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Shabbat Parashat Chukat 5780

Parashat Hashavua: War Ethics

Harav Yosef Carmel

In this week’s parasha, we see a tense encounter between Bnei Yisrael and Edom, descendants of Yaakov’s brother, Eisav. The relationship between these nations began with the progenitors’ gestation and has continued to our day, given that Chazal identify Rome as stemming from Edom. In that way, Chazal saw the destruction of the Second Temple at the hands of the Romans and the long exile that ensued, as a major chapter in the history of the nations that related to these two famous brothers. We will try to connect their history to the destruction of the First Temple and the exile in Bavel as well.

From the time of King David until the days of King Yehoshafat, Moav and Edom were nations that were under the sovereignty of Bnei Yisrael. (After the latter’s division into two kingdoms, Moav paid taxes to Israel, and Edom paid taxes to Judea). During the days of Yehoram ben Yehoshafat, Judea suffered a bad spiritual deterioration and the punishment came quickly: “In his days, Edom rebelled from under the hands of Judea, and they coroneted a king upon them” (Melachim II, 8:20).

Years later, after a severe spiritual fall, Judea was blessed with a righteous king named Amatzia. Amatzia was the brother of Amotz, the prophet who was the father of the famous prophet, Yeshayahu (Megilla 10b). Amatzia decided to return the state of affairs to its former situation and to attack Edom in perhaps an attempt to recapture Rivka’s prophecy: “One nation will grow stronger from the other nation, and the older one will serve the younger one (Yaakov)” (Bereishit 25:23). Before battle, Amatzia listened to the prophetic guidance he received from Amotz (see Divrei Hayamim II, 25:7-10 with Radak).

Amatzia had great success in this battle, as the pasuk says: “Amatzyahu was strengthened, and he led his nation and went to Gei Hamelech and smote 10,000 of the sons of Se’ir, and 10,000 [of them] they captured alive and took captive to the Sons of Yehuda” (ibid. 11-12). To our great dismay, Amatzia’s treatment of the captives was horrible: “They threw them off from the top of the rock, and they were all split open” (ibid. 12).

The deterioration that resulted from this action came quickly: 1. The Israelite kingdom defeated the Judean kingdom in battle (ibid. 13). 2. Amatzia worshipped an idol of Se’ir (ibid. 14). 3. Amatzia threatened to harm his brother the prophet. 4. Amatzia initiated a civil war against the Israelite kingdom (ibid. 17). 5. Jerusalem was defiled by Yoash, King of Israel (ibid. 23-24). (See more in Tzofnat Yeshayahu, pp. 12-13). In fact, Chazal attributed, in one place, the destruction of the First Temple and the exile to Bavel to the cruelty toward the Edomite captives. (Eicha Rabba 14).

The lesson for generations is that Hashem hates acts of cruelty. The lesson for our generation is that when an army fights its enemy, they must follow rules of morality. Then they will be granted Divine Assistance. Thousands of years before the Geneva Accords were written, the Torah forbade harming enemy POWs. We should be proud that the heritage of the Jewish people is alive and well in the world, as we are a light onto the nation, and the IDF is the most moral army in the world. 

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 Tishrei 9     5776


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