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The Arab-Israeli Conflict Is Not Territorial

Why Are We Afraid to Speak Truth?

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • July 24, 2012
  • |
  • 5 Av 5772

The Kotel

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Class Summary:

The Truth About Israel - Why Are We Afraid to Speak the Real Truth?


On a Hike

Four Europeans go hiking together, and get frightfully lost. First they run out of food, and then they run out of water. “I’m so thirsty,” says the Englishman. “I must have tea.” “I’m so thirsty, says the Frenchman. “I must have wine.” “I’m so thirsty,” says the German. “I must have beer.” “I’m so thirsty,” says the Jew. “I must have diabetes.”

Israel Today

Israel today is facing a complex reality, with more varied and serious threats than we've seen before. There is the threat from Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, the PA, and ISIS.

During such times, it is vital that we, the Jewish people, stand firm and united. First and foremost, we must articulate to ourselves—and to the world—the truth about Israel.

Not Even a Foot

In this week’s Torah portion (Devarim), Moses, bidding farewell to his nation just weeks before his passing, narrates the experiences of the young nation during their forty-years of wandering in the Sinai wilderness, en route to the Holy Land. Their long trek, from Egypt through the Sinai Peninsula, to the Eastern bank of the Jordan, forced them to pass neighboring countries, all of them antagonistic toward the Israelites. Moses records his instructions to the Israelites on how to treat these neighboring nations. His words are both shocking and stunning; their moral power resonates to this very day.

“G-d said to me,” Moses recalls (1), "Give the people the following instructions: ‘You are passing through the borders of your brothers, the descendants of Esau, who dwell in Saeir [Southeast of Israel]. Although they fear you, you must be very careful. You shall not provoke them, for I will not give you even one foot of their land. As an inheritance to Esau I have given Mount Saeir.’”

Moses continues the instruction: “You shall purchase food from them for money so that you may eat; also water shall you buy from them for money so that you may drink.” From Saeir, also known as Edom, the Hebrew’s continue their journey northward toward the territory of Moab, located at the East of the Dead Sea. This is Moses’ message to the Hebrews once again: “G-d said to me, ‘You shall not distress Moab and you shall not provoke war with them. I will not give you their land as an inheritance, since I have already given Ar [the capital of Moab] to Lot’s descendants as their heritage.”

As the Jews continue their voyage up north toward the country of Ammon, today's Jordan, Moses has this to say to his people: “G-d spoke to me saying… ‘You will be coming close to the Ammonites. You shall not distress them and you shall not provoke them, for I shall not give any of the land of the descendants of Ammon to you as an inheritance; to the descendants of Lot have I given it as an inheritance (2).”

These words, uttered three millennia ago (in the year 1273 BCE), one month before Moses’ dies, are startling. When the world was still a moral desolate desert, a barbaric pagan society, Jews were barred from taking even a single inch from the territories of Saeir, Moab and Ammon. “I will not give you even one foot of their land,” G-d declares to Israel. Not only can you not build homes on their territory, you mustn't even stand on their soil without permission. You can’t enjoy a falafel with humus without their consent. Why? Because their land does not belong to you, the Israelites; it belongs to another nation. Do not lay a finger on that which is not yours.

The Eternal Lesson

Why does the Torah record these apparently insignificant instructions of Moses concerning the Jewish encounter with the three countries of Saeir, Moab and Ammon? What historical relevance is there in this lengthy and detailed account? Especially considering that the Torah is far more a book of moral instruction than a work of historical data. What moral message does this tale convey?

The answer is clear. The Torah is communicating to us the circumstances surrounding the ultimate Israelite conquest and settlement of their homeland, Eretz Israel, so that when the United Nations, the White House, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the European Union, the State Department and all of the Arab countries will decry Israel as an apartheid state, occupying Palestinian soil and controlling land annexed from another nation, the Jewish people will be able to open their own constitution, the Torah, and present its unwavering message:

“Listen ye, defenders of morality and human rights! Do not preach to us about stolen land. At a time when most tribes and nations were slaughtering their very own children to pagan gods (3); in a milieu when parents regularly practiced infanticide, murdering their weak newborn children; in an era when cannibalism was a routine diet, and most people lacked the slightest idea about the very notion of right and wrong -- Jewish children growing up in a desert were taught that they could not touch that which did not belong to them.

