HARAV HANAZIR ZT”L : THE SCROLL OF WAR AND PEACE “In these difficult and awesome days, the days of the birthpangs of the Messiah, the birth of the Kingdom of Israel, the time in which our enemies have arisen surrounding us in order to destroy us-Tzur [Tyre, Lebanon], Damascus [Syria], Ammon [Amman, Jordan], Moab [Jordan, East of Dead Sea], and Egypt. At their head are Amalek and Edom [southern Jordan and Israel-in Biblical times.] They have at their disposal weapons of destruction in order to terrorize and murder. G-d did not allow them to unleash their evil wrath. Many fell by the hands of the many, the wicked by the hands of the righteous, and they fled in fright, in eternal shame. How can we not open our eyes and see the Hand of G-d in this, The Rock of Israel and its Liberator?” (Rabbi David Cohen-HaRav HaNazir TZ’L) (1)
Rabbi David Cohen Z”L, Rav Kook’s main student, wrote these words in a letter to his yeshiva students in the Israel Defense Forces during the 1948 War of Independence. Seventy five years later these words continue to ring true as Israel is in the midst of another battle in this long war.
These are difficult days. The loss of lives, Israeli and innocent Gazans is very painful. Daily funerals. Another phase of this very long war.
The Kingdom of Israel began around 1100 BCE. The other Biblical nations that the Nazir names above as the progenitors of our current enemies were in their glory then as well. The nations surrounding Israel were at unrelenting war with Judah/Israel then and their modern equivalents are at war with Israel now. A 3,123 year (approximately) war.
The Nazir names Amalek as the head of the forces. The actual identity of Amalek is an ongoing Jewish discussion with most claiming that we cannot identify Amalek with any current people or nation. “Erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens” (Deut. 25:19) is commonly understood as physically exterminating Amalek. But since we cannot absolutely identify Amalek, we (fortunately) do not feel the religious obligation to go out and kill anybody.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that lots of people want to kill us.
The hate, ideology and actions of Amalek are deeply embedded in parts of human civilization and are wreaking an ongoing destruction on masses of innocent people. It is very clear that a very powerful warring energy of hatred has been directed at the Children of Israel throughout history. It is also very clear that the culture of war that Amalek represents has taken over the entire planet. The spirit of Amalek lives and thrives.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust and during the brutal battles of the 1948 Israel War of Independence, HaRav HaNazir ZT”L was moved to write a document that he called “The Scroll of War and Peace”.
It was finally published during the throes of the Yom Kippur War. It is a remarkable and largely unknown document.
It begins by quoting three sources:
“War is also the beginning of redemption! (Megilla 17b)
Our rabbis say:
How great is the power of ‘shalom-peace’. Even in war, which a person enters with only swords and lances, the Holy One says: When you go to make war, you must begin it with a call for peace.
From where (do we see this)? From Deuteronomy 20:10:
‘When you approach a city to fight her, and call out peace to her…’
(Dvarim Rabba: 5:12)
Rabbi Ishmael used to say:
“The Children of Ishmael are destined to make three tumultuous wars in the End of Days; as it says: “For they have fled before swords, before the whetted sword” (Isaiah 21:15); one in the ocean…one in the dry land…and one in the large city [Jerusalem]…and the Son of David will then blossom, and will see the [Ishmaelite] loss of each of these. From there he will come to Eretz Israel.” (Yalkut Shimoni; Isaiah 42:1)
This Midrash suggests that battles initiated by Yishmael will be a central part of the return of the Children of Israel to the Land of Israel.
The scroll continues with the Nazir’s own writing under the heading of “War and Peace”:
1) “War is a crime of mass murder. All the building that living nations are engaged in, their power and essence, is rooted in war. There is no generation that has not had small or large wars. And when a war ends they immediately begin preparations for the next one.
Thus it was, and thus it is from generation to generation.
ls this also be the way it will be?
How can we be proud of any righteousness and goodness when the foundation of everything is mass murder an great wars?
How can any human being be content with their level of personal and general ethics at the time when he and and the whole world is being led towards slaughter?
NO, DO NOT DO THIS, DO NOT MURDER!- this needs to be an absolute decision, an absolute imperative!
