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לימוד תורה

Voices of war and peace

Parasha and its implementation – Parashat Ki Tetzeh 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Haim Shenvald

The “combat doctrine” is a universal 'Doctrine', it has rules and principles that have not changed since ancient times. You can learn about them in the Bible and the Sages, from Sun Tzu's “Art of War”, from Napoleon “The art of Leadership”, from Carl von Clausewitz’s "On War", the articles of Yitzhak Sade and Moshe Bar Kochva and more. Over the years, the tools of war and the geo-strategic conditions have changed, but the rules have not. The 'combat doctrine', defense and attack, ambush and raid, advance and pursuit, retreat and delay are the same. As well as the 'principles of war' such as: devotion, ploy and the trickery, exploitation of weakness and deception, and more. In the end, there is always a winner and a loser.

The opening of our Parasha:

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

When you [an Israelite warrior] 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) is a direct continuation of the "war doctrine" from the previous Parasha. The prohibition of fear during war, the commandments to priests anointing war, and the duty to render in battle. In the middle there are two Mitzvot unique to Judaism's 'war doctrine': the mitzvah of ‘calling on to surrender’ before going into battle:

כִּֽי־תִקְרַ֣ב אֶל־עִ֔יר לְהִלָּחֵ֖ם עָלֶ֑יהָ וְקָרָ֥אתָ אֵלֶ֖יהָ לְשָׁלֽוֹם׃

“When you approach a town to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace.” (Devarim 20:10)According to Rashi

 בְּמִלְחֶמֶת הָרְשׁוּת הַכָּתוּב מְדַבֵּר

“Scripture is speaking of a war which is not obligatory upon them” (Rashi ibid) but the Ramban and Rambam state here: “Scripture is speaking of a battle waged of free choice. But the intent of our Rabbis with reference to this verse [before us, was not to say that the requirement of proclaiming peace applies exclusively to permissible, but not to obligatory, wars; rather, their teaching in the Sifre] refers only to the later section wherein there is a differentiation between the two kinds of wars”.

Even when the sounds of war are heard, a voice of peace must be uttered:

לְפִי שֶׁמִּדַּת הָרַחְמָנוּת הִיא מִדָּה טוֹבָה וְרָאוּי לָנוּ זֶרַע הַקֹּדֶשׁ לְהִתְנַהֵג בָּהּ בְּכָל עִנְיָנֵנוּ גַּם עִם הָאוֹיְבִים …לְמַעֲלָתֵנוּ אֲנַחְנוּ… וּבַהֲמִיתֵנוּ אוֹתָם לֹא יִהְיֶה בַּדָּבָר תּוֹעֶלֶת אַחַר שֶׁהֵם רוֹצִים לַעֲמֹד כְּבוּשִׁים תַּחְתֵּינוּ…

“It is from the roots of the commandment [that it is] because the trait of mercy is a good trait and it is fitting for us — the holy seed — to practice in all of our matters. Even if the enemies are idolaters, it is for our stature … And there is no benefit to us in killing them, since they want to stay subdued under us…” (Sefer Hachinuch 527:2)

To teach us:

כַּמָּה גָּדוֹל כֹּחוֹ שֶׁל שָׁלוֹם אֲפִלּוּ הַמִּלְחָמָה שֶׁאֵין אָדָם יוֹרֵד לְתוֹכָהּ אֶלָּא בַּחֲרָבוֹת וּבִרְמָחִים, אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא כְּשֶׁתִּהְיוּ הוֹלְכִים לַעֲשׂוֹת מִלְחָמָה לֹא תִהְיוּ פּוֹתְחִין תְּחִלָּה אֶלָּא בְּשָׁלוֹם

“The Sages said: You should know how great the power of peace is, even in war, where people enter only with swords and spears, the Holy One, Blessed be He, said: 'When you go to wage war, do not start but with peace.” (Devarim Rabbah 5:12)

The 'call to peace' in the Jewish ‘war doctrine’ teaches us that it is better to achieve the objectives of the war, by peaceful means, without a single shot, and without bloodshed! Unlike the cultures of that time that saw the killing and destruction of the enemy in war as an end in itself.

Later, the Torah commands to avoid 'incidental damage' and unnecessary destruction of trees:

כִּֽי־תָצ֣וּר אֶל־עִיר֩ יָמִ֨ים רַבִּ֜ים לְֽהִלָּחֵ֧ם עָלֶ֣יהָ לְתׇפְשָׂ֗הּ לֹֽא־תַשְׁחִ֤ית אֶת־עֵצָהּ֙ לִנְדֹּ֤חַ עָלָיו֙ גַּרְזֶ֔ן …כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה לָבֹ֥א מִפָּנֶ֖יךָ בַּמָּצֽוֹר׃

“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city?” (Devarim 20:19)

A melody of peace and goodness that softens the aggression and the calls of war:

כדי ללמד נפשנו לאהוב הטוב והתועלת ולהדבק בו, ומתוך כך תדבק בנו הטובה ונרחיק מכל דבר רע ומכל דבר השחתה,

“The root of this mitzvah is to teach ourselves to love goodness and utility and cleave to them, and consequently we will be followed by goodness, and we will be distanced from all things evil or destructive”. (Sefer Hachinuch -Mitzvah 529)

There is a wonderful similarity between the 'combat doctrine’ and the 'principles of war' of the battlefield, and the management of the internal conflicts that take place within the intricacies of a person's personality, between the various parts that make up his soul. In dealing with his strengths and weaknesses, with his desires and dreams. Even in these conflicts, sometimes the person wins, and sometimes comes out defeated. The Sages learn from the military the ‘combat doctrine’ and apply it to win internal struggles.

In the month of Elul, we deal with our personal repentance. The ‘combat doctrine’ can be applied to the internal conflicts within our souls. It is not always necessary for one force to defeat the other, it is better to have both force’s cooperation in a 'call for peace'.

The sound of the Shofar is meant to wake us up:

משרשי המצוה, לפי שידוע כי קול השופר תעורר לב בני אדם אם לשלום אם למלחמה

“One of the reasons for the Mitzvah is that the sound of the Shofar awakens a man’s heart, whether to peace or to war”. (Sefer Hachinuch 331:2-The commandment of blowing the Shofar on Yom Yippur of the Jubilee)

Some are required to wake up to an internal battle, but it is better to wake up to strengthen the soul in peaceful ways.

Also on the public arena, the role of the 'trumpets' in the desert was to mobilize for war, gather the people to the Tabernacle, and to worship Hashem - in the sacrifices that bring peace between Israel and G-d:

לִתְקֹעַ בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ בְּכָל יוֹם בְּהַקְרִיב כָּל קָרְבָּן, וּכְמוֹ כֵן בִּשְׁעַת הַצָּרוֹת. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וְכִי תָבוֹאוּ מִלְחָמָה וכו',

“To blow trumpets in the Temple each day as every sacrifice is offered, and also at a time of troubles, as it is stated “When you come to war, etc.” (Sefer HaChinuch - Mitzvah 384:1).

May we merit a voice of unity and peace, not of war and trouble.

"תְּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל לְחֵרוּתֵֽנוּ וְשָׂא נֵס לְקַבֵּץ גָּלֻיּוֹתֵֽינוּ"

"Sound the great shofar for our liberty, and raise a banner to gather our exiles…”

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