Avidan Freedman

198/929. A Peace Obsessesed People Goes to War. Yehoshua 11.

As bloody as these last two chapters of Yehoshua have been, they also bear witness to the Jewish people’s profound, enduring obsession with peace.  None of the wars fought in chapters 10 and 11 begin as wars of conquest- they are all wars of defense, of our allies, and ourselves. \

War is almost always a last resort in the Jewish people’s arsenal. In the wars of Moshe, offers of peace were always made first, and war ensued only when they were rebuffed. The Jerusalem Talmud suggests that this policy was applied to the conquest of the land by Yehoshua as well. They did not rush to redeem their land with holy war, with the confidence that this land is OUR land, promised to us by God, with the strength of the command to destroy the native peoples behind them.  The first, and preferred option, was always peace, and we were willing to believe even the most outlandish story to grasp at a chance for peace. So powerful is this tendency to peace, that chapter 11 testifies that to instigate war demanded an act of God. Without God forcing their hand to war by the stubborn threats of the nations, they would surely have formed peace treaties with all of their neighbors.

Not much has changed since then. All of Israel’s modern wars have begun as acts of self-defense, coming out of circumstances, like the initial proposed borders of the State,like  that we had made peace with for the sake of peace, as inadequate and inappropriate and dangerous as they may have been. “I am peace, but when I speak, they are for war,” wrote David (Tehillim 120:7). As much as we hoped for peace, the hearts of the nations surrounding us were hardened.

And all of these wars have resulted in unprecedented, undreamed of gains for the Jewish state. That this is God’s ultimate plan may be the case, as it was in the days of Yehoshua. But that ought not change the division of responsibilities between us and God. It is God’s job to force a situation of war when it is warranted. Our job is to desperately seek peace wherever we can find it, no matter what.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the co-founder and director of Yanshoof (, an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators, and an educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute's high school and post-high school programs. He lives in Efrat with his wife Devorah and their 5 children.
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