The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Av 13, 5766/August 7, 2006

Avoiding the Snare

"And thou shalt consume all the peoples that the LORD thy God shall deliver unto thee; thine eye shall not pity them; neither shalt thou serve their gods; for that will be a snare unto thee."
Deuteronomy 7:16

Moshe rabbeinu - Moses our master - who selflessly devoted his entire life to the physical and spiritual well being of the Israelite nation, had but one wish before he died: "let me enter the land and see that goodly mountain: the Lebanon." These are the words that open this week's Torah reading, Ve'etchanan, (Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11). What is the meaning of this cryptic reference to Lebanon? We know that the Torah refers to the land north of the land of Israel as Lebanon, the very same land of the cedars in which Israel today is battling the terrorists vipers of Hezbollah. Is Moses asking for entrance into the promised land simply to gain access to Lebanon in the north?

When confronted with a life or death decision, it is incumbent upon us to act decisively and morally. To be indecisive or to hesitate, to be passive rather than active, can be both immoral and deadly. Today Israel is waging war against an implacable enemy, an enemy which worships at an altar of hate and destruction, and which will be satisfied with nothing less than the total annihilation of the state of Israel, the genocide of the Jewish people, and the obliteration of the Torah of Israel from the face of the earth. When facing such an enemy, each soldier of the army of Israel needs to be armed with a clear and uncompromising understanding of his responsibility to himself, his nation, and all humankind. We are taught by our sages that one is required to die as a martyr rather than to murder. Yet, to cut down an enemy in battle is not murder, but the prevention of murder. Even when that enemy places himself among "innocent" civilians. Even when those "innocents" are women and children. To refrain from pursuing the enemy because of these extenuating circumstances is not an act of moral deliberation. It is an act of confusion, perhaps even cowardice. Torah makes it clear that an enemy is to be pursued mercilessly. The ungodly "moral dilemma" cooked up by the enemy, practitioners of a cynical death cult, is to be treated with contempt. To spare a murderer, even at the risk of killing an innocent child, is to allow and to encourage him to continue to murder and to murder and to murder. To concede to the rules that the terrorists would have us play by, is to become ensnared in trap both deadly and immoral. As much as we hate to see our sons and friends confronted with such decisions, the stern warning which the Torah delivers in this week's reading, Ekev, leaves no room for moral equivocation.

The Torah places a supreme value on human life. We are commanded to "choose life." An appreciation of all living things is essential to an understanding of the inner meaning of the Divine service at the Holy Temple. The everyday mitzvot with which we preoccupy ourselves are a celebration of life. One particular day in which the celebration of life as a heavenly gift to be both appreciated and embraced, is Tu B'Av - the 15th day of the month of Av. Considered a minor holiday by Jewish tradition, it is nevertheless one of the most sublime occasions on the Hebrew calendar. Tu B'Av is a day of brotherly love, where common daily distinctions are dropped, and all be come equal. As brothers in peace and unity we become fit for our most sacred task and ultimate destiny - to become partners to the Holy One Himself, Creator of the universe.

To learn more about Torah teachings concerning the morality of war, and how to conduct a war morally, and to gain insight into the joyful life embracing spirit of Tu B'Av, listen to the week's broadcast of TEMPLE TALK.

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Part 1
Part 2