This is not easy because all the relationships between nations are to some degree of conquerors and conquered. The powerful ones rule and enforce their will through their armies, new weapons of war, and storehouses of ammunition. They struggle to control and subdue while the smaller ones gird themselves for opposition, defense and freedom.
Oy! ‘Shalom, Shalom’ in the mouth of all.
And yet in reality there is only war, subjugation, power, the control of the mighty through their strength, weapons and armies. They publicly educate in the ways of war, murder and bloodshed, day in, day out, with the agreement of all humankind.
2) War is the great plague of humankind in our generation and in all generations. Mass general murder has killed many thousands of souls, the best of humankind. It leaves multitudes of sick and wounded, handicapped for the rest of their lives. It destroys cultural creations, beautiful buildings and elevated institutions of literature and art. And whoever continues to kill, murder and annihilate is considered the victor, the successful one, the praiseworthy.
And from the day that they establish a so called peace treaty, they return to plans for war. The wounded heal, the ruins are rebuilt, and food is stored while they strengthen the infrastructure for creating and storing more weapons of war and treasuries of money. Until they are once again ready to fulfill to fulfill the commandment of war for the sake of murder, killing and ruination in order to destroy humankind.” (p. 11-12)
The history of the world is the history of war.
A sizeable percentage if not the majority of human resources have been and are committed to the war effort. There are currently 12 wars in the world in which more than a thousand people a year are killed in. There are 32 wars in which less than a thousand people are year are killed in.(2)
In Chapter 2, the Nazir continues to describe the planetary immersion in war:
“There is national agreement that enables the slaughter of animals and chickens and the eating of their flesh.
So too there is a general agreement to allow mass murder and the theft of the property of the murdered.
Every nation has ministers of war, armies and supplies of weapons. Even worse than this is that war is accompanied by hatred. It needs it in order to grow and strengthen. People are taught and reminded to hate, to hate the enemy, ‘remember what Amalek did to you!’ (Deuteronomy, 25:17)” (p.13)
This is an extraordinarily relevant drash. Normally this verse is connected with the commandment to recount the Amalek story. We practice this yearly by re-reading from the Torah the story of Amalek’s attack shortly before we re-read of the attempted extermination by Amalek’s descendant Haman in 356 BCE.
The Nazir however is using it poetically to depict the ongoing and varying societal efforts to identify and demonize the enemy. The historical examples of this are endless. All over the planet human beings are defined and bound together by their common identification of an other as ‘the enemy’- “Remember what Amalek did to you!”
Every nation (except perhaps for Canada), has their Amalek Huge human and material resources are dedicated to continuing the battle against the identified Amalek.
What are we to do?
Let us return to the Nazir:
“The call has to go out to the nations, to the masses and their leadership through essays and book, to AWAKEN THE PEACE MOVEMENT in absolute opposition to mass murder, to war.
The leaders of all the nations, their ministers, advisors and parliaments must legislate that the law ‘Do not murder‘ includes the prohibition of the mass murder of war. They must forbid war, not declare it…
Each human being, each writer and thinker is commanded: “Do not stand idly by as your neighbor’s blood [is being spilled]” (Leviticus 19:16).
Let us call out with all strength to the destroyer: STOP!
No! ‘Do Not Murder’ (Exodus 20:13/Deuteronomy 5:17), do not go out to war, to commit mass murder, “nation shall not lift sword against any other nation and they will no longer learn war”. (Isaiah 2:)” (p.12-13)
“Erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.” (Deut. 25:19)
And as Rav Kook ZT’L wrote:
“The harmonic call…the voice of peace is much greater than the voices of war that are heard from all the places of emptiness…
Among all the calls of the world, the supernal call, the call that unites, raises and equalizes must go forth and penetrate . From the fullness of life this call must go forth to each creature, to each spirit and soul, to the inside of each being, to each individual, to each group, to each nation.
Inside the unifying souls, who are drenched in the dew of life of the harmonic call, is burning a holy fire thirsty for peace. These are the angels of peace in the world.” (Lights of Holiness, 4:493)
In this time of war-in this epoch of world wars-may we be blessed to hear and truly manifest the call of shalom.
[Note- the square brackets contain my comments/clarifications within the quote.]
(1) The Nations of the Biblical times: