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Lessons from Purim and Torah Leaders.

Written by שי טחן, 13/3/2024


Strategies for Survival: Lessons from Purim and Torah Leaders.

Rabbi Shay Tahan


We have previously discussed the difference between Chanukah, where the Maccabees took up arms to defend their sovereignty, and Purim, where the Jews relied on prayer without engaging in physical defense. Today, we will delve into that topic again,IY”H.

While almost every sensible Jew supports the war against the terrorists and enemies, conflicting statements in Chazal require clarification for a clear understanding of the Torah's approach.


The Importance of Non-Resistance Against Aggressors.

Chazal(תנחומא ויצא ה’)  tell us that during hard times of crisis, when a vicious enemy tries to harm us, we should not fight in the heat of the moment. Instead, we should let the situation be, and eventually, it will pass. However, those who stand against them and fight often end up being defeated. There are numerous examples in history, some of fighting and some of not fighting enemies, which clearly demonstrate that whenever we fought an enemy or stood against them, we were bitterly defeated. Conversely, whenever we chose to shy away or avoid direct conflict, we were able to survive.  While fighting and standing against them often brings devastating results, using methods of hiding or escaping usually saves the person.

The prophet cried out: "Come, my people, enter into thy chambers … hide yourself for a little moment" (ישעיה כו, כ). Hashem declared: I told you to restrain yourselves and to surrender to the conditions that prevail at the moment.

Midrash(מדרש תנחומא ויחי סימן ה’)  brings few examples from Tanach (מלכים א כא):

Navot owned a vineyard next to King Ach'av's palace. Ach'av wanted Navot's vineyard to expand his own property and offered to buy it or exchange it for another vineyard. However, Navot refused because the land had been passed down to him from his ancestors and he did not want to give it up.

Ach'av was deeply upset by Navot's refusal and went home in a sulking and depressed mood. His wife, Queen Izevel, saw his distress and asked him what was wrong. When Ach'av explained the situation with Navot's vineyard, Izevel took matters into her own hands. She forged letters in Ach'av's name, ordering the leaders of Navot's city to falsely accuse Navot of cursing Hashem and the king. This led to Navot being stoned to death, and Izevel told Ach'av that he could now take possession of the vineyard.

From here, we see the devastating results of Navot's refusal to compromise (when Ach’av demanded his land), and so it is written about him: "Navot was stoned, and is dead".

Mordecai, in refusing to bow down to Haman, chose not to temporize or compromise his beliefs. This defiance nearly led to the destruction of the nation of Israel, as Haman sought to annihilate the Jewish people in response.

On the other hand, David fled and escaped from Shaul, and he also fled from Avshalom his son.

King Shaul sought to kill David, who was anointed as the next king of Israel. David, rather than fight against Shaul, chose to flee and avoid direct confrontation, as he respected Shaul's position as king. Later, when David's own son Avshalom rebelled against him and sought to take the throne, David again chose to flee in order to avoid a bloody conflict within his own family. These instances demonstrate David's wisdom in avoiding unnecessary confrontation and preserving life.

Avraham relied upon Sarah when he was at risk of being killed and asked her to say she was his sister to save himself. Yitschak demeaned himself before Esav, as is said: "And Yitschak loved Esav" (בראשית כה, כח). Similarly, Yaakov fled from Esav, as it is said: "Yaakov fled into the field of Aram" (הושע יב, יג).

Moshe did likewise, as it is said: "He fled from Pharaoh" (שמות ב, טו).

This approach was taught by our sages, who demonstrated how one should handle times when a wicked person harasses you. They've learned this from the story of Rabbi Akiva, who recounted an incident where his boat capsized, and he found himself in the sea, struggling for his life not to drown. In this desperate moment, he managed to grab onto a wooden board to stay afloat. However, the constant high waves still threatened his life. Rabbi Akiva found a way to survive by lowering his head under the water, allowing the waves to pass over him safely. This clever and resourceful act saved his life amidst the perilous sea.

