Enemies of the Jews – Parashat Va’ethannan: Deuteronomy 7:1-11
This passage, the last part of Parashat Va’ethannan, bothered me and I struggled with the implications of taking the words literally. These lines relate to how following the commandments (mitzvot in Hebrew) will ensure that God will honour His covenant with the Jewish people by vanquishing our enemies, thereby providing us with safety in the Promised Land. As in other parts of the Torah, war and destruction are, if not glorified, then promoted. The verse begins and ends thus:
1. When the Lord, your God, brings you into the land to which you are coming to possess it, He will cast away many nations from before you: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful than you.
2. And the Lord, your God, will deliver them to you, and you shall smite them. You shall utterly destroy them; neither shall you make a covenant with them, nor be gracious to them.
. . . . . .
11. You shall therefore, observe the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command you this day to do
In other words, if we follow the 613 mitzvot laid down by God in the Torah, we will have peace and prosperity in our Promised Land, firstly by wiping out everyone else. Their cultural symbols will be eradicated along with them, and we, ourselves, will cease to experience sickness, famine, poverty, etc.
Let us put aside for now the question of whether our reward for following the 613 rules is accruing to us in this world or in the world after the Messiah comes. I am not, for now, concerned with our just deserts, but rather with the destruction of our enemies, all those other peoples in the land we enter as Moses looks on from Mount Moriah.
Why is it not possible to live with and among peoples who are different from us?
Why do they have to be considered enemies who need to be destroyed? Is it possible that our leaders asked themselves these very questions back in 1967 when we won the war waged against us on all sides and recovered the heart of our ancient indigenous land? Is it possible that our leaders wanted then, and many of us want still now, to believe that our enemy today is different from our enemies of Biblical times?
What WOULD have happened if we had done just a little bit of “ethnic cleansing” in 1967
as this verse recommends? Our international position back then was much better than it is now. We annexed the Golan and, while we used to hear squawks every now and then suggesting we should give that land back to Syria, those voices were never very loud and they certainly have died down even more given the current upheavals in our neighbourhood. Would similar annexation of Gaza and Judea and Samaria have also eventually been accepted by now to a certain degree? After all, these were part of the original allotment to the Jewish people before the 1947 partition-offer fiasco committed against us by the British.
I cannot help thinking that if we were more attentive to the lessons of our own history, we may have been able to avoid what is happening now. The pinnacle of chutzpah that brought home to me the enormity of our folly of our appeasing ways is embodied in the UNESCO acceptance last week of the draft resolution in which it states that Kever Yoseph and Kever Rachel are Muslim holy sites and not Jewish ones. Because we did not safeguard our rights over our ancestral treasures, there is movement afoot to steal these from us, growing stronger and bolder each day.
What hurts me most is that, out of naivety and a desire for peace, we laid the foundation for this happening. And yet, if we had just paid attention, we were given strong hints about how to handle ourselves upon return to our homeland. Just that our secular fellows consider the Bible an outdated semi-history book that has nothing to teach us today about how to conduct ourselves as a modern Jewish nation surrounded by enemies.
We were warned not to be “gracious with them”.
I wonder if there was any worry that the Israelites of Biblical times would have been “gracious”. Somehow I doubt it. So, for me, it is almost as if a voice is calling out from our ancestors saying “Hey you! You Jews of the future! Don’t let your modern sensitivities get the better of you! You don’t really understand what you are up against. Listen to us.”
But isn’t it the truth that people in each generation think they know better than their elders!