Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The fear of war

Summary: What is so terrible about a right of passage?

Post: On a pasuk in Bechukosai, Rashi comments (citing the Sifra):

6. And I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten [you]; I will remove wild beasts from the Land, and no army will pass through your land;ו. וְנָתַתִּי שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ וּשְׁכַבְתֶּם וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד וְהִשְׁבַּתִּי חַיָּה רָעָה מִן הָאָרֶץ וְחֶרֶב לֹא תַעֲבֹר בְּאַרְצְכֶם:

and no army will pass through your land: It is unnecessary to state that they will not come to wage war, but [they will not come] even to pass through your land from one country to another. — [Torath Kohanim 26:9]וחרב לא תעבר בארצכם: אין צריך לומר שלא יבאו למלחמה, אלא אפילו לעבור דרך ארצכם ממדינה למדינה:

Revach notes a dvar Torah from Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz:
In the Brachos, the Torah promises us that when we keep the Torah and Mitzvos, "V'Cherev Lo Sa'avor B'Artzichem; No sword will pass through your land." (Bichukosai 26:6)   Rashi says, "Even a friendly army will not travel through Eretz Yisrael to fight someone else."  What is so terrible with giving a right of passage through our land?  Isn't that what we requested of the nations surrounding Eretz Yisrael when we were in the Midbar?

Rav Yehonoson Eibushitz explains that even a friendly army is quite threatening looking.  The sight of them would keep us on the path of Torah and mitzvos, lest we face an enemy like the one we see.  Then. we would do mitzvos out of Yirah or fear rather than Ahava or love.  Hashem promises us that He will let us serve Him with love, peacefully, without tainting our minds with frightful visions and lowering our level of avoda from ahava to yirah.
It is a nice derasha, but I don't think that it is really peshat in the midrash. Rather, more straightforwardly, no country really wants another country traipsing through their country. Even the Bnei Yisrael had difficulty in the midbar, with various countries refusing passage -- even when they offered to pay for their water and keep to the main road!

And to be able to refuse passage to another country, even a super-power, demonstrates sovereignty. No one can force you to allow their army to pass through. If you can make such a refusal, then your country is not just safe, but secure and militarily powerful. This is what King Yoshiyahu tried to do, but his country was not mighty enough, either from a military perspective or, as the midrash notes, from a zechus perspective.

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