They could not step foot into a territory that was not theirs. When your great-great grandparents were still entrenched in barbaric Pagan rites, our children were studying G-d's instruction to cultivate absolute respect for the property and nationhood of others. “It was under these guidelines that the nation of Israel conquered and settled the Land of Israel, knowing full well that this was their land to embrace.

The very same G-d who instructed them not to set foot on foreign soil, granted the Land of Israel – the entire territory from the Jordanian till the Mediterranean – as His gift to the Jewish people. It is not stolen land; it is the eternal heritage of the Jewish people.” Israel became a nation in 1313 BCE, 2,000 years before the birth of Islam. Forty years later, in 1273 BCE, the Jews conquered Eretz Israel and enjoyed dominion over the land for a thousand years. Even after the Babylonians and then the Romans put an end to the Jewish sovereignty, Jews continued to reside there throughout all of their history. In short, the Jews have had a continuous presence in the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.

“You Are Thieves”

The great 11th Century French biblical commentator, Rashi (Rabbi Solomon Yitzchaki), one of the greatest sages in the history of the Jewish people, asks the following question in his commentary on the opening verse of Genesis. If the Hebrew Bible is a book of Jewish theology and law, why does it begin with the story of creation, and not proceed immediately to the story of Exodus and the first mitzvah given to the Jews?

Rashi, who wrote these words as Christian crusaders were attempting to “purge” the land from Muslim rule, presents an incredible answer. One day in the future, Rashi says, the nations of the world will turn to the Jewish people and declare, "You are thieves! You have stolen the land of Israel from non-Jewish tribes.”

What ought to be the appropriate Jewish response? To answer this question, the Bible commences its text with the story of creation of the universe, in order to grant the Jew the best and truest answer to the accusation that he is a bandit. The entire universe, the Bible is saying, belongs to G-d. He created it. Every piece of land belongs to Him, and He chose to give the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. To call Israel occupiers of the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem is akin to calling France occupiers of Paris or Britain occupiers of London.

The Bible -- a book embraced by 1.5 billion Muslims and 2.5 billion Christians as the word of G-d -- states clearly that the entire country, including the West Bank and Jerusalem, is G-d's eternal gift to the Jewish people. In fact, our ownership of Israel surpasses that of any other nation’s ownership of its country. Every other nation in the world bases its claim to its land on conquest. A people came, conquered the indigenous people, took the land, settled it, and called it by a new name.

"Might makes right" is the historical claim of almost all nations in history. With one exception: Israel, Eretz Israel. This country belongs to the Jewish people because, as the Bible states hundreds of times, G-d gave it to them as their eternal heritage. It is the most moral claim, because G-d is by definition the essence of morality.

What About the Palestinian People?

How about the ingrained notion that the Palestinians are fighting for their ancient homeland annexed by the Jews? The truth about this matter has been so deliberately obscured that even to raise the issue seems strange to many people. Let us reflect on some undisputed historical facts. (Please read till the end and reflect on these facts before you dismiss them instinctively). In the 1967 war, did Israel annex territory from a Palestinian nation? No. Not a single inch. Israel captured the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem from Jordan's King Hussein and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, after they planned to destroy the Jewish State. It was only following the Six-day War in 1967 that Arab refugees living in these territories began identifying themselves as part of a "Palestinian people."

One must wonder why these Palestinians suddenly discovered a national identity after Israel won the war, but not during the "Jordanian occupation"?

If the people you mistakenly call ‘Palestinians’ are anything but generic Arabs collected from all over – or thrown out of -- the Arab world, if they really have a genuine ethnic identity that gives them right for self-determination, why did they never try to become independent until Arabs suffered their devastating defeat in the Six Day War?”

Here are the facts, and you can check them out. There has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians are regular Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Egyptians, etc., who have all lived for hundreds of years under Turkish rule, and then, after World War I, under British rule. At that time even Jews living in the Holy Land were called “Palestinians.” There is no language known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There is no such an entity as a "Palestinian people."

The name "Palestine" was created in the second century after the Romans committed genocide against the Jews, burnt the Temple and declared that the land of Israel would be no more. From then on, the Romans promised, it would be known as Palestine. The name was derived from the Philistines, a Goliathian people conquered by the Jews centuries earlier. It was a way for the Romans to add insult to injury. (They also tried to change the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, but that had even less staying power.)

