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Pinchas(Numbers 25:10-30:1)

Give War a Chance

"War is a crime against humanity."
"There is no such thing as a justified war."

These are statements from pacifists. "Pacifism: Opposition to the use of force under any circumstances; refusal for reasons of conscience to participate in war or military action."(Webster's New World Dictionary)

What is the Jewish view of pacifism? What does peace really mean? This week's Torah portion, Pinchas, instructs us concerning all of these issues.

Since Parshat Pinchas begins in the middle of a story, let's re-cap events from last week's portion, Balak. Many Jewish men were seduced by Moabite women and acted promiscuously with them. These women also influenced their victims to worship idols. One of the leaders of the men who were seduced, Zimri, of the tribe of Shimon, desired to publicly declare his support for involvement with the Moabite women. He brazenly committed his lewd, sexual acts in full view of Moshe and the Jewish people. God sent a plague, and 24,000 Jewish men, who were seduced, died. Pinchas could not tolerate Zimri's brazenness and promptly killed Zimri and his partner in sin, Kozbi, a Moabite princess. After Pinchas' zealous act, the plague ceased.

God begins this week's portion saying to Moshe, "Pinchas, the son of Elazar, the son of Ahron, the Priest, turned back my fury from the Jewish nation when he zealously avenged my vengeance among them. This is why I did not consume the Jewish nation in My vengeance. Therefore, say: Behold, I give him (Pinchas) My covenant of peace." (Bamidbar 25:10-12)

We know that God administers reward and punishment with the device called 'measure for measure.' The punishment or reward must fit the crime or good deed. In this case, Pinchas' act of zealousness is rewarded with peace. Is that measure for measure? Do we usually associate a peaceful person with being a zealot?

God is teaching us a fundamental lesson about war and peace. Wars are necessary at times. There is such a thing as a justified war. As Kohelet 3:8 states, "There is a time for war."

God is saying to Moshe, "Tell Pinchas that his zealousness is peace." Peace does not mean a passive lack of war. If peace is a passive lack of war there is no way that through Pinchas' violent act of killing he achieves peace. Peace is a state of being in which there is a closeness, a relationship, a way of dealing with each other. It isn't just that I don't bother you and you don't bother me; that's not peace. It's that we live together and work together and have a unity, a commonality that all of us are part of a whole.

In Hebrew, the word for peace, shalom, is derived from the root shalem, which means whole or complete. Peace is a cooperative, symbiotic relationship, where both parties care for each other, help each other, and ultimately perfect each other. Two people who hate each other and never speak to each other, but never fight either, cannot be said to be at peace with each other. Marital harmony and domestic tranquility does not mean the simple lack of screaming and yelling in the house. It is a state of being in which your spouse genuinely shares in your triumphs, strengthens you when you are down, loves, adores, and cherishes you. (This is why it is a misnomer to refer to the 1979 Camp David agreement with Egypt as a 'peace' treaty. At most, it is a ceasefire. The rhetoric of hatred and contempt by Egypt for Israel, and anti-Semitism in the Egyptian press has never ceased. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has never even visited Israel, except to attend Yitzchak Rabin's funeral.)

Since peace is an active force rather than a passive lack of war, ultimately anything that disturbs and destroys this state of true peace must be removed in order for true shalom -- peace -- to exist. That is why Pinchas, through his zealous act, actually creates peace. Pinchas stops the plague against the Jewish people and through a violent act of war brings peace.

It is very often necessary to create peace only through what seems to be an act of violence. One must remove those things that disturb the harmony and that create tensions between peoples in order for peace to exist. And it is not always possible to remove the items that block peace through non-violent means.

Does anyone seriously think that the Nazis could have been dealt with non-violently? Can Osama bin Laden be dealt with non-violently? Ariel Sharon has always said that the path to peace in the Middle East must begin with decisive military action against the terrorist infrastructure. Only once violence, as an option, is rooted out can peace be achieved. One can even argue similarly for Harry Truman's decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki which brought peace in ending WWII. We have seen the famous picture of the mushroom cloud which killed approximately 400,000 people. Was Truman's act of war justified? Consider the following:

"In a meeting on 18 June the Joint War Plans Committee gave Truman projected death rates ranging from a low of 31,000 to a high of 50,000, and a projected American causality rate (deaths, injuries and missing) of 132,500. During fighting in the Pacific, from 1 March 1944 to 1 May 1945, the Japanese were killed at a ratio of 22 to 1. Thus, if we use an estimate of 40,00 American deaths, we can extrapolate 880,000 Japanese deaths -- for a combined total of 920,000 deaths. Although death rates for Hiroshima and Nagasaki vary widely, none are even half this high. Thus we can conclude that if an invasion of Kyushu had been necessary, and the Japanese were killed at a rate comparable to previous fighting, then the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki actually SAVED lives."

