In response to Israel’s war against Arab terror, we received several e-mails inquiring about Judaism’s perspective on war. “The prayer for shalom (peace) is the climax of a Jew’s daily prayers, so why should Jews go to war?” “How do the cruelty and destruction of war fit in with the notion of an all-compassionate and loving G-d?” “Why from Biblical times up till today has the history of the Jewish People been crimsoned with war?”
In his classic treatise, OROT, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook explains that war is one of the ways that G-d advances the Redemption of Israel.  While Rabbi Kook wrote his essays on war during the First World War, his profound Torah insights pertain all the more to our situation today, when the Israel Defense Forces are fighting to defend the Jewish People in the Promised Land. The image of war as hell has been imbedded on humankind's psyche. War is seen as the manifestation of Satan, as the outpourings of man's darker passions on a global scale, empty of all idealism and goodness. If war could be abandoned, the world would be a better place. While abhorring senseless slaughter, Rabbi Kook explains how G-d brings about the Redemption of Israel even through wars. Certainly, the Jewish people are in favor of world peace as the final goal of mankind. We do not consider the Spartans, Vikings, or Mongols the epitome of human civilization. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the ideal world we long for can come through the upheavals of war. Just as there are times of light and times of darkness, there are times of peace and times of war. In the midst of the horrors of World War One, Rabbi Kook wrote: "When there is a great war in the world, the power of the Mashiach (Messiah) awakens." Like all moral people, Rabbi Kook condemned the horror, waste, and depravity of war, yet his connection to Torah led him to understand something much deeper. When looked at through the perspective of Torah, war also possesses a positive value. War ushers in Mashiach. Even through the destruction of war, the light of Mashiach appears. The power of Mashiach is released when a great war grips the world. In fact, the greater the magnitude and force of the war, the greater the revelation of Mashiach that follows. Behind this comprehension is a higher world vision. The Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin describes the terrible times which will accompany the advent of the Mashiach. Rabbi Yochanan teaches that if one sees a generation with great tribulations, one can expect the Mashiach to come. He sees ahead to the light at the end of the tunnel. This is the same encompassing vision which enables Rabbi Kook to see the coming of Mashiach in a world darkened by war. The Mashiach is not only the ideal Jewish King, but a process which evolves over time. The Talmud tells us that "There are two thousand years of Mashiach." The Jerusalem Talmud emphasizes that Israel's Redemption unfolds, "Little by little." Rabbi Kook's vision is rooted in the teachings of our Sages. The Gemara states that "War is also the beginning of Redemption." There, the Talmud says the Mashiach comes after a period of struggle and war. The Midrash teaches that if you see the empires of the world waging war against each other, you should expect the "footsteps of Mashiach." The Rambam tells us that one of Mashiach's premier tasks is to fight the wars of Hashem (G-d). In our daily prayers, we proclaim that "Hashem is the Master of wars." The prophesied Redemption of the Jewish people is a historical development sure to come true. But how does the process of Redemption unfold? Rabbi Kook tells us that when there are great international upheavals like wars, in accordance with the magnitude of the conflict, the Redemption of Israel progresses toward its destined perfection. This is precisely what occurred in Rabbi Kook's time. The Balfour Declaration, which recognized the right of the Jewish people to Eretz (the Land of) Yisrael, was a direct result of the First World War. As an outcome of the war, the British were left in charge of Israel to facilitate the birth of a Jewish State. G-d overthrew the Turks, who had scorn for the Bible, and replaced them with Englishmen who supported the Jewish people's Biblical claim to the Land. The result of World War II marked an additional step forward in Israel's developmental process – the foundation of Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel.) These modern hallmarks of Jewish history, and their connection to the wars which preceded them, are obvious discernible facts. While textbooks and erudite historians may expound a plethora of social, political, and economic theories in explaining these World Wars, the discerning Jewish eye can see a more exalted plan. The World Wars in our time were the instruments G-d used to reestablish the nation of Israel in its Promised Land. Once we understand that the Redemption of Israel can come about through war, we can still philosophically wonder why G-d doesn't bring Redemption about through peaceful means? The answer lies in the understanding that G-d directs the world in a natural, historical fashion, achieving His aims through the vehicles of nations and kings. "He dethrones kings and raises kings up." To return the scattered Jewish people to Israel, G-d had to rearrange the world map. Thus, when Rabbi Kook looks at the First World War through the glasses of Jewish world history, he knows that the war's outcome will be beneficial to Israel. He knows that the war has come to facilitate the political redemption of the Jewish people and to lead us back to sovereignty over our Land. Rabbi Kook continues: "The time of the songbird has come, the weeding of tyrants. The evil ones are obliterated from the world, the world becomes perfected, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our Land." The World Wars of the previous century led to the destruction of tyrannies and dictatorships and established democracies in their place. Obviously, the annihilation of Bismarks, Hitlers, Mussolinis, Hirohitos, (and Arafats) brings a cleansing to the world. Justice, freedom, and morality find a new environment in which to evolve toward a universal ideal. The great light of Israel can now begin to shine. At first with its physical resurrection, and then with its spiritual building. Each new war brings another stage of Redemption. From World War One and the Balfour Declaration, we advance to World War Two and the establishment of the Jewish State. The miraculous Six-Day War brings us to the reunification of Jerusalem and the recapture of Judea and Samaria, Aza and the Golan. Once again, we made a giant leap forward through war. What does this insight mean for today? G-d willing, our war against Arab terror will uproot all of the tyrants and purveyors of murder, and find us once again in possession of all of our Biblical lands. Footnotes: 1. See "Lights on OROT," Eretz Yisrael, commentary by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman, TEY Publications. 2. Kohelet, 3:8. 3. Sanhedrin 97A-98B. Sotah 49B. 4. Sanhedrin 98B. 5. Sanhedrin 97A and B. 6. Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 1:1. 7. Megilla 17B. 8. Bereshit Rabbah, 42:4. 9. Rambam, Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 11:4. 10. Morning Blessing "Yotzer Ohr" recited before the Shma. 11. Certainly G-d can bring about the Redemption in a peaceful fashion. This would occur if the Jewish people would return to G-d in repentance. If the Jews refuse to do Tshuva (repentance) on their own accord, then the Redemption comes with great suffering, G-d forbid. 12. Daniel, 2:21.