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לימוד תורה

"Ki Tetzeh- Go forth" to battle in the 'People's Army'

'People's Army Model' or 'Professional Mercenary Army'

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald – The Parasha in our everyday life – Ki Tetzeh- 5781

In recent times, the idea of replacing Ben-Gurion's "People's Army Model"(*1), with the model of "Mercenary, hired professional soldiers" has occasionally arisen. Proponents of the idea see it as a solution to problems in the "People's Army model" today, following the value changes that are taking place in the world and in Israeli society. There are those who see the "benefits" of the "professional mercenary army" model in other countries, and would like to adopt them. Others favor it in the hope that it will remove public pressure from certain populations that do not share the security burden.

(On the advantages that exist in the People's Army Model, we extended it in an article published several years ago: 'Caution of the False Magic of a Professional Army' on Channel 7 - 13/06/13.">

Having some acquaintance with some "professional" armies, and from their level of professional performance and 'professionalism', it is not a "success story!", It is the "neighbor's lawn is greener" syndrome. Copying this model to the State of Israel and the IDF may be dangerous for our existence. Despite its shortcomings, the 'People's Army model' in the State of Israel in the postmodern era has several advantages: values, quality, public and numerical (as detailed in the above article).

However, the 'People's Army model' in Israel is not an invention! It is already in our Parasha and reflects the Israeli ethos and its ancient roots. At the beginning of our Parasha, the Torah continues with the Mitzvah of war:

כִּֽי־תֵצֵ֥א לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עַל־אֹיְבֶ֑יךָ וּנְתָנ֞וֹ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ בְּיָדֶ֖ךָ וְשָׁבִ֥יתָ שִׁבְיֽוֹ׃

"When you take the field against your enemies, and Hashem your G-d delivers them into your power, and you take some of them captive" (Devarim 21:10)

At the end of the previous Parasha, the Torah describes 'going to war', the ways of organizing for battle and building power, and the Cohen's words of encouragement to the people who gathered for war:

כִּֽי־תֵצֵ֨א לַמִּלְחָמָ֜ה עַל־אֹיְבֶ֗ךָ... וְהָיָ֕ה כְּקָֽרׇבְכֶ֖ם אֶל־הַמִּלְחָמָ֑ה וְנִגַּ֥שׁ הַכֹּהֵ֖ן וְדִבֶּ֥ר אֶל־הָעָֽם׃

"When you take the field against your enemies… Before you join battle, the priest shall come forward and address the troops". (Devarim 20:1-2)

In the nine verses there, the Torah mentions those who go to war in the name of the 'people' five times! To teach us that this is not a mercenary army, but a 'People's Army Model'. Unlike other peoples in history, who worshiped the war, and saw it as the embodiment of their power and greatness and therefore set up mercenary armies and invested the best of their money in them.

The people of Israel made work and life their motto, the spiritual work combined with the physical development, and saw the war as a compulsion, only, when necessary, to defend themselves. Therefore, they invested their resources in a creative and working life, and when necessary, when a war broke out they declared ‘general recruitment’ and all the people were called to duty. It should be noted that in the Midian War, which was an initiated war, which required only part of the people, אֶ֚לֶף לַמַּטֶּ֔ה - a thousand from every one of the tribes' (Bamidbar 31:4)), the Torah does not call them 'the people' but ' אֲנָשִׁ֖י לַצָּבָ֑א military men'! The word 'army' is mentioned there fifteen times in thirty-two Psukim!

Another expression of the 'People's Army Model' in our Parasha is כִּֽי־תֵצֵ֥א

"When you go forth to battle …". Enlistment in the war is called 'going forth', 'departure'. The 'people' are called to 'move' out of their place and their daily routine and go to war. For comparison, in Midian's war, "exit" is not mentioned, but: " הֵחָלְצ֧וּ מֵאִתְּכֶ֛ם Let men be picked out from among you", " וַיִּמָּֽסְרוּ֙ picked", " וַֽיִּצְבְּאוּ֙ עַל־מִדְיָ֔ן They took the field against Midian".

The Tanach opened a window of the reserve duty model of the 'People's Army' back in the days of King David. Its work was 'ongoing security', and protecting the borders from terrorism, when there was no war:

...הַֽמַּחְלְק֗וֹת הַבָּאָ֤ה וְהַיֹּצֵאת֙ חֹ֣דֶשׁ בְּחֹ֔דֶשׁ לְכֹ֖ל חׇדְשֵׁ֣י הַשָּׁנָ֑ה הַֽמַּחֲלֹ֙קֶת֙ הָאַחַ֔ת עֶשְׂרִ֥ים וְאַרְבָּעָ֖ה אָֽלֶף

who worked in monthly shifts during all the months of the year—each division, 24,000". (I Chronicles 27:1)

The army numbered 288,000 reservists, who would enlist each year for reserve duty for one month:

שהיו ישראל חלוקים לשנים עשר חלקים וכל חלק וחלק שמש את המלך חדש ... והם מזומנים ללחום מלחמתו ולכל עבודתו בזה החדש ...

"…for all the Israelites were divided into twelve parts, and each segment served the king for a month… They were ready to fight his war and to [perform] all his service in that month…. ". (Rashi ibid).

Not everyone was drafted into the reserve, only those who could leave their businesses:

דוד לא בחר אלא אנשי חיל ועשירי העם אשר יוכל לעזוב עסקיהם ולעסוק בעסקי המלך אבל עניי העם הצריכין לפרנס עצמם לא לקח דוד

"David chose only the mighty warriors and the rich people, who could leave their affairs and engage in the king’s affairs; David did not take the poor people, who had to support themselves." (Rashi ibid).

Whoever was part of the reserve cadre was called מֻכְתָּב בְּאִסְטְרַטְיָא שֶׁל מֶלֶךְ

"One who was written in the army list [be’isteratya] of the Jewish king" (Mishnah Kiddushin 4:5)

ואסטרטיא של מלך פנקס הגייסות שהיו יוצאין למלחמה עם מלכי בית דוד ...

"The register of troops, who would go to war with the kings of the House of David…" (Rambam ibid)

He received special treatment and was considered privileged:

בחלוקת חודש בחודש לצאת למלחמת בית דוד משפחה פלונית בחודש פלוני. ולא היו יוצאים למלחמה אלא מיוחסין, שתהא זכותן וזכות אבותן מסייעתן:

"In the monthly division of each month to go out to the wars of the House of David, a particular family in a certain month. And they would not go out to war other than those with legitimate descent, so that their merit and the merit of their ancestors would help them". (Rabbi Obadiah Bartenura, ibid).

Later, at the end of the Six Day War, the late Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin praised this model: "This army which I had the privilege to command through this war, came from the people and goes back to the people. A Nation which transcends in times of distress, who can take any enemy, thanks to its ethics, spiritual and mental level during a test."

If we are tempted to believe that the 'professional mercenary army' is much better, we may find, too late, that those shortcomings will outweigh the problems in the existing 'People's Army Model'.

It is forbidden to gamble on our national existence! 

 (*1)- The People's Army Model (Hebrew: מודל צבא העם) is a school of thought in Israel concerning the role of the Israeli Army, the IDF, vis-à-vis Israeli society. According to this conception, the IDF plays a broader role than merely defending Israel's national security. Israel's regular army is relatively small, and thus its strength in emergency is based on reservists, which comprise much of the entire nation.

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