Moshe Klausner

Fighting vs Torah Learning During War

The idea that the learning of the Avrechei Kollel and yeshiva bochrim is what is protecting Am Yisrael at this time is being pushed very strongly by, well, Kollelim, Yeshivas, and others in the Yeshiva world. I felt it important to discuss this topic through the lens of Torah sources that I have come across, as this idea has not been sitting well with me.

In times of war, does Hashem prefer we learn and daven or does Hashem prefer that we fight and daven?

Is learning Torah considered kodesh kodoshim (the holiest of holy which will bring victory? And if so, are those who are actually fighting, a bunch of unfortunate souls, who risk their lives but could be doing just as much for the war effort by sitting and learning?

There are many places in Tanach that shed light on what we are meant to do during times of war.

Ancient History

Before the Jews entered Eretz Yisrael, we were privy to many open miracles. When leaving Egypt, the Torah writes ה’ ילחם לכם ואתם תחרישון, that Hashem will fight for you and you can be silent. That was true and did happen. God split the sea and the Jewish people were saved.

Coming into the Land

The name Yehoshua itself signifies God’s salvation, implying that man does not need to do much while God fights the wars and saves us. That’s what happened in fact during their first battle in the Land of Israel where the walls of Jericho collapsed on their own, and again in Yehoshua Ch. 10, where huge stones fell from heaven upon the enemy.

These types of miracles, however, were not intended to continue in the future. These battles that were fought directly by Hashem with minimal human intervention were not intended as a blueprint or strategy for subsequent battles.

In contrast to Yehoshua, the next leader to return the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael after exile was Ezra. Ezra means helper. God no longer fought Israel’s wars in a direct manner. God was there to help, but the Jews had to do the main bulk of the work — hishtadlus.

We know that the sin of the meraglim was that they spoke ill of Eretz Yisrael from fear of having to “do the work”. And we see they were punished with not meriting to live in the land. It is that partnership with Hashem that defines what it means to live here. We need to do the work to protect our people, to guard our land, and not rely on miracles or divine intervention.

There is no clear basis in Torah that learning Torah will win our wars. What is clear is the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim 7:4 explains that entire concept of possible exemptions from war, which the Torah discusses in Parashas Ki Savo, applies specifically for a מלחמת רשות, a voluntary war, which is a war waged for economic or territorial gain.

However, for a מחלמת מצוה, an obligatory war, the Rambam is clear that even a newlywed groom (and bride!) has an obligation to fight. Learning Torah is not an exemption from fighting. 

Is there a greater מלחמת מצוה than when our enemies have killed 1200, raped and kidnapped civilians, and are hell-bent on killing us all? The Rambam in Chapter 1 of Hilchos Melachim says that fighting against Amalek or an enemy who is oppressing us is a מלחמת מצוה.

We most definitely are fighting a מלחמת מצוה. 

Also clear in the Torah is that when SOLDIERS in battle pray to God and trust in Him –which we see now with our own eyes, then God listens to THEIR prayers and helps them succeed.

In Divrei Hayamim 1 Chapter 5 verses 18-20 it says They (the soldiers of Reuven Gad and half of Menashe) prevailed against them… for THEY cried to God in battle, and He responded to THEIR cries because THEY trusted in Him.

The pesukim do not discuss the prayers and learning of the rest of the Jewish people at all.

While everyone’s learning and davening has a place and should definitely be encouraged, it is important to not inflate the importance of those who are not in battle, not risking their lives at the expense- even backhandedly deriding- those who are fighting, by implying that the learning/davening of those not in battle are what win the war.

It may be a convenient way to make oneself feel better about one’s decision not to fight, but this claim is clearly not supported by Torah sources – indeed we see that the direct opposite is true.

Fighting to protect Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael is a Torah commandment that cannot be overridden by learning Torah. 

About the Author
Moshe Klausner lives in Ramat Bet Shemesh, originally from New Jersey. He is a father to three active boys. He is a Speech Pathologist by profession, working locally in Bet Shemesh and at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, specializing in voice disorders. He also lains each Shabbos at shul. He loves Torah, Israel, and the Jewish people.
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