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Parshat Shoftim: Is G-d a Warmonger or Realist?

by: Shmuel ben Shlomi

For centuries many have tried to persuade us that the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a warmonger; instructing the Jews to make war on their enemies, wiping out entire populations without any regard to leaving an opening for a peaceful solution. This week’s parsha shatters that myth into a thousand pieces.

Before we enter into Shoftim a little foundational groundwork needs to be laid down. The first layer has to do with perspective concerning what is authoritative. For over one-half of today’s world population (more than 4 billion souls) the Bible is the foundation upon which all things rest. It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew, Christian or Muslim; the Torah , or first five books of the Jewish Bible are what the rest of the Bible sits on. It is the basis upon which true authority is established. If you are among the less than half the world’s population who doesn’t accept that authority then this will be a new perspective for you.

From the Torah’s perspective all of the Earth “is the Lords.” (Exodus 9:29). As such it is Adonai’s (the Lord’s) to do with as He pleases. That is the first hard truth that must be accepted for everyone living on the planet. As an example: I live on a piece of land located somewhere in North America on planet Earth. We like to say we “own” or if we are still paying a mortgage the bank “owns” this land. The government likes to make claim that it “owns” it since taxes must be paid on it in the form of property tax as long as I live on it. The truth is no human agency, be it me, the bank or the government owns any of it. The land, the entire Earth, is the Lord’s — we are, with His permission, simply homesteading on it for a short duration of time.

This brings us to one particular piece of land that has been called by several different names over the eons of time. One of the oldest names is The Land of Canaan (after the grandson of Noah), The Land of the Philistines, The Land of Israel (named after Jacob), Judea, Djahy (the Egyptian name for it), Palestine (the Roman Empire name), The Holy Land (the Roman Catholic Church name) and its current name The State of Israel (The Land of Promise).

The story of this landmass is as ancient as Sumer and Egypt and has been a point of contention, war and peace for thousands of years. What makes it so important is its strategic location for the trade routes between Egypt, the Mediterranean regions and all those lands to the North and East, including the silk trade with China. Anyone wishing to travel those routes with relative safety and ease must go through and into Israel. With today’s modern air travel those routes are far less important, however, Israel still hosts some of the most important ports for shipping throughout the Mediterranean. Therefore, as then and today, whoever holds claim to that tiny but strategic land, if properly managed is sitting on a gold mine of wealth and influence that impacts the whole globe.

That land, as is the whole Earth, is the property held by its Landlord, the Owner, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and, according to the widely accepted authority on the issue, was granted into the stewardship and care of Abraham and all his offspring through the line of Jacob dating back over four thousand years. While HaShem owns the land He has granted the title deed to the Jews in an eternally binding covenant that He states will never be broken or rescinded. While habitation on the land is contingent on the Jews adhering to the Law of Moses, the title deed to it is unchangeable for all time (Genesis 17:8).

Now onto parsha Shoftim as it relates to HaShem as a warmonger or realist. There is a lot of ground covered in Shoftim ranging everywhere from the rules for establishment of courts, behavior of all future kings and rulers of the land, how to deal with idolatry, prophets and Levite priestly activity and gifts to them, setting up cities of refuge, etc. However, there is one area in Shoftim that many overlook, especially those who want to make claim that the G-d of Israel is a war loving deity. For centuries those who wish to see the Jews as occupiers and not the rightful deed holders love to ramble on about how Joshua invaded innocent men, women and children in the Jewish G-d’s lust for that strategic land area. That claim continues today with the almost daily cry from those who want to make the Jews demons out to destroy the so-called Palestinians in the land. Well, that authoritative source begs to differ.

Keeping in mind who G-d says are the people He has given the land-rights to listen to His instructions to the Jews who are faced with the possibility of war with its neighboring non-Jews within that land.

“When you draw near to a city to wage war against, you shall call out to it for peace. It shall be if those within the city responds to you in peace and opens for you, then the entire people found within it shall be a tribute for you, and shall serve you.” (Deuteronomy 20:10-11)

Some will sarcastically say,”Wow! Answer in peace and we get to live and be slaves to the Jews for the rest of our lives. What a bargain.” To understand the context of the verses and the teachings of our sages of blessed memory will give us a much better understanding. To serve is not equivalent of slavery but of citizenship with Israel as the rightful governing body of the land. Those who agree to peace are accounted as equal citizens in the land, serving in whatever capacity they are gifted with and paying their taxes like any other Jewish citizen would do. They are treated as equal citizens as long as the peace is maintained by both sides.

In much the same way today, those non-Jews living in The State of Israel; all inhabitants, be they Jew, Arab, so-called Palestinian, or Gentile; as citizens have the right to have a job or business, make a living, have a home, raise their children, practice their religion, participate in elections, and so forth; as long as they do not foment war, terrorism or rebellion and pay their fair share in taxes (aka: tribute) recognizing the legitimate government of the duly elected Israeli Prime Minister, President, and Knesset (a mixed elected group consisting of Jews and non-Jews) they have the full rights and privileges of all citizens.

The very foundation for this “democratically” run system was laid down in the Torah.

So I ask the question again: Is the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a warmonger or a realist? I do believe Chapter 20 and verses 10 and 11 answer it perfectly. No warmonger, before engaging in battle first offers their enemy the hand of peace which includes full citizenship and participation in their land if that hand of peace is accepted. That is being a realist, a lover of peaceful coexistence over that of the horrendous tragedy of war with tremendous loss of life on all sides.

Our G-d is first and foremost a G-d of peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

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