Shoftim – Hamas: Violence Against the Peace

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There are two types of wars in Jewish law: 1. Milchmes Mitzva – an obligatory war like against the seven Canaanite nations and Amalek, and 2. Milchemes Reshus – an optional war which we find, for example, King David engaged in when capturing the Syrian area in his time.  There is a spiritual aspect to these wars besides the physical conquering or annihilation, as Rabbeinu Bachye describes that an optional war is a war against the mazel or astrological essence of the nation; this is why women and children had to be spared. But an obligatory war is meant  to destroy the whole essence of the nation, even its ministering angel that was in charge of the nation, and therefore men, women and children were required to be annihilated. Also, the obligatory mitzvah of offering peace before going to war, which is in this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim, as it says, “When you draw near to a city to wage war against it, you shall call out to it for peace” (Devarim 20:10). This only applies to an optional war, however as we see by Yehoshua, one is allowed on some level, in certain ways, to offer peace during obligatory wars.

What is the halachic definition of peace with a non-Jewish nation? Rabbeinu Bachye says they must accept two things upon themselves, and if they don’t accept both, then the Jews can engage them in battle. First, they must accept the seven Noahide laws to observe them. Second, the tax of the king, which is that they must be ready to serve the king of Israel physically and monetarily, for example building bridges, weapons, palaces, and the like. In fact, we find by the Cannanite nations that the Givonim made peace with the Jews and became water carriers and woodcutters, as the Medrish Rabba (Shoftim 5:14) says. The medrish also relates that the Girgashi ran away from the Land of Canaan, and for doing so Hashem rewarded them with the continent of Africa. Thirty-one other kings went out to war against the Jews and were eventually annihilated, men, women, and children.

Rabbeinu Bachye asks an obvious question, which is very important to be addressed. “If your heart is hesitating and saying we are doing hamas, corrupt violence, against children that never sinned against us, behold this is a judgement from Heaven and a written decree. Furthermore, since Hashem uprooted their power from heaven (their ministering angel mentioned earlier was taken out) then what we do down on earth is as if we didn’t do anything, just as our Rabbis taught in Sandhedrin 96b, ‘as you killed a nation that was already dead, you burned a Sanctuary that was already burned, and you ground flour that was already ground.’ This is not considered hamas, corrupt violence, and it is not considered murder because they are already killed.

Furthermore, even if you don’t consider them already killed murdering the children is not corrupt violence because they are a branch of the root of disobedience, this hasty embittered nation, for they would undoubtedly follow in the ways of their forefathers, to do what is abominable to Hashem, which He hates, and the Jews will learn from them. It is even mentioned in this parsha, ‘In order so that they will not teach you to act like all of their horrid ways.’

Perhaps you might say when they grow up, they will want to join our covenant and repent. Go out and learn from The One who permitted their blood [to be spilled,] Hashem who knows that they will not repent. So to Yeshayahu (14:21) explicitly says, ‘Prepare a slaughter for His sons because of the iniquity of their forefathers, lest they rise and inherit the land, and fill the surface of the earth with enemies.’ If that is so then isn’t anyone left alive a cause of very great damage more than if they would be killed? It is a very logical step to think that it is better for a person to do minimal damage in order to avoid great damage for we find cordial and intelligent people jumping off roofs to save themselves from danger, or one severing his hand, leg, or any other limb to save his own life, or drinking very bitter liquid in order to get rid of a sickness, in all these case one is not being violent to himself, rather he is performing a kindness with himself in order to live. If a person does these acts to himself and it’s not considered hamas, unwarranted violence, certainly then it would not be considered hamas, unwarranted violence if he did similar to others. For this reason, the Torah permitted killing the children, and doing minimal damage in order to avoid great damage that would come to the world if they would be left alive. This is not hamas, rather it is something logical that one should contemplate intently.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

What, in fact, is the difference between Hashem declaring an all-out war on the Canaanites and Amalek, men, women and children, verses let say Muslims, who would declare in the name of G-D “convert or die” to anyone, or the Crusaders, or even Hitler and Nazi Germany for that matter?

