Envisioning Peace in the World
Before the war against Hamas, the Arab states were expressing more and more kinship with Israel. We anticipate that once the war ends, one of the positive byproducts of this tragic war is that the Arab world will only further distance itself from Palestinian extremism and we will see Saudi Arabia and other Arab states join the Abraham Accords. If we really believe in the Messianic process, if we are cognizant that the State of Israel is “reishit tzemichat ge’ulateinu,” the first budding of our Redemption, then it behooves to bear witness to new signs, 75 years after the founding of the State, of the Redemption process continuing along a positive trajectory.
When reading of the violent strategy of the Hasmoneans, the engagement in guerilla warfare in order to take back the Temple, one sees a continuation of the violent stories of our biblical ancestors. In Parshat Vayishlach, we read about the violent vengeance that Shimon and Levi took upon the people of Shechem because of the disgrace of their sister, Dinah. Even though Yaakov criticized them for their behavior, their act resulted in instilling fear in the hearts of their neighbors, ensuring that no one would harass their family again.
Stories of warfare & national interests
We know that Pinchas performed a violent act of zealotry in order to abate a plague, and he was praised by Hashem for his behavior. Joshua used swords and chariots to conquer the land of Israel, and so many other stories of warfare throughout Tanakh feature violence as a means of achieving the Jewish people’s national interests and destiny. When placed in the backdrop of these stories, the Hasmoneans’ behavior was not only justified, but deserves to be praised and upheld as an example of Jewish heroism and valor.
At the same time, we know that one of the features of the Messianic Age is that it will be a time when “swords will be beaten into ploughshares,” as the prophet Isaiah pronounced (2:4). “לֹא־יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל־גּוֹי חֶרֶב וְלֹא־יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה” – “Nations will not raise the sword against each other, and they will know war no more.”
Rav A.Y. Kook was a Messianic evolutionist. That is, he very much believed that the Messianic Age is a gradual process, and that we should continually look for signs of a continuous sprouting forth of more events that will bring us to a complete fruition of mankind’s perfection. We should be looking at our modern times, when Israel is succeeding in making peace with its sworn enemies, through the Abraham Accords, as yet another progression in this evolutionary scale.
Rav Kook writes about the Messianic Age: “In the absence of strife and fighting, every human effort will be exclusively focused on the exalted, with the objective of increasing acts of kindness and justice, and of knowing God. Man’s life cycle will not be motivated by jealousy of others, but rather by a fierce love of God and His ways. ‘They will follow God like a roaring lion!’ (Hosea 11:10).”
Yoseph the master politician
Yoseph was a man who wielded great political might, and did so without ever lifting a violent hand against anyone. His efforts focused on politics and finance as a means of achieving his goals. Look at how he was able to rise to political greatness within Egypt as a result of his cunning, and was able to turn a potential enemy of the Jews into a great friend. What’s more, he succeeded in cementing this relationship by lining the coffers of the Egyptian treasury with great wealth, as a result of his selling the grain of Egypt to both Egyptians and the rest of the world.
When Yaakov was on his deathbed, he praised Yoseph and informed him that Yoseph’s inheritance portion would be doubled among his brothers. He expressed this in very cryptic words (48:22):
וַאֲנִי נָתַתִּי לְךָ שְׁכֶם אַחַד עַל־אַחֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר לָקַחְתִּי מִיַּד הָאֱמֹרִי בְּחַרְבִּי וּבְקַשְׁתִּי
I have given you an additional portion above your brothers. It is a portion that I took from the Emorite with my sword and my bow.
Yaakov the pacifist
What asset did Yaakov acquire through violence? We have no biblical record of Yaakov ever engaging in battle or using violence as a means of acquiring wealth! The Rabbinic texts debate this issue, and some conclude that although the Torah does not record the story explicitly, we can adduce from this verse that Yaakov did engage in violence at some point in his life.
One Midrash suggests that after his sons Shimon and Levi attacked the people of Shechem, Yaakov realized that if he didn’t help them, they’d be outnumbered and would suffer from the other nations’ retaliation. He therefore took up his own sword and battle gear, and killed even more Shechemites than his two sons combined.
However, this is not the majority opinion. The Talmud (TB Bava Basra 123a) confirms that Yaakov was a pacifist: “Did Yaakov ever take anything with a sword and bow? Does it not say (Ps. 44:7), ‘I will not place my trust in my bow, nor will my sword save me’?! Rather, “my sword” really means prayer, and “my bow” really means supplication.”
The Abarbanel explains this wordplay: Yaakov was explaining to Yoseph how every person has weapons in his or her arsenal. Some use brute force to get the job done, but that’s not me. When I needed to acquire property, I paid for it in cash, and when I needed to accomplish other things in life, such as attaining the first-born rights from my brother Esav, I used non-aggressive means to accomplish my goals. I was NOT like my sons Shimon and Levi, whose weapons were literally swords and bows. Rather, my weapons were my wallet and my tongue. It is for this reason, Yoseph, that I grant you this extra portion, because you have chosen the same path as your father, as witnessed by your actions in Egypt.
It’s all part of the redemptive process
Based on this, we might suggest that while we wholeheartedly celebrate the miracle of Chanukah, we must also reflect upon the fact that this was a pre-Messianic victory. Israel’s IDF is fighting a moral and just war, and b”H we see great success in our efforts to squelch the enemy. But we look forward to the day when our victories will be accomplished through peace and diplomacy instead of through warfare. When the world is able to beat their swords into ploughshares, when we can sit at the table and break bread with our previously aggressive neighbors, this will be a sign that the Messiah is upon us.
This is not to say that we should be Pollyannaish in our outlook, to look at the world with rose-colored glasses and assume that everything will be okay. Israel will not be able to beat its “swords” into ploughshares any time soon. The prophet says that first the other nations will do that, and then and only then will we be able to do the same. There is still a place for Hasmoneans and IDF warriors in Israel today. But to ignore the positive changes taking place is to live in the past and to deny that this process of Redemption is evolving.
May we see the day when the art of war is forgotten from our world. We are far from that idyllic future, but let us hope that if we don’t see it, then our children or our grandchildren will be living in that glorious Messianic age, may it happen bb”a.