Mattot-Mase’e – Thought on the Perasha

Four years ago this week, I had the opportunity to spend the day at the Knesset, the Parliament or Congress of the State of Israel. I have been to the Knesset and I visit it often during my trips to Israel. That time however, the session was a very lively one. Knesset sessions are famous for being lively and energetic, and a bit scandalous. That session was not scandalous but pretty lively and energetic. The reason, I was told, was that it included debates about many laws from the responsibility of a dog owner, to the conscription of Ultra-Orthodox Jews to the Army, to even the dissolution of the Knesset and call for new elections.  The government faction that numbered 94 seats out of 120 fell to 65 because the Kadima Party with 29 seats bolted from the coalition, the day before. All members scrambled to be present at the session to assure a majority for the laws that they support, and to vote against the laws they don’t support. A record of 112 members out of 120 were present at that session.

The most heated debate was the forced conscription of Ultra-Orthodox men to the army which would cause them to forgo their daily Torah studies. This issue has considerably divided the population and the government. The arguments and opinions are too lengthy to elaborate here; ultimately the resolution failed because the government voted against it. It would have caused the coalition to split and the government to fall, had they voted in favor.

This past week, a similar session of the Knesset took place, where, yet another bill, forcing the conscription of Ultra-Orthodox men to the army was discussed and passed its first reading. Similar opposition took place, but it appears that this time the bill most likely will become law.

Interestingly enough, this week’s first Perasha Mattot describes the war against the Midianites. The verse recounts that the Israelites killed the five kings of Midian, and Bilaam they killed by the sword. An obvious question is asked as to why is it so important how Bilaam was killed; does it make the difference if he was killed by a sword or by fire or by hanging? Rashi. the 12th century commentator, explains that Bilaam came against the Jews in the past; he exchanged his craftsmanship of the sword for their craftsmanship of the mouth and he used his mouth to curse them. Whereas the Jews craftsmanship is the use of their mouth to study Torah and pray, and the nations of the world craftsmanship is the use of the sword. In this situation the Jews used the craftsmanship of the nations, namely the sword against Bilaam, in the same way that Bilaam used his mouth, the craftsmanship of the Jews, to curse them.

Rashi here describes clearly both sides of the argument in the issue of the Military draft in Israel. Is a Jew only supposed to use his mouth, through prayers and Torah Study, as a weapon against his enemies or can he use his enemies’ weapon, namely the sword, gun or tanks against them? In a more simplistic way, can a Jew be drafted to be a soldier or he should rely on the study of Torah and prayers as the only way to defend himself?  That is the crux of the debate!

I believe that the Written Torah is very clear; the Israelites used real weapons and swords to defend themselves and vanquish the enemy. It is also clear that only twelve thousand soldiers were conscripted for the war out of six hundred thousand available. In a situation where all the Jews use their craftsmanship namely, the use of their mouth to study Torah and utter prayers, then we don’t need any other craftsmanship; however, since not all the Jews are using their craftsmanship and since our enemies are also using the Jewish craftsmanship, then we have no other alternative than to use their craftsmanship, namely the sword against our enemies, in addition to our prayers.

The State of Israel is surrounded nearby by enemies who will not hesitate to use real weapons in annihilating Israel, and the State of Israel and the Jewish People have enemies from far who not only will use real weapons to attacks Israel, but also will use their mouths and tongues to malign, badmouth, spew hatred, incite and pass resolutions against Israel. We therefore, need our proper craftsmanship, our mouths and tongues to study our Torah and also we need our real weapons to defends ourselves and Israel.

I pray that the day will come that no nation shall lift up a sword against each other!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Elie Abadie, M.D.

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