This week’s Torah portion lists many of the 613 mitzvot. 74 in fact. They cover all sorts of areas of life from the everyday such a paying a worker in a timely fashion to the most unsavory circumstances such as war. If fact, the theme of war bookends the parsha by speaking of mitzvot related to war both at the beginning and at the end of the parsha.
At the beginning we are told of what happens when a man’s desires get the best of him and he wishes to take a captive woman from the enemy once victorious in battle. It is clear that the Torah’s attitude is one where we are not thrilled at this scenario. As such, the Torah lists a number of things that he must do before he is allowed to marry her with the hope that the hoops he must go through will cause him to think twice and cool his passion. The Talmud states that the means by which the Torah tries to talk sense into the fellow is: לא דברה תורה אלא כנגד יצר הרע – the Torah here is speaking in response to the (power of) the Evil Inclination.
The Yetzer Hara – the Evil Inclination is that part of us where we wish to deviate from Good and Truth and follow our passions, desires and short-term gains and pleasure. Appropriately, in Jewish tradition when speaking of those internal conflicts which we all have, the motif of war is often cited. There is literally a battle between our spiritual, higher selves versus the material, lower selves. “Do I eat the cake even though it offers no nutritional value and ruins my diet or not?” and many other such conflicts we have throughout our day.
The Torah portion ends with mitzvot relating to destroying the nation of Amalek, our mortal enemy. We don’t know who exactly might be the Biblical nation of Amalek today. But think Nazi Germany, Hitler, Haman, Iranian mullahs and the like.
Whenever we speak of these battles, be they national or personal, the rules of engagement are similar. We need to have the resolve, strength and will-power to overcome an enemy. We have to know who and what we are dealing with and keep up the good fight.
Which brings me to this week’s dominating news about President Biden’s decision and the manner in which he instructed US forces to leave Afghanistan. To be clear, I am not here to debate all the nuances of the decision and if it was right or wrong. There are numerous reports and comments about that in this week’s media such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Ben Shapiro, Daily Mail etc etc.
No, I just wish to share what Jewish tradition would say about dealing with such players like the Taliban. It is not too dissimilar to dealing with one’s personal Yetzer Hara. The principles remain the same. When it comes to evil actors like Hamas, like Hezbollah, like the Iranian mullahs and like the Taliban, there are no overtures of peace. There is no talk or dealmaking. They are not to be trusted – their word means nothing. There is only one posture to be taken with such groups – that their evil designs will be met with a force and will greater than theirs. They have to know that if they cross the line, there will be a powerful response and reply.
The Yetzer Hara is not stupid and neither are the bad actors on the world stage. They know weakness when they smell it. As soon as they see an opening, they take it. We know this on a personal level. As soon as we let our guard down, stop our good habits and take a break, the Yetzer Hara is there to pounce. It is no different with these bad guys on a global scale.
And this is what is most disconcerting. It isn’t the decision to leave Afghanistan. No, it’s the way in which it was carried out. The optics of it. The Saigon moments but worse. The broadcasting to all the bad players on the world stage that America is weak. That it cannot be relied upon. That it is not a force to contend with and will leave a trail of misery in its haste to bail.
America is the leader of the free world which values Judeo-Christian ethics of freedom, decency, rule of law, equality and so many other principles of goodness and truth first espoused in our Torah. If it is no longer reliable and strong, then who will counter the bad guys? Who will stand up to China, Russia, Iran and the like?
We Jewish people always knew that with great power comes great responsibility. The two go hand in hand. As the Chosen People we know that it is more of a duty than a privilege, although the latter as well. And we also know that it is a constant battle, especially when you are the lone voice of reason and truth. The circus of the UN where the Yetzer Hara reigns free has shown us that for decades.
This week was a setback for this nation. And as such, a setback for the world as well. It is hard not to believe so. But there is too much greatness in this nation’s history, Constitution and people for it to be long term. God willing, the nation who has been the Jewish people greatest friend will continue to reap the blessings foretold by God to Avraham of “those that bless you I will bless.” I, for one, am confident that America will still be our partner in leading the nations of the world to justice and peace and ultimately Mashiach.
I went to sleep with the hope that made America famous
I had the kind of a dream that maybe they’re still trying to teach in school
Of the America that made America famous
And of the people who just might understand
That how together, yes we can
Create a country better than
The one we have made of this land