A Call for Violence

Rabbi Reuven Mann

Rabbi - Cong. Torat Emet:, Phoenix, AZ

The goal of studying Torah is to discover how its eternal message is relevant to every aspect of Jewish existence in every time and place. There has been a resurgence of violent anti-Semitism in Europe and other places such as has not been seen since the terrible days of World War II. After that war, Israel was established as a safe haven for Jews, with a formidable military whose motto is “Never again.” No nation of Israel’s size can even come close to its fighting power. Israel has fought many wars in a short period of time, inflicting severe defeats on its enemies. 

Yet the goal of peace and tranquility has proven to be elusive. The Arab foe is intractable and simply will not go away, no matter what concessions are offered. Anti-Semitic violence has not been eliminated from the Jewish state. Who could have imagined that the tragic slaughter of rabbis wearing tallit and tefillin and immersed in prayer could take place in a Jerusalem synagogue? The entire Jewish world has been shaken to its core, as our most cherished premises have come under assault. We are left to wonder, what can be done?

This week’s parsha, Vayishlach, deals with this issue. The encounter between Yaakov and Eisav is the classical source for our strategy in dealing with the anti-Semites who litter the paths of our history. The story reveals that Yaakov did not remain passive in the face of danger. He did not retreat into denial, but was proactive and sent messengers to ascertain his brother’s mood and intentions. When they returned with a negative report, he prepared his plan of action.

Yaakov operated on 3 levels. His primary desire was to appease his mightier brother with abundant gifts and a display of great honor. Yaakov had insight into Eisav’s psychological makeup. He knew that, deep down, Eisav had a grudging respect for a great tzaddik and sought his endorsement. That is why Eisav practiced the mitzvah of kibbud av (honoring one’s father) so punctiliously. He recognized the greatness of his father, Yitzchak, and yearned for his approval. Yaakov, who was Yitzchak’s spiritual heir, hoped that his display of honor to his brother would seduce his heart.

However, he did not rely on diplomacy alone. He divided the camp and prepared for war. Even though he was vastly outnumbered, he would not go down without a fight. Of course, he did not ignore the most important element of Jewish survival, Divine Providence. Thus, he also uttered meaningful and heartfelt prayers to Hashem.

The question arises; do we Jews follow in the footsteps of our Fathers? It seems that, for most of our history in the exile, we have relied on only 2 aspects of Yaakov’s strategy: diplomacy and prayer. The element of self-defense has, for a very long time, been absent from our arsenal. This is not intended as a criticism. In most of the oppressive societies in which Jews have lived, armed resistance would have been suicidal.

However, the situation has changed. In the United States and other Western societies where Jews live, they can legally obtain weapons and learn the art of self-defense. Jews must regard themselves as an endangered species that must fight for survival. In schools, synagogues, and on campuses, Jews are regarded as “soft targets,” because the galut (exile) mentality still prevails. That must change. Every yeshiva must teach and adopt the full strategy of Yaakov, and train its students, both boys and girls, in the art of self-defense, including the proper and legal use of weapons.

This must be done even in Israel. The army cannot prevent a crazed, lunatic terrorist from going on a rampage and butchering defenseless Jews at prayer. Every shul and yeshiva should have people who are “armed and ready.” Had the congregants in the Har Nof synagogue been trained to respond to terrorists, the tragedy might have been averted. This is not intended as a criticism, or to diminish in any way, the greatness of the kedoshim (holy ones) who perished. Rather, it is a call to learn the crucial lesson of the tragedy and to honor the Jewish teaching that prayer alone is not sufficient: It must be accompanied by practical, effective measures, including violence when necessary. 

Shabbat shalom.