However, besides the fact that we don’t engage in forced conversions, in order to authentically become a Jew, one must choose whole-heartedly to be a part of the vanguard elite of Hashem’s children, who willingly walk in His ways and do His bidding. Expecting the nations to fulfill the seven Noahide laws are very simple expectations that non-Jews are anyways expected to fulfill since the time of Noach, and halacha expects Jews to treat their workers with respect and dignity.
But furthermore, this belief that Hashem wants men, women, and children of only these specific nations to be annihilated from the face of the earth isn’t just some shallow, baseless, and forced belief system which has no value to it. On the contrary, Rabbeinu Bachye says that part of believing this is the right thing to do is to challenge the very premise and to deeply contemplate what Hashem wants from us in this situation. Indeed, we must understand why Hashem felt the need to destroy whole nations from the face of the earth.

We see from here how important and vital deep intellectual thinking and truthful understanding are in order to truthfully trust and believe in Hashem and His ways. It’s the difference between Torah Judaism and the rest of the world.

Shoftim -Sensitivity to Another’s Change of Feelings

One of the prohibitions in this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim is, “And you shall not set up for yourself a monument, which Hashem, your God hates” (Devarim 16:22). The Rosh points out, “Even though He loved the monuments in the days of The Forefathers, as we find regarding Yaakov, ‘and he set it up as a monument’ (Breishis 28:18), but since the Amorites were accustomed to make them for the sake of their idols ‘I hate them’. Similarly, we can find the equivalent in the first chapter of Avoda Zara 8a.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

[The gemara in  Avoda Zara that the Daas Zekeinim must be referring to, it writes: “With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: ‘And to dust shall you return’ (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer. Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.”]

The case the Rosh mentions of Yaakov Avinu is when he fled from Esav on the way to Lavan and he stopped by the future place of the Har HaBayis,(Temple Mount.) Here he had the dream of the angels going up and down the ladder and the 12 stones coalesced into one, which he used as a pillow, and dedicated as a monument in the morning. The Ramban there explains the difference between a matzeiva, a monument and a mizbeach, an altar: “Our rabbis have already taught us in Avoda Zara 53b the difference between a matzeva and a mizbeach. The matzeiva is one big stone and the mizbeach is many stones put together. Furthermore, it would seem the matzeiva is only used for pouring wine libations and anointing oil on it, not for a burnt offering or any other sacrifice. The mizbeach is used to offer up burnt offerings and peace offerings. When they came into The Land the matzeiva became forbidden to them (Devarim 16:22) because the Canaanites used it more centrally to worship idols then alters, even though it writes by them, ‘But you shall demolish their altars’ (Shemos 34:13). Or He didn’t want to prohibit everything, and He left the mizbeach which can be used for libations and sacrifices.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Imagine if a monument was set up in the Beis Hamikdash to bring wine libations to Hashem. The Kohen Gadol, purely for the Sake of Heaven, gave a wine libation on the monument; what would be wrong with that? He is doing something purely out of love and fear of Hashem, without any ulterior motives and in such a holy place; why should that be forbidden? Yet Hashem forbade it and loathes a matzeiva, even though it was once permitted and beloved by Hashem when Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov did it, because the Canaanites now used it for their idols. It became their central process of worship. so it is now detestable, even when used in worshiping Hashem.

If Hashem, the Almighty, King Of All King, in truth one and only G-D, can on an intellectual level express that something which was beloved by Him as an expression of commitment and dedication by the forefathers, can now be hated because this form of worship became centrally used by heathens towards their false gods, then all the more so, on an emotional level, we have to be sensitive to the fragile feelings of human beings. Indeed, it is possible that what a person once liked and enjoyed he or she might not love anymore, and might in fact hate with a passion. If you are notified or realize someone has a change of heart, then you should be cognizant of this fact, and it is a poor excuse to say that you meant well and were only trying to give them a gift which you knew they used to like. It can hurt a person. Even if they did like it but now for whatever reason they change their minds, even if you have all the proper intent if this is not what they desire, it’s not appropriate to give it to them as a gift.

Bottomline, outside factors can change a situation and one with even the purest of intent can possibly hurt someone else and be doing something wrong.

Shoftim – The Benefits of Judges and Police in Jewish Law

The beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim discusses the role of judges and police officers in Judaism. “You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment. (Devarim 16:18). Rashi there says, “שפטים ושטרים JUDGES AND POLICE OFFICERS — שופטים are the judges who pronounce sentence, and שוטרים are those who chastise the people at their (the judges’) order [beating and binding the recalcitrant] with a stick and a strap until he accepts the judge’s sentence (Sanhedrin 16b and Rashi thereon; cf. Sifrei Devarim 144:6).”

