happen.    Even though from 135 until 1948 the Jewish nation fought no wars, our military history is a very long one.

            So, since most of our most popular commentaries on the Torah lived during that long period when Jewish armies didn't exist, they tended to interpret these long instructions about warfare allegorically.  When the Torah says that you will have a war against your enemy, it doesn't mean another nation state, because we Jews didn't have armies to send out against other countries.  Therefore, the enemy is the yetzer hara, the spiritual enemy within.  The Torah is instructing us on how to win the battle of the soul.  And every detail can reinterpreted to aid us in this eternal battle.

            We no longer have that need.  We have a Jewish state and a Jewish army, and these rules come back to life in their original intent.  This brings us to the first mitzvah in this week's Torah reading:  If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take her for yourself as a wife (Deuteronomy 21:10-11).  Forget about any fancy interpretations, what's the simple meaning of this mitzvah?  Don't commit rape.  If your lust takes control of you in the turbulent passions of battle, control them long enough to convert and marry this woman rather than rape her.

            I don't know how many of you, my dear readers, have experienced battle, but it's horrible.  I've only experienced the tensions leading up to battle.  Thank God, real battle was averted, and it was still scarier than other experience of my life, including traffic accidents and ferocious storms (and a couple of amusement park rides, which I still question why people would make such rides).  The imminent threat that I might be killed or I might kill another human being was dreadful, and I will never forget it.

            Humanity has progressed tremendously in the destructive power of war, but we're still cave men on the battle field.  In World War II rape became an organized policy.  Japan turned a quarter of a million Koreans and Chinese into Comfort Women, which was well thought-out rape.  Following the Red Army's capture of Berlin in May 1945, one of the largest incidents of mass rape in history took place. According to one report Soviet troops raped every German woman between the ages of eight to eighty. Estimates of the total number of victims range up to two million.  Even amongst American troops there were thousands of reported cases of rape.  Rape was also widespread in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980's.  Not so the IDF, where cases of rape are almost unknown.

            We are blessed to live in a generation where we don't have to play mental games to make many passages in the Torah applicable to our lives.  We can return many of these laws to their original intent of making a humane society.  One of the proudest moments of my life was when I was sworn in to the IDF.  The memory of standing at attention, after receiving my rifle and my Bible and singing Hatikva at my swearing in ceremony, still brings chills to my spine and tears to my eyes.  We can live the dream of our ancestors.

            Just two weeks ago I was bringing my youngest son, Yishai, to Israel to join his hesder Yeshiva of Otniel where he will rotate time between the study hall and the IDF.  We had a stopover at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, Turkey, and we were trying to organize a minyan for the mincha service.  So, we encountered a very pleasant young Israeli who was returning to his yeshiva from a visit in the States.  The young man asked Yishai why he would want to serve in the army.  Yishai then told him what an honor and privilege it is to defend our homeland.  In the past, our Sages tell us, only the righteous were allowed to serve in the Jewish army.  Now, the technically observant shirk that service.  Joshua, King David and Rabbi Akiva didn't send the observant men home.

            The Torah was always a living, vibrant document, but has become even more so in our era.  Let us pray that the still dormant passages, like those about the Holy Temple, will soon be back in action, speedily in our days.



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