By Rabbi Berel Wein
In this week’s parsha, the Torah portrays for us an accurate and unforgiving view of war and its personal consequences. No one who participates in a war escapes unscathed. The ones who are killed or wounded have suffered physically, but even those who have survived the battle whole are still affected.
That is the supremely important, albeit sublimina,l message of the beginning of this week’s parsha. A Jewish soldier, a God-fearing patriotic and observant person who, according to the ritual requirements of becoming such a soldier and being accepted for the battle as outlined in last week’s parsha, somehow enters into a sexual relationship with a non-Jewish woman, a relationship which Rashi points out to us will only bring him future grief and regret.
The heat and passions that war and combat engender within a person cannot be limited to the actual battlefield alone. They are carried within the psyche and body of the combatant and find different ways of expression in all other areas of human life and experience.
The observant Jew, who under ordinary and usual non-combat circumstances, is scrupulously pious and moral in one’s behavior, now becomes a sexual predator and enters into a physical relationship with a non-Jewish stranger. Is this not the strongest message possible that the Torah wishes to communicate to us about the consequences and effects of war!?
War requires the abandonment of personal inhibitions. That will help explain the scenario portrayed for us as this week’s Torah reading begins. Without inhibitions there can be no morality or piety.
But as all of us living here in Israel are well aware of, war is a constant state of affairs in our national and personal life. The Jewish people have been at war here in the Land of Israel for almost all of the years of the past century. These wars may not be of our choosing or our initiative but they are omnipresent in our lives.
And because of this difficult state of affairs, Israeli society has been affected and even shaped by the presence of constant combat and warfare. Much of the rough spots that still exist in our society – the divisiveness, the absence of mannered courtesy, the unnecessary assertiveness, etc. – are all consequences of our being in a constant state of war. Piety is hard to maintain under such conditions.
Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is a state of mind that induces tranquility, rationality and all around general goodness. That is why peace is so exalted in the works of the prophets and throughout the Talmud and Jewish tradition. And that is why we pray three times daily that its presence should be felt amongst us. With peace – both inner and outer – such events as portrayed for us at the beginning of this week’s parsha simply do not occur.
There is no people that longs for peace more than the people of Israel. May the Lord somehow bless us with the achievement of peace and restore us to normalcy, piety and eternal goodness.
Originally appears on RabbiWein.com