True Security Forces
Rabbi Ruben Gober
Medrash Eicha , Pesichta 2 relates the following story: Rebbi sent Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami to go out and set up cities in Israel. They would go into the cities and say “bring out the heads of security for the city”. The city would bring out the police chief and the head of security of the city. Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami responded “These are protectors of the city? They destroy the city!” The members of the city said back “then who are the protectors of the city?” Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami answered “The ones who teach the verses of Written Torah and the laws of the Oral Torah and who guard Torah day and night, as it says ‘You should be involved with it day and night’ (Joshua 1:8) and it says ‘If G-d will not build the house, in vain do its builders labor on it; If G-d will not guard the city, in vain is the watchman vigilant’ (Psalms 127:1).
This medrash demands explanation, as a number of questions arise when we examine it closely. Firstly, why do Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami say that the real guardians of the city are those who teach and learn torah? Does Judaism promote the idea that we just rely on miracles of G-d to save us while we sit and learn as our enemies attack? Certainly this wasn’t the attitude of Yaakov Avinu; when he met Eisav; the Ramban there explains that Yaakov did three things: prayer, a gift to Eisav and preparation for war. So if we are to model ourselves after our Forefathers, this medrash seems to be very problematic!
Secondly, if Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami meant to say that G-d protects the city, as the verse from Psalms would seem to imply, then why not say that? In what sense are the teachers of torah the protectors of the city?
Another question is their critique of the police and security force- Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami call them the destroyers of the city. In what way are they destroyers of the city? We can understand that they may not be the real protectors, especially relative to the protection of G-d, but how are they destroying the city?
Finally, it’s apparent from the medrash (especially if you look at its context in the Medrash Eicha) that the real critique of Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami was that the city lacked appropriate teachers learning torah. Why then did they not just say that? It seems as if they are expressing it as a riddle, and for what purpose?
When one looks at the basic functions of political and social systems, there is one objective that seems to be the most basic of all: the guarantee of physical security for its members. Cities are established with systems in place to protect its citizens from any harm. In fact, each citizen will allow the others to do as they please, although they might think that it is wrong or immoral, as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else’s security. Without this security, of course, all other functions are purposeless, for if harm is done, these benefits and gains would be lost. It is for this reason that a priority in establishing a system is the police, firemen, and ambulances; they are viewed as the key to securing a society’s physical well being.
The Torah teaches a different perspective on security in our physical existence. Let us start with an example from science: when the scientist makes his observations of physical phenomena, his focus is not the observation per se, but the theory and mechanisms behind it. He knows that what he observes is really just an expression of underlying theoretical concepts that cause that result. The primary ‘force’ or cause behind all observed phenomena are the ideas and theories that are a part of nature. The scientist knows that to have the correct understanding of the world, he must get to the right theory. Once he has this, not only will he have a better understanding of nature, but he may go so far as to manipulate and utilize these theories in many other ways and expressions. A clear example of this would be the atom bomb - once scientists understood the concept of an atom and its structure, they could then manipulate it to achieve their own goals.
Torah also has a similar view of nature - the Torah tells us that underlying all events in the world is one underlying ‘force’ or ‘theory’, that of Hashgachas Hashem. G-d’s Will and Providence is the Prime Mover of the universe; as the Rambam states clearly in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah Chapter 1, Law 2, if one could imagine that G-d would not exist, then nothing else would exist. The observed physical world is just an expression of underlying Divine Providence, the primary force of the world.
With this idea, the Torah teaches us that to achieve security in this world, we must look to the prime force of natural events - Divine Providence. If we follow the Will of G-d and fulfill his commandments, we come under the Hashgacha so that we are no longer just working in the world of nature and chance, but rather we are under the influence of the more primary force of Divine Providence. When we are not acting in accordance with G-d’s Will we lack this protection and are left to natural law and chance, with all its vulnerabilities. It is only under the Hashgacha that we may exist beyond the law of nature.
Of course, there is only one way to have the capability of following G-d’s Will - to have knowledge of G-d’s Will; without knowing what it is, there is no way for us to carry it out. Who can give us this knowledge? Only Talmidei Chachamim - those with vast and precise knowledge of Torah, guarding its detailed system. We are responsible for searching out these teachers and setting up a system where they can teach us. As teachers, they will provide us with the ability to act in line with G-d and attain access to the Hashgacha. With this Hashgacha, we will attain real security in this world. Our teachers then, are our real ‘security force’ - they are our link to security from Divine Providence.
Now we can understand what Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami meant when they pointed to teachers of Torah as the security force of the city. If the city was interested in security, their first priority should have been to look to the Primary Force behind all events in this world - that of the Hashgachas Hashem, G-d’s Divine Providence. To gain Divine Providence they need to base their social structure on G-d’s will, and that would mean setting up torah scholars to teach knowledge of this.
When we look at the verses quoted by the medrash, we see that this is the basic idea of both of them. In Joshua, the point is that when Bnai Yisroel went into Israel, their success depended on G-d, so as a leader, Joshua’s primary responsibility was to be involved in studying and spreading knowledge of G-d. So too with the verse from Psalms, where it says that the only way for a city to survive is if it’s G-d’s will that it should; otherwise, the efforts of the guardians of the city will be for naught.
The criticism that Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami launched at the heads of the police of the city as ‘destroyers of the city’ can now be explained as well. If true security can only be found through Divine Providence, any other method is merely a false security that does not provide what it claims to. If a society is built on police and army forces, they haven’t achieved real security because even they are subject to the laws of nature; man alone can’t overcome basic natural law. However, it’s not just that it is a false security and is wrong; in Torah, we have to look at where such a perspective places people in regards to G-d. If a city thinks that security is found through manpower, this belief is not just wrong, but harmful, in that it takes people away from the truth, promoting a false view of the world. Torah demands that one must view G-d as the Force behind all that we observe in the universe; once man thinks that he can succeed through his abilities alone, he has the wrong idea of G-d, the worst possible error, and has distanced himself from G-d and His Providence.
That’s why Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami called them destroyers of the city. Its not that these people were consciously trying to hurt or destroy the city; they had good intentions. But Torah demands more than that - a person must act in accordance with the truth. By acting as the protectors of security, they were giving people a false idea of G-d and the world. They were promoting the belief that man can achieve security in this world on his own, without G-d. In doing so, they were destroying the city in a spiritual sense, by giving them a wrong idea of G-d, and in a physical sense, by not giving them the only security from natural law, that being Divine Providence.
With this we can understand the role of a police force and an army in Torah. As we said before, the Torah does not promote reliance on miracles; the example of Yaakov Avinu clearly proves this point. However, all that we do must be viewed from a certain, precise perspective. Man has the responsibility of using his G-d-given wisdom to figure out the best strategy for success in the world in which G-d placed him. However, this doesn’t eliminate Divine Providence from the picture; on the contrary, because we know that the Hashgacha exists, we must take that into account as well. Thus we see throughout the Torah and Neviim (Prophets) that Bnai Yisroel took on stronger nations using their own military planning as well as knowing that the Hashgacha was behind them to allow and ensure for the success of their plan. Man has the responsibility to act in this world, but his actions must reflect his knowledge of the Hashgacha. Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami were criticizing them, not for the existence of a police force, but for the wrong perspective on the police force. The actions of man for security must exist within the greater framework of our knowledge of G-d and His Ways.
Now we can also see why Rebi Asi and Rebi Ami expressed their criticism in this way. They were not just saying that there was not enough learning or that they need a better education system. There was a far deeper idea that they were interested in giving over - the idea of true security, and security forces in this world.