This week we begin the fifth book of the Torah, Devarim. During the rebuke and overview of their travels in the desert, Moshe reminds the Jewish people, at the end of his life, about their confrontation with Sihon. Hashem had told them, “Get up, journey, and cross the river Arnon. Behold, I have delivered into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: Begin to possess it, and provoke him to war… [Moshe continues,] So I sent messengers from the desert of Kedemoth to Sihon, king of Heshbon, with words of peace…But Sihon, king of Heshbon, did not wish to let us pass by him, for Hashem your God caused his spirit to be hardened and his heart to be obstinate, in order that He would give him into your hand, as this day” (Devarim 2:24-30).
The Toaliyos HaRalbag learns from this episode that “it is appropriate for a person to chase after peace and distance himself from strife and war, even if he knows he will be victorious. We see this from the fact that Hashem wanted the Jews to first send words of peace to Sihon before they provoke them to war, (and even though He caused his spirit to be hardened and his heart to be obstinate, which He also did to all the nation that Yehoshua conquered, for Hashem The Exalted caused their spirit to be hardened and their heart to be obstinate in order to give them into the hands of the Jews, as explained there) in order to sink into our hearts that it is appropriate at all time to chase after peace as much as possible, because Hashem The Exalted does not desire the death of evil people.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
According to the Ralbag Hashem wanted to instill into our being the utter importance and consistency of always running after peace. What’s interesting is that the reason for this is not for us to avoid danger, or to constantly be working on positive character traits instead of picking a fight with others even if we know we will win. Rather, it is because Hashem loves and cares for every single human being, whether good or bad; and if bad, The All Merciful Hashem prefers they repent then be killed.
If this is the case, then according to the Ralbag Hashem seems to, chas vishalom, contradict Himself because He hardened Sihon, and the Cannanite Kings’ hearts for them to purposely refuse peace in order that the Jews would do battle and annihilate them. How do we resolve this serious contradiction? How can Hashem be delivering us a message of always pursuing peace but yet intentionally set up a situation where the enemy is forced not to tolerate peace and go into war?
However, we must say that of course what is first and foremost is always the pursuit of peace and to avoid fighting at all costs. However, the All Knowing, All Truthful, Hashem understands that peace in this case is not the solution, because what if there was a peace treaty made? What if they agreed to co-exist, like a two-state solution? It is possible that the Jewish people might be negatively influenced by these non-Jews or maybe the Canaanites might one day want full possession of their land back and disregard peace. However, Hashem promised the land of Canaan to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov for their descendants, to be able to serve Hashem properly and fulfill all the mitzvos in the ideal fashion. Therefore Hashem, who only He for sure knows everything now and in the future, decided it was proper to harden their spirits and make their hearts obstinate in order that they would prefer battle and be wiped out in war.
What’s incredible is that we are able to understand this and use these episodes as lessons of peace. We are able to see that really there is not inconsistency here, but rather Hashem consistently wants the right thing to happen at all times, and at such pivotal points in history, where Hashem is living up to His word to our forefathers. And indeed then no chance of mistake can be left open, even if Hashem normally does want and hopes for bad people to repent.
This means that theoretically there could have been a possibility that the Cannanites would have repented if they peacefully joined us, living under our influence. However, Hashem knows better and therefore there is no contradiction and in fact from these very episodes of first confronting them with peace, helps to instill into our attitudes and psyche that efforts towards peace shall always be taken even if you know you can win the fight, though at times apparently there seem to be exceptions which are possible to discern properly.