The Gemara concludes by saying that we learn from this that whenever wicked people come to harass you, you should follow Rabbi Akiva's example and lower your head, not standing against them directly. This is the method of survival.

Our sages and rabbis throughout the generations have always warned to behave in such a way: to accept the exile until Hashem redeems us and not to fight back against the oppressors.

The holy Chafetz Chaim writes on the pasuk: "אל תתגרו בם" (דברים ב, ה). The Midrash says: "If you see Esav, seeking to provoke you, do not stand against him, but hide yourselves from him.

"The Torah teaches us not to confront the nations even when they provoke us. We should follow in the footsteps of our father Jacob in his battle with his brother Esav. As the Ramban explained in Parshat Vayishlach, there is an allusion here for all generations: everything that happened to our father with his brother Esav will always happen to us with the descendants of Esav. It is fitting for us to follow the path of the righteous, preparing ourselves for the three things he prepared himself for: prayer, charity, and escape through war, to flee and escape, etc.

"And behold, as long as we have followed this subjugation Hashem have saved us from their hands. But since we have strayed from our path and adopted new ways, abandoning the weapon of our father and grasping the weapon of our enemies, we have walked haltingly and found many evils and troubles."

There are many more examples of the same, and therefore the obvious conclusion should be that whenever we are terrorized by neighboring terrorists, we should not respond but rather maintain silence, as responding can only worsen the situation.


Standing Up to Defend Our Sovereignty and Dignity.

On the other hand, we have exactly opposite instructions as the Torah divides Jewish wars into two parts: a voluntary war, a mitzvah war which is an obligated war. A voluntary war is to expand our borders, while mitzvah wars are those we were commanded to wage when we conquered the land of Israel and the war against Amalek. Also, war against an enemy that comes to attack us is considered a mitzvah. This is written in the Torah(פרשת שופטים)  and the Rambam(הלכות מלכים פרק ה’)  expounds on it. Now, how can there be a mitzvah or even voluntary war when the correct approach according to the sources we mentioned above is to be submissive and surrender to our enemies' aggression?

Add to that an open and clear halacha(שולחן ערוך סימן שכט ס״ו)  that when there is a possible attack on a Jewish establishment such as a city or village, we must violate the Shabbat and go help them defeat the enemy. Again, we see that the Torah obligates us to stand against those who come to fight us.

We all familiar that Yaakov Avinu prepared for three things before meeting Esav, one of which was to prepare for war(רמב״ן וישלח לב, ט) . Surprisingly Chazal did not rebuke him for this, unlike other leaders such as Mordecai as mentioned before. On the contrary, our sages said that we should learn from Yaakov's way of preparing when meeting an adversary. What's the difference?


Assessing the Situation and Acting Accordingly.

The obvious answer is that we always have to assess our abilities. In a place where we are few and fighting back will only bring more harassment and aggression, of course, we should avoid doing so and 'swallow the bullet.' But once we are able to defeat the enemy, we must do so. To better explain this, we need to differentiate between when we were in exile, where we didn't have the capabilities to fight back since we were few and defenseless; then we must surrender and save whatever we can. However, whenever we have our own country and an army, we must not allow others to threaten our existence and sovereignty, lest we be repeatedly attacked.

We find this very same idea in the Gemara(מגילה ו, ב)  which discusses two contradictory statements. In one statement it says in the name of Rabbi Yitzhak: "If you see a wicked man whom the hour is smiling upon, i.e., who is powerful and victorious, do not provoke him, as it is stated: 'Contend not with evildoers' (תהלים לז). And not only that, but if you provoke him, his undertakings will be successful, as it is stated: 'His ways prosper at all times(תהלים י) .'"

On the other hand, Rabbi Yochanan said: "It is permitted to provoke the wicked in this world, as it is stated(משלי כח) : 'They that forsake the Torah praise the wicked; but they who keep the Torah contend with them.'"

After suggesting a couple of answers, the Gemara concludes that there is a difference: when a wicked person has fortune on their side and is powerful, one should not fight them to avoid being defeated. However, if a wicked person is not favored by fortune and is vulnerable, then we should confront them for their cruelty.

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