The present conflict between Israel and the Arabs has absolutely nothing to do with any occupation. In 1967, when there was not one Jewish settlement and no occupation, five Arab countries -- Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon joined by Saudi Arabia -- contrived a plan to annihilate Israel and “drive the Jews into the sea." Israel fought back and won the war -- and the territories from which it was attacked. Keep in mind that in 1967 the Arabs controlled 99.9 percent of the Middle East lands. Israel represented less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the land mass. But even that was too much for the Arabs. They wanted it all. No matter how many land concessions the Israelis make, it will never be enough.

During the summer of 2000 at Camp David, Yasser Arafat was offered by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak 98 percent of the "occupied territories" and a first time ever Palestinian State with its capital in East Jerusalem. Arafat rejected the Israeli offer and initiated three years of horrific bloodshed in Israel. Then in 2005, Israel evacuated every last Jew from Gaza, giving away Gaza exclusively to the Arabs. The result? Gaza became Chamastan, and Israel had not enjoyed a day of peace coming from Gaza.

The History of the Palestinians

In Hal Lindsey's book "Everlasting Hatred: The Roots of Jihad," he traces the history of the people now being called the "Palestinians." I want to quote a few critical paragraphs.

“In the 7th century, the Muslims took control of Palestine for the first time. From 635 CE until 1917, the Muslims ruled it, with only a few interruptions by the European Crusaders. During that span of time, the land was reduced to total desolation. Many people who traveled the land in the 19th century remarked on the fact that Palestine was as desolate as the moon and very few people lived there.

”In 1867, Mark Twain remarked about his visit to the Holy Land in his book, ‘The Innocents Abroad.’ He lamented: 'Stirring scenes occur in the valley [of Jezreel] no more. There is not a single village throughout its whole extent – not for 30 miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride 10 miles hereabouts and not see 10 human beings.’ Twain described the country as ‘A desolate country whose soil is rich enough but is given over wholly to weeds. A silent, mournful expanse. We never saw a human being on the whole route. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.’

”By all eyewitness accounts of that era, Palestine was a total desolation. There were virtually no trees and no people. Because of lack of trees, the weather changed and it rarely ever rained. The irrigation systems of the once fertile valleys were all destroyed, rendering most areas into malaria-ridden swamps. The terraces of the mountainsides were torn down, causing terrible erosion that left only barren rocks. This was the condition of Palestine by the beginning of the 19th century. ”It was at this time that Jews began to flee severe persecutions in Russia and Eastern Europe. In the mid-1800s, some Jews came to Palestine and, with the generous aid of some successful Jews, began to buy property from Muslim Ottoman Turks. The Muslims thought the land was worthless anyway, so they sold it to the ‘dumb Jews’ for extremely inflated prices.

”To everyone's amazement, the Jews were very successful at reclaiming the land. Many of them died from malaria and the rigorous life the work demanded, but they performed an agricultural miracle that made the land very productive again. As a result of their success, poor migrant workers from the surrounding Muslim countries began to flood in to work for the Jews. The Jews literally became victims of their own success – almost all of the people calling themselves 'Palestinians' today are the descendants of those migrant workers.

”When the Hashemite Tribe, who were rulers over Mecca and Medina for centuries, were driven out by the Saudis, the British gave them control over the vastly greater numbers of 'migrant workers' in Trans Jordan. The British said this would be, in effect, "The State of Palestine." Instead, the Hashemites, who make up only about 20 percent of the population, turned it into their own kingdom and called it the Kingdom of Jordan.

”When the Jordanians and Egyptians controlled the so-called West Bank and the Gaza Strip for 19 years (1948 to 1967), there was never a thought of giving the disorganized mass of 'migrant workers' a state. Why? Because they knew there were no cohesive, homogeneous people known as 'Palestinians.'

”The current efforts of Jordan and Egypt and all the rest of the Muslim Middle East nations to give these same people a state is clearly a ploy to get a foothold inside Israel. It is a strategic accommodation to establish a base from which the final assault against Israel can be made. What they couldn't do militarily is now being facilitated through the United Nations and the E.U.

”Muslims will never accept a permanent presence of infidels in what they claim is sacred Islamic soil. Especially Jewish infidels, for which the Koran reserves its most vehement condemnations. In their minds, the Koran and Allah will not let them accept Jews in what they view as their third holiest site.”

The Truth About the Refugees

Harvard University professor Ruth Wisse wrote these wise words in The Wall Street Journal (June 16, 2003):

“Unfortunately, the Arab war against Israel is no more a territorial conflict than was al Qaeda's strike against America, and it can no more be resolved by the 'road map' than anti-Americanism could be appeased by ceding part of the U.S. to an Islamist enclave. From the moment in 1947 when Jewish leaders accepted and Arab rulers rejected the U.N. partition plan of Palestine, the Arab-Israeli conflict bore no further likeness to conventional territorial struggles. Arab rulers defied the U.N. charter by denying the legitimacy of a member state. Arab countries refused to acknowledge the existence of a single Jewish land. Arab rulers did not object to Israel because it rendered the Palestinians homeless. Rather, they ensured that the Palestinians should remain homeless so that they could organize their politics around opposition to Israel.

“At any point during the past 55 years, Arab governments could have helped the Palestinian Arabs settle down to a decent life. They could have created the infrastructure of an autonomous Palestine on the West Bank of the Jordan and the Gaza territory that Egypt controlled until 1967, or encouraged the resettlement of Palestinians in Jordan, which constitutes the lion's share of the original mandate of Palestine. Rather than fund the Palestine Liberation Organization to foment terror against Israel they could have endowed Palestinian schools of architecture, engineering, medicine and law. What Israel did for its refugees from Arab lands, Arabs could have done much more sumptuously for the Palestinians displaced by the same conflict. Instead, Arab rulers cultivated generations of refugees in order to justify their ongoing campaign against the ‘usurper.’”

Every decent human heart goes out to the pain of innocent Arab children, women and men who grew up in impoverished refugee camps. Their suffering should evoke the compassion of all moral men. But let us be clear on the matter: Their suffering has absolutely nothing to do with Israel. Their profound agony is the result of the Arab and Palestinian leaders who have in a most cynical way used them as weapons in their bloody battle against Israel, robbing them from any prospect of a brighter future.

This abuse of the Arab refugees by their leaders began back in 1948. For the most part, the refugees were encouraged by Arab leaders to leave Israel, promising to purge the land of Jews. Sixty-eight percent left their homes without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.

Out of the 100 million refugees after World War II, theirs is the only refugee group in the world that was not absorbed or integrated into their own peoples' lands. Jewish refugees which numbered the same amount as Palestinian refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the state of New Jersey. Yet the Arab refugees were intentionally not absorbed or integrated into the Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. Why? Because cynical Arab leaders realized that the true value of the refugees was not as Arab brothers but as pawns to be used against Israel.

The Best Kept Secret

The early founding fathers of modern Israel, even if they were not religious, were deeply steeped in the realization of the Jewish Biblical connection to the land. David Ben Gurion, for example, had an appreciation of the necessity of anchoring a modern, even secular, Israeli state in biblical and Jewish tradition.

Yet, tragically, this has changed dramatically in recent years. You will rarely, if ever, hear an Israeli leader state the truest and most moral justification for a Jewish presence in the Holy Land: G-d’s gift to the Jewish people. I am sure our leaders are trying to do the best for their country, but the practical consequences of this policy are counterproductive.

The Arabs are protesting against Israel, saying, “You have annexed our land; you are building settlements on our soil; you are intruding into our territories.” And Israel routinely responds: “Yes, you have the right to create on these territories a Palestinian state, but we have a right for self-defense.” The world, we know, has embraced the Arab point of view. Condemnation of Israel as an apartheid state has become the norm. Is this pure anti-Semitism? I do not think so. The world is sympathetic to the Arab propaganda against Israel, because Israel itself has embraced the Arab version of "truth."

Israel never refuted the core Arab claim that the territories captured in the 1967 war constitute ancient Palestinian land. Israel only states, that notwithstanding the validity of the Arab claim, she has a right for self-defense. So the world says: “OK, so defend yourself in your territories, not in theirs.”

This, I believe, remains Israel's profoundest diplomatic and strategic error. In many of its actions, it treats the 1967 territories as though they belonged to Israel; yet in its words, Israel agrees to the Arab claim that this is Palestinian land. So the world is confused: The Arab position is clear to all; the Israeli position is shrouded in mystery. Do they believe this land belongs to them or not? If yes, let them stop saying that they consent to create a Palestinian State there. If not, why do they still maintain a presence there? The Arabs are not confused. Israel is.

