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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shoftim

Shoftim 5778

At The Shabbat Table

11
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"This is the matter of the murderer, who shall flee there, and live, who will strike his friend without intent…" (Devarim 19:4)


Sick and Tired

(From the book "Sichot L’Sefer Bamidbar," written by Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzal, shlita, sicha 29, page 315)

All was peaceful and quiet on Narkis Street. Until Yossi moved in. Narkis Street was a friendly enough neighborhood, and the locals were pleased to see that that vacant apartment in building 14 finally had a new tenant. Their excitement didn’t last long. Within days, it became obvious that Yossi’s driving habits left much to be desired. The first time Yossi sped through the street, ignoring the speed limit, the cross walk, or anything else that seemed to be in his way, the neighbors dismissed it as a one-time event. It didn’t take long to realize, though, that Yossi was completely oblivious to the fact that there might be other people on the street.
The peace and quiet of Narkis Street was now regularly disrupted by a roaring motor, screeching tires, and terrified screams, as parents urged their children to get out of the crosswalk, and back on the sidewalk, because Yossi and his car were fast approaching. Even adults were becoming scared to walk outside, never knowing when Yossi’s car would come swerving around the corner, tires within inches of the curb.
A number of residents approached Yossi, and politely, but firmly, explained that his behavior was extremely dangerous, and, if he continued what he was doing, it seemed inevitable that a tragedy was on the horizon. The residents breathed a sigh of relief that they had addressed the problem. However, they quickly saw that their relief was premature, as they saw Yossi speeding down the street, just hours after their conversation.
The next step was to attempt outside intervention. Residents filed a complaint with the local police, stating what a danger Yossi’s driving posed to everyone in the area. However, the police responded that, in the absence of an actual incident, there was nothing that they could do.
The residents called another meeting, headed by three local rabbis, to discuss what their options were. Shimon, one of the committee members, said that he has a suggestion to make. The committee thought over his suggestion, and decided that they had no choice but to go ahead with it.
And so, that night, while most of the locals were fast asleep in their beds, Shimon slipped out of his house, clutching a small, sharp knife, in his hand. He silently sidled up to Yossi’s car, and quickly slashed the tires.
As Rosh Chodesh Elul arrived, Shimon heard the sound of the shofar after morning prayers. Suddenly, he was overcome with uncertainty. Was he correct in slashing Yossi’s tires?

Answer:
Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzal, shlita:

Because Yossi was endangering the lives of people in the area, there is an element of the concept of "rodef." ("Rodef," literally "pursuer" refers to a situation in which one person is endangering the life of another person.) Therefore, it was necessary to take action, in order to prevent Yossi from endangering others’ lives, with his reckless driving. After determining that enlisting the help of the police was ineffective, the responsibility fell on each individual resident, to ensure that Yossi’s actions would not lead to tragedy. Therefore, it was proper for Shimon to slash Yossi’s tires. This is despite the fact that, at the time, Yossi’s car was parked, and wasn’t endangering anyone at that moment.
(Relevant to the above question is statement made by Rabbi Nebenzal, mentioned in the same article. Rabbi Nebenzal bemoans the fact that it is not uncommon to hear people say things like "I drove really fast yesterday, and my car almost crashed, but, thank G-d, nothing happened!" This is a mistake. Something terrible took place! Negligence with regard to safety is, in itself, a big problem. The fact that there were no additional negative consequences is besides the point. The sin of disregarding safety remains, until the person repents for the sin, despite the fact that "nothing happened."
Of course, no one intentionally causes a traffic fatality. Nonetheless, every year, (may G-d protect us), there are hundreds of casualties of recklessness and overconfidence. Therefore, let’s strengthen our commitment to drive safely, and follow the rules of the road.)
May we merit to have good health and only hear good news!

*****

"When you besiege a city, many days, to fight against it…" (Devarim 20:19)


A Tragic Choice

(Adapted from Shu"t ‘Dvar Chevron’ 3)
It was already late evening, but Yoni and Rami had a while to go, before they could go to sleep. The young soldiers stood at their post, alert and prepared for any eventuality. From time to time, a rocket was fired from Gaza.
There was a band of terrorists, lurking in the area, but the soldiers were having difficulty locating the group. It soon became clear that there were three terrorists, hiding behind a building, who were launching rockets at people living in Israel. Terrorists often hid behind buildings, but, most of the time, those buildings were vacant. This time, however, it was clear that this wasn’t an abandoned building. Yoni and Rami could clearly see civilian men and women going in and out of the building. What should the soldiers do?
As they prepared to act, Yoni called out "Don’t return fire! We could hit a civilian!"
"Hit a civilian?" Rami retorted angrily. "Our lives are in danger. Our civilians are in danger. We’re here to protect innocent men, women and children, who are being shot at by rockets! Why do the lives of enemies, even though they are civilians, take priority?"
Who is correct?

Answer:
Rabbi Dov Lior, shlita:

According to Jewish law, it is necessary to blow up the location where the terrorists are hiding, even if many innocent civilians will die. This is based on the principle that, in war time, a nation which is attacked needs to fight back, even if enemy civilians will be killed, as a result. If there is the option for soldiers to protect their own lives, and shell the building from a distance, this is the appropriate approach. It is cruel and tragic that terrorists use human shields, in order to carry out attacks against the people of Israel. However, any nation which attacks our people must know that they are endangering the lives of their own citizens.
The source for this concept can be found in the commentary of the Maharal, which discusses why Shimon and Levi were justified in destroying the city of Shechem, after the capture of their sister, Dina. Why did they feel the need to attack the whole city, rather than just those who had actually perpetrated the act? The Maharal explains that the capture of Dina was, in effect, an act of war, against the Jewish people. The Maharal goes on to say that this is the case regarding all war. The rule of war is that, despite the fact that there are many within the enemy nation who are innocent, they are, nonetheless, considered "enemy," and may have to give their lives, as a consequence.
Of course, this does not mean that it is necessary to kill civilians, for no particular reason. This discussion is regarding appropriate conduct when the enemy uses civilians as human shields. Risking the lives of Jewish soldiers, in order to prevent the deaths of enemy civilians, has its roots in the Christian teaching of "turn the other cheek," despite the fact that, as a rule, it is only Israel who is held to that standard. To our great distress, there are those who are attempting to prevent the soldiers of Israel from defending their own people, under the cover of compassion, when the compassion is, in fact, sorely misplaced, and actually stems from cruelty.
(A similar approach can be seen in Minchat Asher, Devarim, 32, Shoftim, by Rabbi Asher Wiess).
Summary: According to Jewish law, in wartime, when there is no other option, it is permitted to kill enemies, even if civilians will be killed, as a result. This is how all nations of the world act.
Editor’s note: It is important to note that this is just a general guideline, regarding the principles of Jewish law, and how the IDF should instruct its soldiers. However, the answer is not referring to an individual soldier.

Translated from Hebrew by Avigail Kirsch.


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch
Rabbi Daniel Kirsch studied for many years at the famed Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem. He currently lives in Kedumim in the Shomron, where he studies at the yeshiva and teaches classes for adults. In addition, he teaches at an elementary school.
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