Friday, August 31, 2012

Torah view of war and peace

War and Peace


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By Eli Touger

Adapted from

Sefer HaSichos 5749, Vol. II, p. 676ff;

Sefer HaSichos 5750, Vol. II, p. 655ff;

Sefer HaSichos 5751, Vol. II p. 796ff

Will a Dove Grow Claws?

Every day, we conclude the Shemoneh Esreh prayers by praising G-d "who blesses His people Israel with peace."1 And when describing the blessings G-d will bestow upon us if we follow His will, our Sages state, "peace is equivalent to all other blessings."2 Indeed, our Sages explain3 that Shalom, Hebrew for "peace," is one of the names of G-d Himself.

Why does peace play such a fundamental part in our Jewish heritage? Every man's soul is "an actual part of G-d from above."4 Therefore he possesses a natural desire to allow that G-dly spark an opportunity to express itself. He seeks to grow in understanding in a harmonious environment without being confronted by external challenges.

Unfortunately, this is not always possible. We live in a material world which by nature encourages selfishness and the quest for personal gratification. In such a world, the search for spiritual growth may often lead to conflicts of interest, and at times, actual conflict.

Waging War

These concepts are alluded to in the name of this week's Torah reading, Parshas Ki Seitzei which begins:5 "When you go out to battle against your enemies." In the soul's natural environment the spiritual worlds above there is no conflict. When, however, the soul "goes out" from that setting and descends to our material world, it is confronted by challenges that may require it to engage in battle.

For there are two aspects to material existence. Our world was created because G-d "desired a dwelling in the lower worlds,"6 i.e., the physical universe can serve as a dwelling for G-d, a place where His essence is revealed. But as the term "lower worlds" implies, G-d's existence is not readily apparent in our environment. On the contrary, the material nature of the world appears to preclude holiness. An attempt to resolve these two contradictory thrusts is thus often characterized by conflict.

This is the Torah's conception of war, a struggle to transform even the lowest elements of existence into a dwelling for G-d. For this reason, the Torah commanded the Jews to fight to conquer the Land of Canaan, and thereby turn a land which was notorious for its depravity7 into Eretz Yisrael, a land of which it is said "the eyes of the L-rd, your G-d, are upon it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year."8

Furthermore, even when there is no explicit command for war, the potential is there to forcefully extend the boundaries of holiness and enable it to encompass areas which were previously governed by worldliness.9

Discovering Our Resources

A person need not fear undertaking such efforts; on the contrary, he is assured Divine blessing. This is alluded to by the Hebrew ?? ?????s , translated as "against your enemies," in the verse cited above. Literally the phrase means "above your enemies,"10 conveying the promise that even as the soul descends into our material world and confronts challenges, it always possesses the power to overcome them. Since the soul is "an actual part of G-d," it is always above worldly influence and has the power to overcome all obstacles11 and transform its environment.

Moreover, it is the challenge of "battle" that brings out the essential power which the soul possesses. For such confrontation compels a person to draw on his inner strength. This search for strength in turn brings an awareness of one's inner G-dly nature. And when that G-dly core is aroused, a person can overcome any challenges, and spread G-dliness in all settings. In this way, he becomes G-d's partner,12 making manifest G-d's purpose in creation

Inner Conflicts

The concept of battle is relevant within our own lives as well. Commenting on the verse, "And you shall. see the difference between one who serves G-d and one who does not serve Him,"13 our Sages define,14 "one who serves G-d" as "one who reviews his subject matter 101 times," and "one who does not serve Him' as "one who reviews his subject matter 100 times."

In Tanya,15 the Alter Rebbe explains that, in that era, it was customary for students to review their subject matter 100 times. Therefore, it was the one hundred and first time the time when the person went beyond his normal practice which distinguished him as "one who serves G-d." For only one who struggles to rise above his nature merits such a title.

A person must challenge himself; and this means more than a commitment to gradual progress. "Serving G-d," involves breaking our individual natures, and showing that there are no limits to our commitment to Him.

This endeavor involves a constant struggle. A person cannot reach a level of spiritual achievement and then "rest on his laurels." Instead, he must continually strive to advance further.

The inner "battles" necessary to bring this commitment to the fore tap the essential and unbounded Divine potential each of us possesses within our souls. And the effects of these efforts extend beyond our individual selves, effecting the world at large. For the aspect of G-dliness which transcends all limitation is activated by each person's endeavors to transcend his personal limits.16

The Ultimate Battles

Because the task of refining the world is often compared to a battle, one of the criteria given to identify Mashiach the leader who will motivate mankind to accomplish its purpose is that he will "wage the wars of G-d."17 For it is possible that the task of refining the world will require actual conflict,18 so that Mashiach must "fill the world with justice" by "destroying the power of the wicked and waging the wars of G-d."19

This, however, is merely a stage. Ultimately, Mashiach will "vanquish all the nations surrounding him. and perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G-d together," thus initiating the era when "there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition. [and] the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d."20


1. Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 60.

2. Rashi, commenting on Leviticus 26:6.

3. Shabbos 10b.

4. Tanya, ch. 2.

5. Deuteronomy 21:10.

6. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3; see Tanya, chs. 33 and 36.

7. See Rashi, Leviticus 18:3.

8. Deuteronomy 11:12.

9. This reflects the two types of wars concerning which the Jews are commanded: milchemos mitzvah: wars, which like the war to conquer Eretz Yisrael , are a direct command from G-d, and milchemos hareshus, wars undertaken by the Jewish people on their own initiative. See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 5:1.

10. See Likkutei Torah, Devarim 36a.

11. See also Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 7:15, which offers a promise of safety to those who enter battle "with the sole intention of sanctifying G-d's Name."

12. Shabbos 10a.

13. Malachi 3:18.

14. Chagigah 9b.

15. Ch. 15.

16. To express this concept in traditional Chassidic terminology (Torah Or, Mikeitz, 39c ff.): The commandment to "love G-d. with all your might" (??? ???? ) is interpreted as a charge to summon up unlimited commitment. And we are promised that an unlimited commitment on man's part (????) will arouse unlimited G-dliness (??? ?? ????).

17. Rambam, loc. cit. 11:4.

18. Although the Rambam mentions the above as one of the criteria through which Mashiach will be identified, this will only be necessary if the Redemption will follow the dictates of the natural order. It is possible that the Redemption will follow a miraculous order (see the notes of the Ra'avad and others; even the Rambam acknowledges such a possibility in Iggeres Taiman), in which case these wars may not be necessary.

19. Rambam, loc. cit. , 4:10 in describing the role of Israel's kings.

20. Loc. Cit. 12:5.The promise of this era and the awareness that it is the truth of existence should inspire confidence in these last moments of exile, when we are confronted by challenges and conflict. Indeed, it is possible to experience a foretaste of the peace to be achieved in the Era of the Redemption through the teachings of Chassidus.

An allusion to this sequence can be seen in the fact that Parshas Ki Seitzei (which highlights the concept of war) is followed by Parshas Ki Savo (which describes the Jews' entry into Eretz Yisrael and the blessings they will receive there). Indeed, Parshas Ki Savo is read in the Minchah prayers of Shabbos Parshas Ki Seitzei. The connection between them shows that the wars of Parshas Ki Seitzei are not separate from the peace promised in Parshas Ki Savo.

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