War

I am not a political pundit, so I don’t have much to say about current events. But how can we not discuss this topic?The Hebrew for war is milchamah. The root of the word is /לחם/ (bread or food in general). The gemara notes this point in Sukkah 52a, when it , and just read the conjugation, we need to know whether war is the primary meaning of the root and bread/food the derived meaning, or the other way around.R’ Yosef ibn Kaspi, in Sharshos Kesef (a seifer dedicated to this kind of thing), takes the first approach. He says that the root’s primary meaning connotes opposition, and food is in opposition to that which is fed. In this, he cites Artistotle’s “On the Soul”.

Another approach is to identify lechem in contrast to matzah. I.e. symbolic of the vanity of being “puffed up”, of lacking motivation (the haste needed to make matzah), and a lack of contemplation. Thus lechem is emblematic of man’s inner battle.

A more Marxian stand would be to note that wealthy people are less likely to make war. National leadership must keep the masses impoverished if it desires to turn many of them into “suicide bombers”. It is when there is a shortage of resources that nations strive to enlarge their borders. From this angle, one would say that the allegedly religious motivation of those currently attacking Israel is actually more about being able to control more of the world by getting them to follow Shia — as they guide them to.

However, in Judaism wealth is not inherently good or evil. A life that’s about the pursuit of wealth and the control that gives you is evil. But a life of acquiring honestly and with purity and using one’s resources to better serve Hashem… “The righteous value their wealth more than their own bodies” (Chulin 91a) since it is the greater leverage for doing good than one’s biological resources.

People who spend all day merely surviving, trying to eke out enough calories to stay alive, don’t have the luxury of thinking about religion. Greater resources means more ability to do something — but whether that “something” is noble or dehumanizing is up to the owner of the resources.

For example, we fought the seven nations under Yehoshua. Yes — by getting rid of them we purified the land from evil Canaanite practices and culture. But the primary focus of the book is getting land and resources. Is the location on earth with the greatest “spiritual leverage” used for orgies in worship of Asheirah, or to promulgate Judaism’s message of a G-d Who taught us how to maximize the gifts He gives humanity?

Perhaps the synthesis of these ideas is suggested by the gemara in Sukkah (52a):

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him lechem, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. For you will stoke coals over his head and Hashem will yeshaleim (pay/repay) you.” (Mishlei 25:21-22) Do not read it “yeshaleim”, but “yashilemanu lakh — will grant you peace”.

To which Rashi elaborates (proof-texts elided):

Feed him lechem: exert him in the wars of Torah….
Give him water to drink: Torah…
Will grant you peace: That your yeitzer hara be shaleim (whole and at peace) with you, and will love you, and will not drag you to sin and to be lost from the world.

Rashi understands the gemara in a manner that suggests ibn Kaspi’s idea that lechem refers to opposition and exertion. But it is also a means of feeding and satisfying the yeitzer hara and thus refers to the Torah. True shalom on the internal front is described as using the war to get the means to satisfy oneself as well as the enemy. Peace comes from a win-win resolution that unifies the parties through mutual satiation. That is shalom as in sheleimus, wholeness.

As I wrote on this blog in the past, my rebbe (halevai I were his talmid!), Rav Dovid Lifshitz, spoke about this concept of shalom often. Shalom is embodied by the words of the tefillah, “Veyei’asu kulam agudah achas la’asos retzonekha beleivav shaleim — and they will all be made into a single union to do Your will with a whole, a shaleim heart.”

To apply this idea to our cousins and neighbors in the Middle East will take a long journey.

And your thoughts...?