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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Matot

Parashat Matot

To Revenge or Not to?

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In chapter 31 of our parasha, there seems to be a contradiction between what God commanded the Jewish people to do and the instructions that Moshe actually gave them.

In 31:2 God commands Moshe: "Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites." But in 31:3 Moshe says to Bnei Israel: "Let men be picked from among you for a campaign and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the vengeance of God upon Midian." Rashi explains that these two objectives are two sides of the same coin, stating: "Whoever attacks Israel is as though he attacks the Holy One, blessed be He." This could be interpreted as meaning that when Midian enticed Israel to sin, they caused a desecration of God’s name. Nevertheless, the thrust of the revenge upon Midian appears to imply that we are dealing here with more than just two sides of the same coin.

While all mitzvot are the fulfillment of God’s command, some are spiritually uplifting, while others - though right and just - contain elements that are spiritually difficult or perhaps even dangerous. On the joyous occasion of a Brit Milah we omit the words "she-ha-simcha bi-me’ono" from birkat ha-mazon in recognition of the fact that the child who has just entered Avraham’s covenant is at the same time in pain. Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi was punished for not relating to the pain of an animal which was being sacrificed (Baba Metzia 85a). We do not recite the complete Hallel on Pesach, because at the moment of our joy and redemption the Egyptians were drowning.

God told Moshe that the Midianites deserved punishment and that the children of Israel had His blessing to exact that punishment. Moshe felt that this revenge should be tempered with the idea that the revenge was intended to sanctify God’s name.

What an important message for out times. In our present situation of great trouble and difficulty, when the very physical and spiritual future of our beloved Eretz Israel is in danger, let us keep in mind that as important as our physical survival may be, our spiritual existence is no less threatened.

May God grant that in both our struggles, the "war of Israel" and the "war of God," we will emerge victorious and achieve physical and spiritual peace in our beloved Eretz Israel.

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