If you are sitting shiva, please go to the right and pause the music.

Parsha of the Week

  1. The Jewish people go to war against Midian in this week’s parsha. This war can be described as a preventive war – striking before the enemy strikes again against you – and even as a war of revenge and punishment over the culpability of Midian in the death of twenty four thousand Jews due to their willful planned seduction by the women of Midian.
  2. In this war the leading chieftains of Midian are killed as is the arch foe and cunning enemy of Israel, Bilaam. None of this makes for pleasant reading according to our current pacific and humanitarian correctness system. Yet the Torah teaches us here an important lesson about pacifism and misplaced humanitarian considerations.
  3. The Talmud teaches us that someone who intends to kill you should be subject to a preemptive strike so that you can save yourself. Waiting to be attacked is not a safe or even sane defensive policy. In fact it invites attack for the enemy always sees it as a sign of weakness that can be exploited.
  4. Thus the instructions given to Moshe in this week’s parsha are based on the clear premise that the Midianites are schemers and seducers who are attempting to destroy Israel. Stop them before they are able to execute their nefarious plans against the Jewish people. Moshe’s actions in mobilizing a Jewish army to oppose Midian immediately and not wait until Midian executes its own warlike intentions are not only God given commandments but pure human common sense as well.
  5. Revenge also plays a role in human life. Even though the Torah commands Jews not to take revenge against individuals who may have harmed us, nevertheless on a national level it is impossible to overlook crimes perpetrated against the Jewish people.
  6. The tragedy of the aftermath of World War II is that most of the people who committed the atrocities of the Holocaust somehow have escaped proper human judgment and retribution. In a world of unfortunate moral equivalency judgment against criminals is now tempered with sociological wooliness that prevents justice from being done.
  7. The Torah expressly states that the action taken by Moshe and Israel against Midian, aside from its preemptive quality and nature, is also a form of repayment for the sins of Midian against the Jews and their responsibility in the deaths of so many Jews.
  8. Every action begets a reaction. The war against Midian is the reaction to the previous war of Midian against the Jews. Evil that goes unpunished, if not even rewarded by inaction, only perpetuates and strengthens itself. Even a cursory reading of Tanach will reveal that this policy of preemptive strikes and punishing evil behavior from outside nations was always the policy of Jewish leadership.
  9. Harsh realism always should trump wishful thinking and pious hopes and policies. I am not in a position to draw policy conclusions in regard to current national and international events. Nevertheless the Torah’s emphasis in this week’s parsha on the necessity for strong reaction to protect the innocent and punish the guilty should certainly be taken to heart.

Rabbi Berel Wein