David Harbater
Author, educator and scholar

How Should the War End? Lessons from the Exodus

The way in which the war against Hamas will end is, for the most part, a function of the extent to which Israel achieves its war goal. The problem is that there is an ongoing debate among Israel’s leadership about this goal. Is it the return of the hostages or the destruction of Hamas? To the extent that it is about the destruction of Hamas, does this entail the elimination of most of the 30,000 or so Hamas fighters or about the killing of the Hamas military and political leadership? Is it about the destruction of most of the Hamas terror tunnels and much of its military arsenal or about restoring confidence among the 250,000 Israeli citizens from the north and the south that it is safe to return to their homes?

There is also a debate regarding “the day after,” namely, who should be responsible for Gaza after Israel is (hopefully) victorious. Should it be Israel, the Palestinian Authority, an international force or local Palestinian technocrats? Furthermore, there is a debate about who is to lead our country after the war is over. Should the military and political leaders who were responsible for what is known in Hebrew as the conceptzia (the “conception”, or more accurately, the “misconception”) that led to the biggest debacle since the Yom Kippur war be allowed to continue in their respective positions or must they step down? And there are larger questions that loom, such how do we cover the astronomical costs of the war, and how do we maintain, after the war is over, the unprecedented level of solidarity that has characterized Israeli society during wartime?

I believe that we may be able to gain some insight into these questions from the story of the Exodus that is told in the Torah portions that we read at this time. First, the goal of the Exodus was stated very clearly at the outset and then shared forthrightly with the Israelite people: “Say, therefore, to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God… I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…” (Exodus 6:6-8).

Second, when God punished the Egyptians He made sure to protect the Israelites from all harm (see Exodus 11:7). Third, the Exodus did not require the death of each and every Egyptian but the inflicting of enough death and destruction that the Egyptians, as a people, were not able to enslave the Israelites any longer (see Exodus 12:29-33). Fourth, prior to the onset of the last plague, God commanded the people to conduct a ritual, the bringing of a Passover offering to God. This ritual required each household to take a lamb on the tenth of the month of Nisan and then to slaughter and partake of it on the evening of the fourteenth. If a household was too small to consume an entire lamb then members of that household were to join together with their neighbors (Exodus 12:4). Thus, the Passover ritual helped strengthen the bonds within the family at home and within the community at large.

Finally, victory was not declared until it was clear that the Israelite people in future generations could reenact the Passover ritual and respond to their children and grandchildren when they ask about its meaning. “And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite?’ you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’” (Exodus 12:27)

Thus, the story of the Exodus teaches us that our leaders must determine the goals of the war against Hamas and the vision for its aftermath in advance and they must then communicate these to us clearly and unequivocally. Furthermore, they must inflict maximum punishment on Hamas while doing everything in their power to ensure the safety of the hostages. They should not pursue the unattainable goal of killing all the Hamas terrorists but rather focus on dismantling the Hamas military capabilities. In addition, they must formulate a plan aimed at preserving our sense of solidarity that has been so prominently on display since the onset of the war. Finally, they must not rest until they can guarantee that the results of the war will be long-lasting such that our children and grandchildren will periodically offer thanks to God and to the IDF for defeating the enemy and allowing them to live in safety and security.

It is unclear to what extent our leaders have learned these lessons up to this point. Nevertheless, I believe it is our duty as citizens to make sure that they at least do so as the war progresses in the weeks and months ahead.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. David Harbater's recently published book "In the Beginnings: Discovering the Two Worldviews Hidden within Genesis 1-11" is available on Amazon and at book stores around Israel and the US. He teaches Bible and Jewish thought at Midreshet Torah V'Avodah, at the Amudim Seminary, and at the Women's Beit Midrash of Efrat. Make sure to follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn for more interesting content.
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