And when Jews are confused about who they are and what they believe in, the world resents them. "You are the nation who heard G-d speak at Sinai; if you guys can't speak moral truth, you must be up to something really devilish." As long as the status of the entire country remains ambiguous, the terror campaign against Israel will, Heaven forbid, continue. The Arabs will view Israel's moral and political ambiguity as a green-light to proceed with their aspiration to "liberate all of Palestine from the Zionist entity." And the world will sympathize with this craving for statehood and freedom. Israel must stand up and put an end to the ambivalence around Jewish ownership of the land.

Israel must state clearly that "There will be no more negotiations on even a single inch of the land of Israel. We have attempted to negotiate land for peace with our neighbors; we have offered them 98 percent of the territories and an independent state side-by-side with our state. Yet they have reciprocated by sending suicide bombers to our pizza shops, cafés, supermarkets, schools, and private homes. They have blown to pieces hundreds of innocent Jewish men and women. They have sent thousands of rockets and aim daily to murder as many Jews as possible. One cannot give land to leaders who teach their followers to play soccer with Jewish skulls and who inculcate in their children's hearts, from infancy onward, with venomous hatred toward the people of Israel."

Israel should allow anybody who wishes to depart for another country to do so. There are 22 Arab countries in the Middle East, and one tiny Jewish country, the size of New Jersey. Israel must reclaim its permanent sovereignty over all of the territories and crush every vestige of terror. Jews should be encouraged to live in their entire homeland. This will save not only countless Jewish lives, but also scores of Arab lives. It will once and for all purge the region from continuous bloodshed and terror. This is not occupied territory. It is the land of Israel, given by G-d to the Jewish people.

Let's set the record clear: This is Jewish land, not Arab land. Let all Jews and people of moral standing unite and encourage Israel to bring life and peace to all good people in the region, Jew and Arab alike. Let us not emulate the Jew in the opening anecdote, who, rather than communicating the full relevant truth, beats around the bush. (4)

1) Deuteronomy chapter 2:2-6. All of the subsequent quotes are from this chapter. 2) Later on, Moses relates the story of the two kingdoms of Sichon and Og, located on the Eastern bank of the Jordan who, in response to Israel’s request for peace, declared war against Israel and were subsequently wiped out. 3) When paganism ruled, it was common to see human beings sacrificed to pagan gods. Child sacrifices were common rituals of the Canaanite Baal worshipers in ancient times. Moses warned the Jews a number of times that if they would leave the Canaanite tribes in their midst, they might begin to emulate their cruel and barbaric pagan practices. This indeed transpired. It was this practice of many Jews that caused the prophet Elijah, with G-d's approval, to condemn and destroy 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:6-40). Near Mount Carmel on the site of the ancient city of Meggido, archaeologists have discovered the remains of infants who, under the corrupt rule of the Israelite King Ahab and Queen Jezebel in the ninth century B.C.E., had been sacrificed in a temple of Ashtoreth, the goddess of Baal. In the eighth century B.C. the corrupt King Ahaz of ancient Israel sacrificed (by burning) his own son to the Canaanite god Molech (2 Kings 16:3). Not too long after Ahaz, another immoral monarch of Israel, King Manasseh, sacrificed his son (also by burning) in the Valley of Hinnon (2 Kings 21:6). And during the latter part of the seventh century B.C., the prophet Jeremiah condemned numerous Israelites for sacrificing "their sons and daughters in the fire" (Jeremiah 7:3 1). 4) This essay is based on a talk delivered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, 4 Av 5740, July 17, 1980 (published in Sichos Kodesh 5740 vol. 3 pp. 704-706.) The Rebbe’s opposition to ceding land for peace was not based on his belief that the sanctity of the land is more important than life. To the contrary, he often said—quoting Jewish law (Orach Chaim 329)—that this is exactly what will distance peace. The more Israel gives up land, the more bloodshed and loss of life on both sides. For the enemy uses all autonomy to increase terror against Israel and simply brings the enemy closer to Israel. If anyone ever doubted the accuracy of the Rebbe’s predictions, just study the case of Gaza, or ANY other period when Israel gave up sovereignty over any piece of land, i.e. the Oslo accords.

Please leave your comment below!

  • AS

    Aharon Subar -7 years ago

    While all of what you say is true and I concur 100%, I have always wanted to ask you the following question. How do we reconcile Jewish Rachmonus with the commandment to kill every last Caanani and Amaleki around, 'their weak newborn children," their elderly, their special needs individuals? With Rabbi Jacobson's beautiful message of love for all, with the Chassidic movements message of universal love, I would be interested in knowing how these commandments are reconciled.

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    • CB

      Chaim Bochner -7 years ago

      I once used a practical analogy to explain to my kids:

      If you knew for CERTAIN, 70 years ago that hitler ym"s would slaughter 6+ million jews and cause such destruction that we're still suffering now, would you be happy he was killed? What if Hashem, the all knowing would tell you this prophecy?

      If you can understand this and answer, yes, I'd like to see him dead or even kill him if allowed by torah, at that time, you can undestand the Chesed if killing the Seven nations. However, if not, possibly because if leftist and media liberalism, you might not appreciate it.

      So Hashem did us a favor. Since he's all knowing and kind, most likely (probable, at least), he knew that if a single of those tribes remain, the world would be destroyed by such wickedness.

      In Chassidus, the Seven nations are the epitamate of evil and the source if evil.

      Did we need seven additional ISIS in this world?

      So Hashem with his absolute wisdom saw no good through them, so he told us, destroy them so you won't get in trouble later...

      My interpretation. You can ask why did Hashem create them in the beginning? But then you'd need to understand why you and I were forced to be born, creation, etc...

      I hope I was able to clarify yoyur question and give so due justice to the topic.

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    • B

      Berel -7 years ago

      The Rebbe answers in a letter:

      By the Grace of G-d

      25th of Iyar, 5735

      Brooklyn, N.Y.


      Philadelphia, Pa. 19122

      Greeting and Blessing:

      I am in receipt of your letter. I must confess that I hesitated whether or not to reply to the letter, not being certain whether the question was prompted by genuine desire to ascertain the truth, or, as it unfortunately happens too often, it might be a case where the inquirer hopes that his query will remain unanswered and thus lend support to his preconception.

      As you see, I decided to place you b’chezkas kashrut, especially in view of your references to primary sources, which attest to a positive link with our Torah. Furthermore, the name…… is in most cases identified with the Chasam Sofer.

      I was also influenced by the fact that you are, as you write, a Professor of Law, which is a further indication of being a person who upholds the truth in accordance with the tenets of the Law.

      Now for the question itself, quoting your letter, “How can a human civilized person today accept the Biblical commandment to wipe out the entire nation of Amalek,” etc., including infants, etc.?

      It is surely unnecessary to point out to you that in any kind of dialogue there must be some common ground, i.e. some mutually accepted premises, upon which the discussion can be based. In the present instance I assume that we both accept the said commandment as being part of Torah min haShomayim. In other words, the Commander of this commandment is not a human being like you and me, but a Divine Being with all that it implies in terms of omniscience, etc. Actually, this precaution is superfluous, for the question itself rests on its Divine origin and validity for all posterity; if it were limited in time and circumstances the question would have no place ex nihilo.

      A second point, which is implicit in your question, is that the original war with Amalek which gave rise to the said commandment, in itself presents no problem. It was clearly a defensive war in response to an unprovoked attack, as the Torah states: “And Amalek came and made war on Israel in Refidim,” etc. (Exod. 17:8) and, again, “…who surprised you on the way,” etc.(Deut. 25:18). Here was an obvious case of self-defense, or, to quote the Talmudic rule, “Whoever comes to kill you, kill him first.”

      Assuming, as we did, that we are speaking of a Divine commandment, we must also assume that G-d is no less clairvoyant than any human being – if there is such a human being. To put it more boldly: if we should accept, as some scientists have asserted, that were it possible to feed into a computer all the data of the universe, it could accurately predict the state of the world at any given moment in the future – we would surely have to credit the Creator with no less competence.

      Now, if such a legendary computer were possible, it could correctly foresee how a newborn child would behave in adulthood, and whether that child would grow up to be harmless, useful or destructive to the society.

      In light of the above, the reason behind the said commandment becomes apparent. G-d, Who is all knowing (more than any computer could be), foresaw what the seed of Amalek would develop into. Hence He commanded that on seeing an Amalekite, even an Amalekite infant, we must “remember what Amalek did onto you,” remembering also, as it is immediately emphasized in the Biblical text, why: Amalek had not been threatened in any way, had not been provoked, stood to gain little from a nomad people in the desert in the way of booty. Yet he viciously attacked this peaceful people, pouncing on them suddenly, without warning, giving them no chance to defend themselves, taking advantage of their being “tired and weary.” Such a barbaric people, and this kind of inhuman behavior, has no place in human society, the Torah tells us, and must therefore be exterminated without a trace. Let me emphasize again: We are not dealing here with a suspicion or apprehension, however well founded, but with an absolute certainty, for we have established that G-d’s prescience infinitely surpasses the most perfect computer imaginable.

      As a matter of fact, we have in this particular subject under discussion an historic confirmation of precisely the kind of eventuality we have in mind. In the Torah she-be’l-Peh (which I also include in our “common ground”, since you quote from the Talmud), we are told in commentary on the Torah shebiksav, what were the consequences of disregarding the said commandment. King Saul, after defeating Amalek and capturing the Amalekite king Agag alive, had compassion on him and did not execute him at once, in contravention of the Prophet Samuel’s instructions based on the commandment which we are discussing. The result of this misplaced clemency, which extended Agag’s life for one day, was that during the night he was able to impregnate a woman, and of this seed, many generations later, came forth Haman his ten sons, who plotted the complete annihilation of the Jewish people in one day. Fortunately, the situation was miraculously reversed, and Haman and his sons were hanged. Unfortunately, in self defense, the Jews were compelled to take up arms and kill 75,000 enemies, as related in the Book of Esther. Obviously, had Saul carried out the command fully and promptly, the Jewish people would have been spared the terrorism and agony caused by Haman the Agagite, and there would have been no need for all that bloodshed which was forced upon the Jews in self-defense. And all these tragic consequences came to pass because Saul had attempted to inject his personal feelings and reasons into what was a clear, Divine commandment.

      One more observation is called for, however. It so happens that the commandment under discussion has a logical explanation, which, moreover, is borne out by historical experience in a most striking manner. But this does not mean that when G-d gave us the Torah He necessarily had to provide a humanly acceptable explanation, within grasp of each and every individual, for each and every commandment which He ordained in His Torah. Obviously, the human intellect is limited, like all human capabilities, and a human being is further limited in time and place, whereas the Divine commandments are, by definition, infinite and timeless. Surely, no individual, however wise, can logically challenge the wisdom of the Torah or any particular of it. Jews have always taken the Divine Torah in this spirit and recognized it for what it is – a Torat Chessed and Torat Emet, in addition to the other epithets by which the Torah is characterized – and time and again, throughout our long history, chose martyrdom rather than betray it.

      I trust the above has shed some light on the “problem” and, by extension, on similar problems.

      With blessing,

      P.S. It surprises me, in view of your background as a Professor of Law that you formulated the problem on moral grounds (the horror of genocide), whereas it would seemingly be more forceful to challenge it on legal grounds, namely, the apparent contradiction in the same codex. From the viewpoint of Law, it would surely be a more effective argument to say: how can you reconcile such an apparently “cruel” decree with the very nature of Torah, as a Torat Chassed, given by a compassionate and merciful G-d? All the more so, when compassion is demanded even toward the lower species, as understood in the episode about Rabbi Judah the Prince who, for not showing adequate compassion for a calf led to the slaughter, suffered years of painful ill health (B.M. 85a), although from the practical point of view, the case was inconsequential.

      A more spiritual insight is given by Rabbi Aron Moss:

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      • AS

        Aharon Subar -7 years ago

        So what you're saying is that, since H-shem knows what Amalek will do, it is therefore permitted to stop them before they do.

        So if we knew that the little baby would grow up to be Hitler, Imach Shemo vzichro, we would be permitted to kill him?

        So how do we deal with the scenario in chumash where the malachim asked H-shem why he's saving the youth Yishmael whos descendants would kill Jews and were told 'B'asher Hu Shom,' judge him as he is now and not by the actions that he will ultimately perform?

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        • B

          Berel -7 years ago

          The outcome of this letter is that regarding Amalek, G-d knows for sure they are evil.
          The outcome of the comparison to Hitler ym"sh can be inferred:
          It would not have been permissible to kill baby Hitler, since we would not have known for sure that he would grow up to be evil, since we are only 'divinely guaranteed' so regarding Amalek.
          (Perhaps it was indeed possible for Hitler to grow up not to be evil, unless one could prove that Hitler is from Amalek. Even so the Mitzvah to obliterate Amalek applies only when the Jews have a Sanhedrin etc.)

          The question about Yishmael is indeed a very good one.
          I shall try to look into it.

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Essay Parshas Devarim

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • July 24, 2012
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  • 5 Av 5772
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Class Summary:

The Truth About Israel - Why Are We Afraid to Speak the Real Truth?

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