Parsha Pearls: Parshas Shoftim

The Difference Between Achav and Herod
We Don’t Want an Announced Redemption
Honoring the Government

“And the officers shall speak to the people, saying, who is the man who built a new house and did not dedicate it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war and another man dedicate it.” (Devarim 20:5)

The Mishnah in Sotah 44b says, “This is only true of a optional war. But in a mitzvah war, all must go, even a groom and bride.” The Gemara explains that a mitzvah war means the war of Yehoshua against the seven nations of Canaan, and an optional war means the war of King David to widen the borders of his land.

There is another difference between an optional war and a mitzvah war: the Mishnah in Sanhedrin 2a says that a Jewish king can compel his people to fight an optional war only with the permission of a Sanhedrin of 71 elders. This implies that a mitzvah war does not require the permission of Sanhedrin. The Rambam in Hilchos Melachim Chapter 5 brings this distinction and gives three examples of a mitzvah war: Yehoshua’s wars, the war against Amalek, and a war to defend the Jewish people from its enemies.

Many religious Zionists have used this Rambam to justify the existence of a Jewish state with its own army. The army was founded in 1948 to protect Jews from an invasion, they say, and to this day it protects the Jews of Eretz Yisroel. Even if we personally don’t serve in the army due to yeshiva studies, we must support it and praise the selfless sacrifice of its soldiers. The Zionists deliberately encouraged this view of their army by calling it the “Israel Defense Force”. Since this is a matter of great confusion today, let’s take the time to discuss it at length and debunk the myth that the war of 1948 was a defensive war.

First, historically it is clear that the attack of the Arab armies only came in reaction to the declaration of a Jewish state. It was not the result of anti-Semitism or anger at Jews living and owning land in Eretz Yisroel. Jews lived and owned land there for many years and there was no war. War came as a result of the declaration of a Jewish state in May 1948. That declaration was not inevitable; it was the decision of the Zionists.

Rabbi David Cohen put it well in a speech to the Torah Umesorah Convention in 1983, “As history shows, it was by a hair’s breadth that Ben-Gurion decided to proclaim a state. The members of the Jewish Agency had to come to a decision because five Arab armies were threatening them… it was a fifty-fifty vote… It was Maimon, I think, who broke the tie and they proclaimed the state… The decision to proclaim the medinah was a clear cut decision which brought about the avadon (loss) of ten thousand Jewish neshamos (lives). The great tragedies we know – that the Jews who were killed were both husbands, fathers, sons, and grandsons all wrapped up into one. What kind of a loss and tragedy this was! It is not up to us to measure. Even it if is one Jewish life, we do not measure lives. By gentiles, for nationalistic or chauvinistic reasons, for the muterland, one does this. But in our value system, what is worth more? So this momentous decision to say that we are taking medinah over Jewish lives is to me a decision which is grounds for mourning rather than simcha. The Gemara says that when someone hears that his father died, he recites two blessings: one that G-d is the true judge and one for his inheritance. But what does he celebrate the next year? The yahrzeit or the fact that he got his inheritance? A year ago his father died so it is a yahrzeit. The fifth of Iyar is a yahrzeit. The medina is not more important than the loss of ten thousand Jews, who died as a result of this decision. That decision was a momentous error. It was an achzarius (extreme cruelty).” (The Jewish Guardian, Summer 1983)

Even the UN resolution for a Jewish state in November 1947 was not inevitable. It came only as a result of immense Zionist pressure. Previously plans to allow the Holocaust survivors into other countries or even into Palestine were rejected by them. The Anglo-American Committee on Palestine published its conclusions in April 1946, calling for 100,000 Jews to be admitted to Palestine, but recommending that Palestine become neither a Jewish state nor an Arab state. Rather, the Mandate was to continue until the United Nations would execute a trusteeship agreement with Britain as the trustee. Had this plan been accepted, a good part of the refugee problem could have been solved without a Jewish state.

