Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Teitzei

I hate war. Yes, hate is a strong word, but truthfully, the only thing I hate more than war are war-mongers: people who thrive on the conflict for the sake of their own search for power over others. As I read the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, I knew that I had to respond. It not only calls on us to wage war but seems to intimate that God will be on our side in all such battles. “When you go out to war against your enemies, the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands …” (Deut 21:10)

Here is the problem. Everyone who reads this text as sacred scripture now has God’s promise of victory in battle. I have to believe that here we find one of those eternal theological conundrums. How many wars fought on “God’s behalf” have marred the history of our world? Either God has schizophrenia, or we just don’t get it.

Perhaps our problem roots in language and translation. Knowing that the Hebrew text has no vocalization, any translation is itself an interpretation. I read in a Khasidic text the commentary that most English translations of this verse will read, “If (or “when”) you go out to war against your enemies.” But if you look at the original Hebrew, one finds a response to the problem. Most often, editors translate the Hebrew word “ALL” as against, but more accurately, it means above or over.

In context, the scriptural text teaches us that we can only win a war when our cause is above that of the other side. Torah does not say that we win because we believe it is – only when it really is. We know that everyone who goes into battle does so believing in his/her cause. Whether over a skirmish between friends or a full-out military conflict, rarely does one put his/her life on the line – just … because. Wars based on fear, insecurity, the need for control, or over the debt of revenge are not higher causes; they only create more chaos.

Perhaps one finds the truth of this scripture in knowing that wars historically beget wars, not peace. We may witness a cessation of weaponry for a time, but a defeated people look for restoration and revenge. We have yet to see a nation defeated in war, a business defeated in a legal battle, or a playground bully beaten or punished whoever thanked God for enlightenment.

In short, there is no reasonable cause for war. Even a defensive war is only a response to an act of aggression. Torah seems to be teaching us that the late Marvin Gaye was right, “War is not the answer. Only love can conquer hate.” Torah teaches that “Love” is absolute. “Love your neighbor as yourself (presuming that you don’t appreciate experiencing abuse).” (Leviticus 19) “Love God with all one’s heart, soul, and being.” (Deuteronomy 6) the New Testament expands the thought to be more concrete, “Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor … Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12) From the Quran, we learn, “O mankind, have awe for your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women.” [Quran 4:1] We are all in this together.

Love cannot root in an agenda, or an expectation of a “quid-pro-quo” response. One loves because one does. We know that the more one does love, the more people learn to appreciate and emulate that behavior. Ultimately, the only war that is “above another,” is one that roots in a purer love than one has experienced before. The fewer the conditions placed on “love,” the louder it speaks. Wage the war of love with all your might. Ram Dass taught, “Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It’s not ‘I love you’ for this or that reason, not ‘I love you if you love me.’ It’s love for no reason, love without an object.”

Shabbat Shalom!