Parshas Vayishlach (5774)
Once upon a time a powerful Emperor of the Rising Sun advertised for a new Chief Samurai. After a year, only three applied for the job: a Japanese, a Chinese and a Jewish Samurai. "Demonstrate your skills!" commanded the Emperor. The Japanese samurai stepped forward, opened a tiny box and released a fly. He drew his samurai sword and *Swish!* the fly fell to the floor, neatly divided in two! "What a feat!" said the Emperor. "Number Two Samurai, show me what you do." The Chinese samurai smiled confidently, stepped forward and opened a tiny box, releasing a fly. He drew his samurai sword and *Swish!*Swish!* the fly fell to the floor neatly quartered. "That is skill!" nodded the Emperor. "How are you going to top that, Number three Samurai?"
The Jewish samurai, Obi-wan Cohen, stepped forward, opened a tiny box releasing one fly, drew his samurai sword and *Swoooooosh!* flourished his sword mightily, But the fly was still buzzing around! In disappointment, the Emperor said, "What kind of skill is that? The fly isn't even dead." " Dead?" replied the Jewish Samurai. "Dead is easy! Circumcision ... now THAT takes skill!"
The above story is most certainly a joke because throughout history, while we Jews were definitely known for circumcision, we were never really known for our skill with the sword (or any other weapon, for that matter).
In fact, most Jews you or I know who live in the Diaspora have likely never even seen a weapon their entire lives - except on television or at a museum or when visiting Israel - let alone held one.
Our strength as a Jewish nation has always been with our mouths – through prayer and calling out to G-d – and not with our hands – using weapons and brute force. As Isaac said to Jacob when he came for a blessing: “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are Esau’s hands” (Genesis 27:22). Jacob’s greatest power is his voice, while Esau’s strength is with his hands. For the better part of our history, we Jews have been a passive, non-violent people – with few exceptions.
Even when Joshua led the Jewish people across the Jordan River in order to conquer the land that G-d had promised them, he first sent the kings of the Land of Canaan an "ultimatum", giving them three choices: Those willing to evacuate the land could do so, and he would not pursue them; those willing to remain and make peace with Israel on such terms as not to endanger the spiritual and religious life of the Jews, would receive his peace terms; finally, those desiring nothing but war, would be fought in the name of G-d who had promised the land to Abraham for his children forever. Of the different tribes that inhabited the Land of Canaan at that time, only one chose to leave peacefully and another asked for peace. The remaining 31 kingdoms prepared for battle.
Now it is true that we Jews have picked up weapons at a few different points in our history. We needed to fight and defend ourselves against our arch-enemy, the evil nation of Amalek. The Hasmoneans led a successful armed revolt against the Syrian-Greeks (the victory of which is now celebrated on Chanukah). And Bar-Kochba led an unsuccessful rebellion against the Roman armies (and there are other examples as well). But these were the exception rather than the rule.
For the majority of our long history, whenever we were threatened by the nations around us, we always used our voices in prayer to G-d that He should save us, even as we used diplomacy and every other non-violent means at our disposal to protect us from our enemies. [The story of Purim is a classic example of this.]
This tradition finds precedent in this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Vayishlach, where we find our forefather Jacob readying himself for a clash with his wicked twin brother Esau. The Torah relates that Jacob prepared for the confrontation in three ways: (1) He readied himself and his camp for a battle to the death; (2) He threw himself upon G-d’s mercy through prayer; (3) He diplomatically sent a lavish tribute to appease Esau’s anger.
Our Rabbis teach us that Maaseh Avos Siman L’Banim – whatever happened to the Patriarchs is a portent for their descendants. Rabbeinu Bachya, in his commentary on the Bible, writes that we too must follow Jacob’s lead when confronted by Esau’s children who want to do us harm. We must try all means of diplomacy, while praying to G-d with all our might that He save us. However, the third option of picking up weapons in preparation for war, was only allowed for Jacob at that point in time. For the rest of our history, we are bound by an oath that G-d made us swear that we should not rebel against the nations with force. [See the Talmud in Kesubos 111a; see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Oaths for a discussion of the Three Oaths.]
So we see that Guns and Moses truly do not go together. And this has been the Jewish way throughout our history, and it has continued to this very day. We Jews just don't go around beating people up. To quote Jackie Mason, in a Jewish neighborhood, you're not afraid you're going to be mugged by an accountant. [Again, there are exceptions to every rule, including this one - think Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, etc. etc.]
And although we definitely have had quite a few wars in Israel since the establishment of the State in 1948 in which Jewish soldiers picked up weapons and killed their enemy attackers, this is not something that we Jews glorify and it goes against our nature. As Golda Meir once said: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”
May we all merit to see peace on earth and the end of all war during the Messianic Era when, as the prophet Isaiah describes it:
“They [the nations] shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation and they will no longer study warfare” (Isaiah 2:4).