(Barton J. Bernstein, "Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender: Missed Opportunities, Little-Known Near Disasters, and Modern Memory," Hiroshima in History and Memory, ed. Michael J. Hogan [New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996], p.45)

If all people in the world were committed to achieving a real peace, one which involves a cooperative, symbiotic relationship, perhaps pacifism could be a viable movement. Since this is not the case, we must often destroy violently those things that create tensions between peoples in order for peace to exist.

In the real world, wars usually bring ultimate peace, not pacifists.

Published: June 22, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 12

(12) TJ, July 12, 2012 2:13 AM

We must destroy violence.

"We must destroy violence" sounds better than "We must destroy violently."

(11) TJ, July 12, 2012 1:12 AM

A Bad Peace is Better than a Good Quarrel

As a nice proverb says, "A bad peace is better than a good quarrel". Instigating a war only adds fuel to anti-semitism.

(10) Yehudith Shraga, July 10, 2012 1:26 AM

The way to real peace isn't war

"One must remove those things that disturb the harmony... between peoples in order for peace to exist. And it is not always possible... through non-violent mean". One may not remove anything to get the harmony, one may only rearange the blocking part in a form for it to serve the Good, if you behave violently to somebody, he will in his turn behave violantly to somebody else or you, Torah teaches us, that even at the time of war for the Land of Israel we had first of all to give the possibility of peace, and only if the "city" refuses we start military actions, Torah let us to distroy the cities and even to kill women and children of the people who lived on the terirory of the land of Israel, BUT Torah also tells us that if after the conquering of the Land of Israel we live according to the Law we won't have to fight anymore, because we will have such a high level, that nobody would even think to make a war on us, so before we justify a war way of getting peace today, let's remind ourselves the way Torah suggests us-living according to Torah and Mitzvot, so we won't have to " remove" anybody out of our land, because those who would wish to live according to the Torah Laws will state, and those who don't,will leave themselves, because their hearts will not be comfortable in the country which prohibits selfish, destractive, egoistic ways of behaviour,and sustain only ONE LAW, but LET US start with life according to Torah and show the world what level we may achive, living according to Torah doesn't mean to be weak and undeveloped, on the contrary, living to Torah means getting the highest potencial instolled in us by HaShem, but the violence and war on others while we live without LAW will never bring the peace, it will bring endless tears, pain and suffering, we live in israel on CONDITION that we establish the country of Torah, The Land is given to us for a rent, so are we go to make a war on Him or remove Him pretending that the land is unconditionally ours?

(9) Rudi De Cock, June 29, 2010 7:58 AM

justified war on whose side

Yes, those are wise words and war could be justified. But is it really justified and can you win this war? Rabbi Leff refered to one of the darkest periods in history as a justification. But the german army was much stronger than any other european army. They just ran over all the other countries in no time and occupied all those countries. So yes you can start a war to fight the nazi's. But if you are only a small country can you win this fight? And if you start the war but get conquered by the german troops, what will be the attitude of those germans towards your population you think? Will they be kind or rather more oppressive? The same thing happened about 2000 years ago when roman soldiers occupied Jerusalem. Then too the Jews started the war and look what happened?! Was it worth it? War can be justified if it is to free your people from oppression by other people. That can become true if you can also win this war. But what if you don't have the means to win this war. Wouldn't it be wiser then to find other ways? Rather than to risk a war and loose it with a much higher oppression as a result? I don't want to critisize you and wish you and Israel all the peace of the world. But I had this reflection when I saw your article. Shalom.

(8) Andrew Gelbman, July 22, 2005 12:00 AM

Force is the only defense against force

The foolish maxim "Violence never solved anything" is wishful thinking at it's worst.

When someone or something threatens your very way of life, force in your own defense is the only rational option.

Force has solve more issues than any other three factors combined. It decided whether self-appointed autocrats or democratically elected governments, whether facists for free states would dominate the world, whether free markets or communist dictators would run the world and it will determine whether Jewish inspired or Islamic inspired values will run the world.

Pinchas took up arms to defend the Jewish way of life. G-d endorsed his actions because force remains the only defense against force.

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