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The Good War

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

If you're going to take a stand, you must be prepared to put your money where your mouth is.

Disengagement is in the news. War is in the news. Perhaps war is always in the news, just not as prominently. Depends who's dying. Wherever there is war, there are anti-war demonstrations. And oh-so clever slogans. Like "war is always a mistake." Always? Oh, to have such certainty. (And such a way with words!) Frequently I find the slogans puzzling, often I find them trite. Is there anyone that's really pro-war (other than a few subscribers to Mercenary magazine)? Few rational people think of war as an ideal state. Few rational people want involvement with bloody violence and glory death.

But sometimes it's necessary. The Torah is full of war -- to rescue Lot from the kings who have captured him, to fight off the attacking Amalekites, to conquer and govern the land of Israel -- each with a different though justifiable motive, all with the Almighty's permission, some in response to His commands.

Sometimes war is the only way to fight evil. We may debate the definition of evil but there are instances throughout history where war is the only way to stop it. Nothing else would have brought down Hitler's Germany. To have refused to fight against the Third Reich, to be neutral or pacifist when such a monster rages across the world, is not a noble choice. It is immoral. And damaging.

As the medrash reminds us, "Those who are kind to the cruel will end up being cruel to the kind." If you don't take a stand against evil, you risk blurring all moral distinctions.

But if you're going to take a stand, if you believe in a case, you must, as the saying goes, be willing to put your money where your mouth is.

We recently had a guest from Israel join us for a Shabbos meal. He was arguing vehemently against the disengagement plan. (I'm taking no public stand on the issue and the kids are sworn to secrecy on our private one!) "Okay, we understand your point of view. Now tell me. You have teenage sons. Are you prepared to send them to fight to retain Gaza?"

"Good question," he said. "I never thought about that."

How could you believe in such a cause, defend it tooth and nail, and never consider whether you would risk your own child's life for it?

Thinking about this issue has definitely made me more cautious (perhaps cowardly) in expressing an opinion. If the war in Iraq is a just war, if I "support" it, then I must be prepared to risk my son's life as well. It's a sobering thought. And helps make you honest. I've listened to many people (ad nauseum) argue the virtues of the war versus Iraq -- all of whom would send their sons to Canada or rabbinic school (perhaps an unlooked-for side benefit!) were they to be drafted. This seems to me to be an equally immoral position. It's only okay for other people's children to die?

There are definitely times we have to fight. Most of Joshua's tenure as leader of the Jewish people involved conquering the land of Israel, constantly battling its inhabitants. The Talmud says that King David was not allowed to build the Temple because his hands were too bloody. The wars were justified, but they were not without cost. And he is one of our most revered and soulful of leaders, a shepherd and a singer of Psalms.

Until Mashiach comes, trying to eradicate war is like trying to change basic human nature. We can continue to pray for peace as we simultaneously prepare for war. And we should also pray for courage if our convictions, God forbid, should be put to the test.

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