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Home » Israel, Ki Tetze, Military

Ki Tetze: Unity Saves Lives

Submitted by on August 9, 2013 – 1:27 amNo Comment | 6,734 views

Unity in War

In June of 1967 we saw clearly that unity saves lives. If you review the events that led to the six-day-war you will find that Egypt, Jordan and Syria, the nations that attacked Israel, led a coordinated pre-war campaign, whereas Israel was internally divided on how to address the danger. Once the war began and Jews the world over came together in unity, the enemy’s united thrust fragmented. Refusing to come to each other’s aid, they engaged in a bitter, divisive blame game before the war was even over.

History repeats itself. When our ancestors stood at the Reed Sea, they saw Egypt chasing them and were afraid. Our sages noted that in this instance the Torah speaks of Egypt as a single entity and explained that the entire Egyptian army was united in their desire to recapture the Jewish slaves and their loot.[1] By contrast, our ancestors were divided. Our sages taught that four schools of thought prevailed among them on how to meet the Egyptian threat.[2] The Egyptians were united, the Jews were fragmented. No wonder our ancestors were afraid.

Yet, the moment Moses gave the order to journey into the sea, the entire nation obeyed with no objection. At that moment, the Jews united in single purpose. What do you think happened to the Egyptians? That’s right, they broke rank and tried to turn back. Alas, it was too late.[3] The moment the Jews united, the enemy fragmented and the battle was over.

It is clear that those who are united are ascendant. It is clear that unity save lives, but why is that?

In G-d’s Image

I believe we can all agree that our three thousand year survival, despite numerous attempts by powerful nations to annihilate us, is a miracle. We have long acknowledged that Jews don’t win wars by the power of their swords, but by the grace of G-d.[4] Considering this, we need to be meritorious when we go to war.[5] If we go to war in a spiritually dismal state, we wouldn’t deserve miraculous deliverance. Yet many sinful Jewish armies have prosecuted successful campaigns. How is that?

The answer lies in our unity. Our sages taught that King David’s warriors were steeped in piety and scholarship and yet lost several battles. Ahab and his warriors were idol worshippers, but never lost a battle. The reason is that David’s warriors gossiped and turned against each other whereas Ahab’s warriors were always united.[6] Unity saves lives because it provides cover for sin.

After the flood, when Noah was released from the Ark, G-d promised that the animals would fear and never attack man. The Torah employs similar language, when describing that the nations feared Jacob and his sons.[7] Our sages[8] explained that this was due to the image of G-d in which the human was made.[9]

However, our image is only intact when we are in compliance with G-d’s wishes. When we transgress His will, our Divine image is tarnished and left lacking. How do we make up for these shortfalls?

The answer is unity. When we are united we cover for each other. I might be lax in one area, but strong in another. You might be strong where I am lax, but lax, where I am strong. So long as we are united, we each fill in the missing pieces of the other’s Divine image.

When we unite we are akin to limbs in a body. We wouldn’t say that only the hand receives credit for kindling Shabbat candles, not the legs. We are a single organism, if we perform a mitzvah with one limb, the entire organism receives merit. Same is true of the Jewish people, when we are united your mitzvah makes up for my shortfall and my mitzvah makes up for yours.

unity - innerstream

Furthermore, when we both perform the same mitzvah the merit is doubled for each of us. My mitzvah coalesces with yours and becomes a powerful merit for us both. When an army of several thousand goes to war as a single unit, each soldier carries myriads of merits. Where he falls short he is buoyed by every other soldier. Where he is strong, he strengthens some and is further strengthen by others.[10]

It is natural for you to wonder whether we share our sins as well as our mitzvot and the answer is no. The reason is as simple as it is obvious. No one sins altruistically. We commit sins for our own pleasure not to implicate others.[11] Mitzvot, however, are always performed with altruism and good intention. Therefore it is the only mitzvot that we share. Unity only saves lives, it doesn’t threaten lives.

When One Rises

When the Patriarch Rebecca was pregnant she visited Shem, son of Noah, for prophetic insight to her progeny. He explained that the twins she was carrying would each father a great nation and that they would forever vie with each for supremacy. When one rises the othe

r will fall and vice versa.[12]

When Jews unite, our enemies fall, when Jews are fragmented, our enemies gain strength. We are surrounded by enemies that seek our downfall. We cannot place our trust in friendly nations. Nations don’t do what’s right for us, they do what’s right for them.[13] Israel cannot rely on the United States or the United Nations. Israel can only rely on G-d. The surest path to G-d’s intervention is unity.

We must increase our love and opinion of others. We need to stop pointing fingers and claiming superiority. Remember that no one is perfect. Where we are strong, others are weak, where we are weak, others are strong. If we castigate others and cut them off, we are left vulnerable.

We will not survive fragmented. Our destiny is joined. We will either fall or rise. If we fall, we fall divided. If we rise, we rise toge

ther. Let us rise together. Let us begin by reaching out to each other. It is easy to reach out within our own circle to those with whom we agree. Let us reach out to those with whom we disagree, with whom we have nothing in common. Remember, unity saves lives.

Is Prayer Required

In two separate verses, the Torah assures us that we will be triumphant in war. In one verse the Torah requires prayer to merit victory, “If you go to war in your land against an adversary that oppresses you, you shall sound a teruah with the trumpets and be remembered before the Lord your God, and thus be saved from your enemies.”[14] In the other prayer is not mentioned, “If you go out to war against

your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hand.”[15]

According to the Chassidic masters the difference is rooted in unity. The Hebrew language employed in the first verse, “ki tavou,” is plural, whereas the language employed in the second verse, “ki teze,” is singular. The message is clear. When we are fragmented we require a special prayer to triumph, when we are united, victory is the natural outcome. Once again, unity saves lives.[16]

[1] Exodus 14: 10. See Mechilta ibid.

[2] Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 2: 5.

[3] Exodus 14: 25.

[4] Psalms 20: 8.

[5] See Deuteronomy 23: 10 and Rashi ibid.

[6] Vayikra Rabbah 26: 2 and Bamidbar Rabbah 19: 2.

[7] Genesis 9: 2 and 35: 5.

[8] Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 151b. See also Rashi’s commentary to Genesis 8: 2.

[9] Genesis 1: 26-27 and 9: 6. See also Ethic of our Fathers 3: 18.

[10] This is why a handful of Maccabees destroyed a superior Greek army. See also Samuel I 14: 6-15.

[11] Babylonian Talmud: Baba Metziah 5b.

[12] Genesis 25: 23. See Rashi ibid.

[13] As the British Statesman Lord Palmerston said, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanen

t interests.”

[14] Numbers 10: 9.

[15] Deuteronomy 21: 10.

[16] This essay is based on a discourse from Shem Mishmuel delivered in 1920. The contradiction between the verses was first raised by his ancestor Reb Mendel of Kotzk, who answered it differently. He explained that in Deuteronomy Jews march against their enemy implying that they are naturally strong (it is still a miracle, but prayer is not required), in Numbers Jews are attacked by their enemy, requiring them to repel the attack. This is a great miracle, which requires prayer.

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