But Zionism opposed the committee's report and insisted on a Jewish state. The two Zionist terror organizations, Irgun and Stern Gang, turned on the British, while the mainstream Zionists intensified their illegal immigration, challenging the British to stop the ships and send their passengers back to war-torn Europe. Images of the Jews on those ships were featured prominently in the news and gave Zionism a propaganda victory.

As the UN prepared to vote on partition, it became clear that a two-thirds majority for partition could not be reached. Four nations opposed to partition, Greece, Haiti, Liberia and the Philippines, were subjected to a deluge of diplomatic pressures and menaces. Two justices of the US Supreme Court and 26 senators cabled Philippine President Carlos Rojas and urged him to change his nation’s vote. Harvey Firestone of the Firestone Rubber Company, threatened with a Jewish boycott of his firm’s products, intervened personally with the president of Liberia and said that if Liberia didn’t change her vote, the Firestone company, the largest employer in Liberia, would have to reconsider plans to expand its rubber acreage there. (O Jerusalem, p. 28)

The Zionists, of course, were planning to declare a state regardless of the UN’s decision. It would just make it easier for them to get the world’s sympathy. When Yitzchak Sadeh, head of the Palmach, was asked his opinion on the vote in progress, he said, “I do not care. If the vote is positive, the Arabs will make war on us. Their war will cost us five thousand lives. And if the vote is negative, then it is we who shall make war on the Arabs.” (O Jerusalem, p. 36)

When the Zionists accepted the partition resolution, the Arabs rejected it and violence immediately broke out through Palestine, the Zionists could have cancelled their plans for a state and instead opted for the trusteeship advocated by the United States when they saw that partition was leading to war. But instead, Ben-Gurion saw the Arabs’ rejection as an opportunity to gain even more land through the war (O Jerusalem, p. 81). And of course, fighting for extra land was not self-defense according to anybody.

The British abstained from the UN vote and adopted a policy of having nothing to do with partition in any way, shape or form (O Jerusalem, p. 84). The power that ruled Palestine left it ownerless on May 14, 1948, leaving the Zionists to conquer it themselves. This is the last and most important reason why the war of 1948 has nothing to do with self-defense. You can only call something self defense if you are legitimately ruling over a piece of land and someone attacks you. But if I walk into an ownerless land and declare it mine, and, when the other inhabitants of the land resist me, I fight back, is that self-defense? Who is the aggressor? Declaring a piece of land yours is an act of aggression. Self-defense is not defined by who attacks physically first. The UN resolution didn't make the Zionists into the defenders; the UN was only making a recommendation. It wasn't their country, and the UN's recommendations do not determine sovereign ownership.

Even when we do have a right to Eretz Yisroel, such as in the time of Yehoshua when Hashem Himself gave us this right, the war to conquer the land does not become a defensive war. If that were so, the Rambam would not have counted Yehoshua’s war as a separate example of a mitzvah war; it would have been included under the category of defense.

And do not take a bribe, for the bribe blinds the eye of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. (16:19)

The Torah says in Bamidbar 33:55 that the idol worshippers left in Eretz Yisroel will be "like barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides." The Ramban explains this to mean that they will blind the Jews' eyes figuratively, i.e. lead them astray, just as "the bribe blinds the eye" is meant figuratively. The Midrash Tanchuma (Masei 8) elaborates further on this based on the verse, (Iyov 35:11) "He teaches us from the beasts of the earth, and from the birds of the sky He makes us wise." G-d exhorted the Jewish people to learn from the example of the ox given by Eliyahu to the idolatrous prophets to be offered up to the Baal in the great test on Mount Carmel (Melachim I 18:25). The ox refused to go, and even when Eliyahu explained to it that it too would be instrumental in sanctifying G-d's name, it said, "I swear that I will not move until you physically hand me over to them." And He told them to gain wisdom from the birds of the sky, the ravens that were commanded to bring meat to Eliyahu when he was hiding (ibid. 17:4). The ravens refused to enter King Achav's house to get the meat, even for the noble purpose of sustaining the righteous Eliyahu, for the house was full of idols. Instead they went all the way to King Yehoshafat's house in Jerusalem. Similarly, G-d told the Jewish people to make sure no idol worshippers were left in the land, for even being near them and seeing their actions would have an effect on them.

The Satmar Rav explains that the reason it was necessary to bring the examples of the ox and the ravens is that otherwise, the Jews might reason as follows: "The Torah only commanded us not to live together with them for fear that we might be influenced by them. But we will not be influenced." (King Solomon made a similar argument when he married a thousand wives – see Sanhedrin 21b.) Therefore G-d told them: Look at the ox – even when it knew it could sanctify My name by going to the Baal (as actually happened in the end), and it would certainly not lead anyone astray, still it refused to go. And look at the ravens: they would not even enter a house that had idols in it, even to bring food to a tzaddik, even though the tzaddik would not know where the food came from, and no one would speak to the ravens or influence them toward idolatry. (Vayoel Moshe 1:129)

By the testimony of two witnesses or three witnesses a man shall be put to death. (17:6)

The Mishnah in Makos (5b) tells us that Rabbi Akiva said regarding this verse, "The Torah is coming to teach us that if the witnesses were proven to be plotting, false witnesses (edim zomamim), the third witness receives the same punishment as the first two. Although the first two would have accomplished the crime just as well without him, since he joined them he joins in their punishment."

When the Zionist state was proclaimed and the Holy Land was bathed in bloodshed, one religious Jew who was a participant in the provisional government came to visit the Brisker Rav. He said, "I will not exaggerate and say that we religious have a great influence in the government, but our influence is not too small." The Brisker Rav replied, "Previously I thought that you had no influence at all, and even in that case you would share in the blame for the blood that is being shed. Now that I hear you say that you do have some influence, and not too small, even if you succeed in getting all the Jews to put on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, I do not envy your portion, because of your responsibility for what is happening." (Lechoshvei Shmo, Sivan 5748, p. 8)

You shall surely place over yourself a king, whom Hashem your G-d will choose; from among your brethren you shall place over yourself a king; you may not place over yourself a foreign man who is not your brother. (17:15)

When the wicked King Herod came to power, he realized that he was descended from slaves, and that the Rabbis interpreted the Torah's words "from among your brethren" to mean that a slave cannot be king. Fearing their opposition, he killed all the Rabbis, leaving only Bava ben Buta to be his advisor. He put out Bava ben Buta's eyes, and then went to him, pretending to be someone else, and said, "Look what that wicked slave is doing!" "What should I do about it?" said Bava ben Buta. "Curse him," said Herod. "One may not curse a king," said Bava ben Buta. "But he is not a king," said Herod. "But he is at least a rich man, and one may not curse a rich man. He is at least a leader, and one may not curse a leader in one's people," said Bava ben Buta. "That is only if he behaves like a member of one's people," said Herod, quoting the words of the Rabbis. "But I am afraid of him," said Bava ben Buta. (Bava Basra 3b)

Here we see that Bava ben Buta agreed in principle that it would be a good idea to curse King Herod, except that he was afraid of him. But in Melachim I 18:46, it states that Eliyahu the prophet ran in front of the chariot of the wicked King Achav. Rashi says there that he did this not simply out of fear, but because it is the right thing to give honor to royalty.

The difference is that Achav was a real king, appointed by a prophet, whereas Herod was a slave and had no status of royalty at all. A real king must be honored even if he is wicked, but not someone who lacks the status of a king. (The Jerusalem Talmud, Horayos 3:2, states that all the kings of the Ten Tribes up till and including the dynasty of Yehu had the legal status of kings; those afterwards took power by force.) If this was true of Herod, in the time of the Second Temple when the Jewish people had the right to rule their own country, then certainly today when the entire state is forbidden by the Torah and its leaders have no status of leadership at all, there is no reason to give them honor. (Vayoel Moshe 1:132)

When you go out to war against your enemies… whoever betrothed a wife and did not marry her should go back to his house… whoever is afraid and soft-hearted should go back to his house. (20:1-8)

The Mishnah in Sotah (44b) says that this applies to an optional war, but in an obligatory war everyone must go out, even the groom from his room and the bride from her wedding canopy. The Ridvaz in his commentary to the Rambam (Melachim 7:4) asks how the bride could go to war – is this not contrary to the standard of modesty demanded by the Torah? He therefore explains that the Mishnah means that since the groom leaves his room and goes to war, the rejoicing is postponed and thus the bride leaves her wedding canopy; but she does not go to war. Alternatively, he says, she goes to help her husband fight by supplying him with food and water. The Sefer Hachinuch (603) also says that women never fight, even in the obligatory war against Amalek. This is his rationale for exempting women from the mitzvah of remembering Amalek through the reading of Parshas Zachor.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the announcer, who proclaims peace, announces good, proclaims redemption, who says to Zion, your G-d has reigned. The watchers have raised their voices, and sing together, for they will see eye to eye when Hashem returns to Zion." (Yishaya 52:7-8)

The Chasam Sofer (1763-1839) explained that the future redemption will not be similar to past redemptions. In the past, it was not clearly sensed by all that Hashem dwelt among us. The Jews heard it from the prophets and sages who felt it with their holy inspiration, and believed them; they also saw many miracles that testified that the Divine Presence was with them. But it was not openly seen with the eyes. But in the future redemption, we will be able to point with our fingers and say, "Behold, this is our G-d!" as the Gemora says at the end of the tractate Taanis.

Perhaps, wrote the Chasam Sofer, the Jewish people have already deserved many times to be redeemed through an incomplete redemption, or that peace should be made between us and the nations among whom we live, or – better yet – there could have been a real redemption as in the time of the Second Temple and the like, but that is not desirable. Even if we ourselves would settle for such a redemption – just to be redeemed – our holy forefathers would not consent now to anything less than a complete redemption. It is better for Jewry to suffer for the duration of the exile in order to ultimately experience a redemption that is complete in every way.

Thus the verse: "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the announcer" – should really be translated: What good are the feet of the announcer for the mountains, i.e. our forefathers? Our forefathers do not want a redemption that has to be announced. They are waiting for a redemption that will be clear to all and will need no explanations: "Like a banner raised on mountains you will see, and like the blowing of the horn you will hear." (Yishaya 18:3) The verse continues: "…who proclaims peace" – even if the announcer proclaims peace between the Jews and the gentiles – "announces good, proclaims redemption" – or even if he announces a higher level, an actual redemption from exile like that of the Second Temple, that is only "who says to Zion, your G-d has reigned" – and Zion will have to believe the announcer, but she will not recognize on her own that it is so. So what good is this kind of redemption to them? But the real redemption will be when "the watchers have raised their voices" – that they themselves will watch it - "for they will see eye to eye when Hashem returns to Zion." (Toras Moshe, Shoftim)

You shall surely place over yourself a king, whom Hashem your G-d will choose (17:15).

Not only is the king chosen by Hashem – he is considered to be Hashem’s representative on earth to preserve law and order. This is the meaning of the verse that states, “And Shlomo sat on the throne of Hashem” (Divrei Hayamim I 29:23).

The Chasam Sofer (Likutei Shailos Utshuvos 86) takes this a step further and asserts that even a gentile king is Hashem’s representative on earth. His proof is that when we see a gentile king, we bless Hashem “who gave of His honor to flesh and blood” (Berachos 58a). We do not merely say that Hashem gave honor to the king; He gave of His own honor to the king.

According to this, the Chasam Sofer explains the verse, “Fear Hashem, my son, and the king; and do not join changers” (Mishlei 24:21). He points out that both here and in Koheles 8:2, “I keep the word of the king and on the matter of the oath of G-d,” Shlomo Hamelech mentions Hashem and the king in the same verse. This is because our fear of the king is not merely due to his power to punish, but also because we believe in Hashem and we know that He has appointed the king as His representative on earth. We believe that Hashem has commanded us under oath to fear the king.