The use of judges and police is the 491st mitzvah of the Torah according to the Sefer HaChinuch. The Sefer HaChinuch elaborates more on their purpose: “To appoint judges and officers: To appoint (see Sefer HaMitzvot LaRambam, Positive Mitzvos 176) judges and officers that coerce [others] to do the commandments of the Torah, bring those that are veering from the path of the truth back to it against their will, order that which is fitting to do, prevent disgusting things and enforce the fences against the transgressor – so that the commandments and the preventions of the Torah not require the belief (acceptance) of each and every person… The root of the commandment is revealed – that with this thing, we will support our religion, in that the fear of our officials and our judges will be on the face of the masses. And from their being accustomed to the good and the straight because of fear, the people will teach their natures to do justice and righteousness out of love, in their recognizing the true path. And [it is] like the Sages say, that much habit is what is behind nature – meaning to say that [just] like nature constrains a man to what it wants, so [too] does a strong habit repeat itself, like a persistent nature that constrains him to always go in the way of the habit. And in the people going in the straight paths and in faith and choosing the good, the good will cling to them and God will rejoice in His creatures.” (Click here for the complete Hebrew text of this mitzvah in the Sefer Hachinuch)

Judges and police are not here simply to enforce the law. If you look closely there is a progression that the Sefer HaChinuch is emphasizing on how to come to proper service of Hashem. This process was made for even those who are not ready to choose to accept upon themselves the Yoke of Heaven; but when the process is done one has the ability to serve Hashem in the ideal manner.
Step 1 is the judges and police enforcing the law in order to instill fear of punishment so that people will adhere to the performing of mitzvos and being careful from transgressing prohibitions.
Step 2 follows with keeping Torah and mitzvos becoming second nature.
Step 3 is serving Hashem by Keeping His Torah and Mitzvos out of love after one recognizes the true path of Hashem.

The judges and police play the initial role of making sure people get themselves into the routine of living a life of Torah. This role includes creating safeguards and possibly even physically enforcing the law. This is needed in order to make sure Torah and mitzvos become part of a Jew’s nature. Just like a person naturally breathes, sleeps, and eats, so too by habitually performing the mitzvos and adhering to the prohibitions they will eventually become second nature. However, it seems that it is not as simple as it sounds because judges and police must still be in place in order to assist and ensure it becomes second nature. We must also assume that included in enforcing the action of adhering to the law, attaining the understanding of Torah through in-depth Torah study is also required in order for this process to ideally work. That is taken for granted. Once all this happens, and one recognizes the truth of why he should perform mitzvos and gets into the routine of actually performing them, then one can truly serve Hashem out of love.

Just like a person is born to breathe, doing it naturally, loving taking deep breathes of fresh air; they can appreciate breathing in and breathing out. Or a person has natural hunger pains which tells him he should eat, which he was also born with, and as a person matures he learns to appreciate what he eats and might take steps to make sure he enjoys what he is eating. He spends time and money to eat the way he loves to eat. It all starts with an inborn nature to eat and evolves into an enjoyment and love of eating. Similarly, people have to sleep. It is impossible for a person not to sleep. Granted some people need less sleep than other, but sleeping is natural, and some people love to sleep, most people get comfortable, cozy blankets and pillows to enjoy their sleep. We see that on one level there is the way one naturally lives their lives, but one can also take it a step further and love what they naturally do.

This should also be true when it comes to Torah observance. It should come naturally to them, and once that happens one should begin to enjoy and love what they are doing. However, Hashem did not program us to automatically feel the urge to perform Torah and mitzvos as he did for us to breathe, sleep, or eat. This was done on purpose so that we would choose to do good in order to be deserving of earning reward. Therefore, out of Hashem’s understanding and mercy He gave us a mitzva to appoint judges and police in order to start us on the way to habitually perform Torah and mitzvos properly, so that it will eventually become second nature. They at least help to fulfill the first part of serving Hashem properly; then it is solely our choice to recognize and appreciate the truth in order to serve Hashem out of love, to go out there and not just perform the mitzva but to spend time, money, energy and creativity in enhancing the mitzvah to the fullest, because we love and enjoy what we are doing.

So we see from here that judges and police are the lynchpin of our service to Hashem and without them it is very hard to get into the habit of performing mitzvos and adhering to Torah prohibitions in order for them to become second nature. 

