By: HaRav Yehuda Kroizer
“When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem your G-d will deliver him into your hand and you will capture its people as captives…”
Rashi teaches us that this verse from our parsha is talking about an optional war–for in the wars of the Land of Israel, it cannot be said, “and you will capture its people as captives”, because it has already been said, “you shall not allow any person to live”. From this we learn that there are two types of wars, a “milchemet mitzvah” and a “milchemet reshut, compulsory and noncompulsory war, respectively.
How unfortunate it is that so many of us do not know the difference between the two! As Rabbi Kahane HY”D writes:
“To our sorrow, these concepts have been corrupted and confused by yeshiva students accustomed to the exile. This applies both to those in the Diaspora and those in the Land of Israel, the exile having had a pervasive influence in both places. They are ignoramuses in this regard, so much so that they have no idea what a ‘milchemet mitzvah’ is, what its parameters are, and whether such a concept exits today at all. And the Torah dons sackcloth.”
Let us start with the noncompulsory war–this is a war where the king wants to add greatness or renown or to capture land, where there is no outside threat against the Jewish people. This type of war can only be done with the authorization of the great Sanhedrin, the 71 judges–obviously no small matter. Interestingly enough, in last week’s parsha, we find the priest calling out to all the people who had gathered to go to war, that all those who have built a new house and not begun to live in it, let them go back home lest he die in war. Or any man who has planted a vineyard and has not redeemed its crops, let him go home. Or any man who has betrothed a woman and not married her, let him go home, etc. In all of these cases, we are talking about a noncompulsory war, for in a compulsory war everyone goes out to battle–even a groom from under his canopy.
And what is a “milchemet mitzvah”, a compulsory war? The Rambam lists three things that are considered a compulsory war: The wars against Amalek, the wars against the seven nations who lived in the Land prior to the conquest of the Land by Joshua, and troubles that befall the Jewish people. The Rambam clarifies concerning non-Jews who came to wage war against Israel, to collect tax from them, to steal land from them, or to force a decree upon them, even regarding a light mitzvah. In all of these cases we go out to war, as it is a compulsory war, a commandment. Even more than this: We find that no permission is needed to wage a compulsory war, as we have seen with the case of a noncompulsory war; rather, the king\government must go out to war at once, and any delay is considered as part of the bloodshed.
We even find in the Talmud that it states: In a border town, even where the non-Jews are not attacking to kill Jews but just to demand hay and straw, we go forth armed to attack them, even violating the Sabbath to do so.
Should we be so fanatical, that just for hay and straw we go out to fight and kill? Even disregarding the Sabbath for this? The answer is, of course–Yes, for it is a compulsory war, and in a compulsory war every ones goes out to fight, even on Sabbath.
Are there Jews, who even in a compulsory war, do not go out to battle, as we see today? Is this a good thing? Just hold on till next time, as we will try to answer these and other questions about Jewish laws of war.
(Yeshivah Ha’Rayon HaYehudi)