214/929. Speak Softly and Carry A Big (Selfie) Stick. Shoftim 3.

Walk around Jerusalem during these tense days, and you’ll see some unusual sights. Instead of the once ubiquitous smart phones in people’s hands, you’ll notice hands buried deep  in pockets, gripping self-defense devices. Rolling pins  stick out of purses,  the occasional medieval sword swings in a makeshift sheath.  We’re scared, we’re on edge, but everyone is ready to pitch in to defend our right to live our lives, with their umbrellas, with their selfie sticks, with a stick, with a ruler- whatever is at hand, as the children’s song goes.

But more than any of that, you’ll see a lot of guns. Not just carried by soldiers and policemen, who are everywhere, but also by many civilians, men and women. Well, the word “civilians” is somewhat of a misnomer in this country. Nearly everyone who carries a gun is a former soldier, who underwent intensive training  to use it to protect their country. So we feel like the guns are in good hands, that they make us safer, and the statistics prove us right.

It’s a reality that serves us well in awful days such as these, but, as a society, it’s not one we ever would have chosen for ourselves. Chapter 3 of the book of Shoftim opens with a novel explanation for God’s failure to fulfill his promise to banish all foreign nations from the land of Israel. It was “so that the generations of the children of Israel would know, in order to teach them war, which they did not know before” (3:2). Leave us to our own devices, and we’re a peaceful, bookish people. But apparently, God saw the world to be the kind of place where we’d need these skills to survive, and so they are forced upon us, and we find ourselves happy to have them.

We’re happy, but, as Rabbi Donniel Hartman eloquently put it, we hate it. We’ve been singing, and hoping and telling our children that maybe they won’t need to serve in the army for a long time. We say hello with ‘peace’, and we say goodbye with ‘peace’. Our hand has been outstretched in peace since the first declaration of the State, and it may be getting a little tired, but it’s still there. And there it will remain, because we know that even while we are forced to learn war, we need to yearn and strive for the vision that ‘nation will not lift sword against nation, nor will they learn war anymore.’

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This is a blog of short reflections on the 929 project’s daily study of Tanach, with its feet rooted in the text, and its headspace in contemporary life.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.
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