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Is There a Right and Good in War?

A few weeks ago, we read in our weekly Torah reading the command to do what is right and good. The Hebrew word is yashar, which literally means “straight.”

The verse is understood as the command to go beyond the letter of the law. In other words, even though one might be justified in doing something, one might be technically in the right in doing something, it is still sometimes a mitzvah to refrain from doing it in order to go above and beyond what is normally expected in the world and thereby do what is more ethically correct.

I have thought about this verse a lot this recently. I can’t get out of my mind the report that Israel struck a convoy of fleeing Lebanese during the first cease-fire. The loss of civilian life was an accident. Israel did not intentionally target civilians. Israel targeted what it thought was a vehicle carrying rockets, the kind of rockets that have killed dozens of innocent Israeli civilians, including a father and daughter, the kind of rockets that were forcing young children to spend their summer in sweltering bomb shelters, the kind of rockets that forced hundreds of thousands of Israelis to become refugees to the South.


We have to remember that Hezbollah started targeting Israelis, holding their country hostage in their unprovoked attacks. Israel is justified in defending itself and its civilians. However, that verse keeps coming back to me.

These civilians were fleeing with the understanding that there was a 48-hour ceasefire. (Yes, it is true Hezbollah did not keep their end of the bargain and continued to shoot rockets into Israel.) But these civilians were leaving because Israel asked them to leave so they would not be in the way of the fighting, in the way of Israel trying to stop Hezbollah’s rockets.


So what would have happened if Israel had let a rocket or two escape that may have been embedded by the Hezbollah in a civilian convoy? Would it have made a great difference in the war effort to secure the North and free Israel from the rain of rockets it is experiencing?

What would have made a big difference is if Israel had said to the world: Look, we are not firing on a civilian convoy that is leaving under an Israeli-sanctioned ceasefire, under Israeli encouragement, even though there may be rockets there and we are refraining from doing so because Israel values all life, and also values the promises it makes to protect life.


Such a step would not have been necessary. But it would have been the right and good thing to do. It would have been good PR, and part of this war is about PR. But more important it would have been good for Israeli’s morale and Israel’s soul.

It is already clear that Hezbelloh will not honor this ceasefire any better than they did the last one, though their capability to hit Israeli cities has in fact been damaged. What is not clear is whether Israel will use the ceasefire wisely, to gain support and win on the PR front, in addition to being smart on the physical-security front. What this war has shown is that physical power alone will not win the war.


And that is where Torah comes in. The Torah reminds us that when we obey its commandments, things work out OK in the end.

Don’t get me wrong, we need might and power. But Israel has never won only by might and power. It is time for Israel to remember that as well.

Posted by Rabbi Susan Grossman

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posted August 16, 2006 at 9:13 pm

B”H Susan Grossman’s comment: >And that is where Torah comes in. >The Torah reminds us that when we >obey its commandments, things work >out OK in the end. hits the nail on the head. Actually, history bears this out to be true. The only time when there was truly peace in the Holy Land, was during a brief period before the Roman conquest of Israel, when the Jewish Sages were given authority to rule the country and the nation. See Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s book, Torah Nation. Why don’t we give this a try again? Let the Jewish Sages rule and let’s see what happens after one year. Everything else has failed.

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Frank Haas

posted August 17, 2006 at 6:18 pm

If your family is attacked, you will do whatever is necessary to protect them. When the United States was attacked in 2001 it did what was necessary to protect the people and they are still occupying the land. The U.N. did not send in peacekeeping forces. Why was Israel not allowed to continue to protect itself. The people of Lebanon allowed Hezbollah in their land to chaf Israel. They deserve to pay the price for harboring evil. In the United States, if you harbor criminals you go to jail. Hezbollah is determined to destroy Israel, if not today then tomorrow. The threat is still there and will never leave. Hezbollah is not a country but a group of dangerous people being paid by several countries to eraticate Israel. What has the U.N. done about other countires making threats against Israel? The answer, NOTHING. Israel gets threatened and it fights back and the rest of the world says, ” oh, bad Israel”, fighting those who threatened you and killing innocent people in their own country. If that country didn’t allow the evil people to be there, this would not occur. Make a threat against your neighbor, your neighbor calls the police and you go to jail for making threats. Hamas is not a country but a group of dangerous people like Hezhollah. Peace be unto Israel but they have to fight for it.

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Yahya Bergum

posted August 18, 2006 at 10:57 am

One of the subtler aspects of the ceasefire agreements seems to be that Lebanon is effectively going to end up occupying itself (for a change). And my hope would be that Lebanon could successfully do so.

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Felecia Wadsworth

posted August 19, 2006 at 3:02 am

I believe that the rest of the world is held to a different standard than that of Israel. When Jews are attacked, we are expected to just sit back and take it. When we retaliate, then we are barbarians. I think it is the old double standard. A Jew dies, no one cares….an Arab dies everyone cries foul. Israel has a right to exist and a right to defend itself.

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posted August 19, 2006 at 7:08 am

Israel should never have been created. It was a mistake.

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posted August 30, 2006 at 10:38 pm

Laurie, do you feel the same way about Jordan? There never was a Jordan until the British rewarded the present Kings father with the Kingdom of Jordan, which is what twice as big as Israel or is it three times as big?

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Wanda Lauzon

posted August 30, 2006 at 10:40 pm

Laurie, if you think it was a huge mistake, then talk to Hashem. I’m sure He’ll be ready to listen after you explain your answers to the questions posed in Job… like how you were there to help when He pinned the four corners of the universe together.

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Shlomo Chizkiyahu

posted August 31, 2006 at 11:07 pm

You are not a rabbi. Stop kidding yourself. You can fool yourself, and you can fool the ignorant, but you can’t fool G-d and Israel.

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