The difference between a non-religious person who fears the king only for practical reasons (out of fear of punishment) and a believer in Hashem who fears the king as Hashem’s representative is that the non-religious person’s fear is only for show; in private he mocks the king and thinks he is smarter. He is a “changer” – he changes his attitude toward the king when in private. Shlomo therefore says, “Fear Hashem, my son, and fear the king, even in private, because of your fear of Hashem. Do not be like those changers who take a different attitude to the king in public and private.”

And the verse in Koheles 8:2 is to be rendered: “I keep the command of the king, not just because I swore allegiance to him (an oath that might be considered taken under duress and therefore not binding), but because I swore to G-d at Sinai that I would keep the Torah, which commands us to obey the king.”

Where does the Torah command us to respect the king? The Chasam Sofer cites three examples from Tanach in which Hashem obligated someone to show honor to a king: 1) He commanded Moshe to honor Pharaoh (Rashi on Shemos 6:13); 2) Eliyahu ran before Achav’s chariot (Melachim I 18:46 with Rashi); 3) Hashem’s Presence left Esther because she called Achashverosh a dog in her prayers (Megillah 15b). And in general, Jews in exile are forbidden to rebel against their host nations. The prophet Yirmiyahu (29:7) says, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have exiled you and pray on its behalf to Hashem, for through its peace you will have peace.”

Based on this, the Chasam Sofer explains a comment of the Magen Avraham in Orach Chaim 284:7. In the prayer we traditionally say every Shabbos morning for the king of our country, we ask Hashem to “conquer his enemies before him.” The Magen Avraham says: “This means his enemies in his own kingdom, for in the whole world there are Jews.” What problem forced the Magen Avraham to conclude that the prayer refers to internal enemies?

The Chasam Sofer explains that the word for “his enemies” used in the prayer is “sonav,” which literally means “his haters.” Every Jew is obligated to love his king and hate his king’s enemies. Thus if Jews in Country A were to pray for the downfall of the haters of their king, they would be praying for the downfall of their fellow Jews in the enemy country, Country B, who hate the king of Country A. This is why the Magen Avraham had to say that we are praying only for the downfall of the haters of the king within the country itself, who cannot possibly be Jews - for the Jews were commanded at Mt. Sinai not to hate their king.

Regarding our king’s external enemies, we have a different prayer in which we simply ask that there should be peace. This prayer appears in the Talmud, Berachos 16b-17a: “May it be Your will, Hashem our G-d, to make peace among the heavenly angels…” Rashi explains that this means the guardian angels of each of the seventy nations. When there is peace among them, there is peace among the nations.

But regarding internal enemies, we do not pray for peace, because those who rebel against a king are wicked, and “there is no peace for the wicked, said my G-d” (Yishaya 57:21).

At first, one might think that this does not apply in democratic countries like the United States, in which the president is an elected official and is supposed to govern in accordance with the will of the people. If we are against something he is doing, we have every right to speak out against him and support his opponents within the government.

This is true, but only in regard to changes that we think would be better for our country. For example, we want our country to be a more moral place. If the president advocates something immoral, we speak out against him, saying that he is not doing what it is best for our country.

But what if the president does what he feels is best for the United States, and Jews speak out against him, not on the grounds that his policies are not good for the United States, but on the grounds that they are not good for the Zionist state? Such Jews are showing that they are more loyal to the Zionist state than they are to the United States, and are violating the principle of loyalty and honor to a king. A president may not be a king as far as the different opinions on how the United States should be run are concerned. But all Americans agree that there should be a president, and that he should run the country in the country’s own best interest. One who acts in the interest of other countries is guilty of treason and is punished severely, even in democratic America. In that aspect the government is still like a king, and one who does not have the country’s best interest at heart is like a rebel against the king.

We live in a climate of rising anti-Semitism. According to a recent survey, over 30% of the non-Jews in America believe that Jews are more loyal to the Zionist state than they are to America. The last thing we want is to contribute more to that image. We need to follow the Torah’s directives for exile, and then Hashem promises us safety: “And even so, when they were in their enemies' lands, I did not reject them nor revile them to destroy them, to annul My covenant with them, for I am Hashem their G-d" (Vayikra 26:44).