Shoftim – Lower Taxes!

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.

This dvar Torah is sponsored in memory of Seymour Rosenberg, Shlomo Shmuel ben Aharon, upon his yahretzeit, the 6th of Elul. May it be an aliyas neshama.

In this week’s Torah portion of Shoftim it discusses the appointment of a king. Rabbeinu Bachye observes that a Jewish king should be unlike the kings in the rest of the world. Whereas other monarchs have many horses and great wealth, meaning that they pride themselves with much power and money, the Torah commands of a Jewish king to not have a lot of horses, wives, or silver and gold. Rather, his main focus should be the Torah and the fear of Heaven, to the point that he must have a sefer Torah besides him at all times, and frequently read from it. Indeed, the Torah guarantees that a Jewish king who does not show haughtiness towards his subjects will rule for many years (see Rabeinu Bachye Devarim 17:16).
Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to explain that a Jewish king should only have enough horses for himself and his army, and a maximum of 18 wives, as King David had. He could also have enough wealth to take care of himself, his family, and yearly wages for his soldiers who accompany him wherever he goes.  But he is not allowed to build up a fortune, in order that he won’t become haughty (see Rabbeinu Bachye continued in pasuk 16 and 17).

Rabbeinu Bachye also quotes the Chacham Rebbe Avraham zt”l who gives another reason of why a king should not compile a large amount of gold and silver; in order not to burden Jews with high taxes.  For we see that King Shlomo weighed on the Jewish people the yoke of high taxes in order to collect much silver and gold for himself, and wealth is compared to fire, in that the more wood to fuel the fire, the higher the flame. We even find that the entire Jewish people complained about Shlomo to his son Rachavam [after Shlomo passed and Rechavam took over] as it writes: “Your father has made our yoke heavy,” (Melachim Alef 12:10). It got so bad that they killed Adoniram, who was the head tax collector, by stoning him in his house. We find that King Shlomo, who was the greatest person in the world at the time, still succumbed to these 3 things: Many horses, as it says: “And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots” (Melachim Alef 5:6). Many wives, as it says: “And he had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines” (Melachim Alef 11:3). So to silver, as it says: “And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones (Melachim Alef 10:27), it also says in pasuk 21: “none was of silver, [since] it was reckoned with as nothing in the days of Solomon.” He said about all these 3 things: “I will acquire a lot of it but it will not be forbidden.” He relied on his wisdom to go against the Torah, and faltered in them. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We must put into context what this means about King Shlomo. He was the leading Torah scholar of the generation. He was granted the gift of wisdom by Hashem to be smarter than anyone else in the history of mankind. He was on the lofty level of a prophet and compiled 3 books of Tanach with Divine inspiration: Shir Hashirim, Mishlei, and Koheles. He merited the first Beis Hamikdash to be built under his auspices and peace to reign throughout the world. In fact, the gemaras in Gitten 68b and Sanhedrin 20b says that because of his mistakes he lost control of the Demon World which he once ruled over, but always maintained kingship over the world during his lifetime, not just the Jewish people. There is even an argument as to whether he got back rule over the Demon World towards the end of his life. Someone of such loftiness, on such a high spiritual level, could not have sinned so severly. Rather, it must have been a miniscule sin that, due to his level, Tana”ch and Chaza”l amplify, because of the lofty expectations which he himself had earned. In fact the Metzudas Dovid clearly says that Shlomo was not led astray to worship idols by his wives; he just turned a blind eye to what they were doing. He never returned to settle in Egypt, he just bought his horses from there, and he didn’t collect money simply to keep in storehouses for his own pride, rather the pesukim indicate that he laden Yerushalayim with silver on the streets, in order to beautify the city, the place that housed Hashem’s Holy Temple. So his wisdom did, at least based on the reasoning of the law, safeguard him from straying from Hashem’s Torah, and allowed him to reach great heights of clinging to Hashem and doing His service. However, the strict letter of the law didn’t permit it, and it took a toll on the people. Though they did not complain outright to King Shlomo in his lifetime, they did complain to his son and even murdered, in cold blood, his chief tax collector.

A very important lesson we can learn from here is that high taxes, even for the most sincere reasons, as King Shlomo must have had as we see with the glorification of Hashem’s capital city, still can get out of hand like adding wood to an existing flame and is a great burden to society.