Sunday, September 11, 2011

war, the beautiful woman, rebellious son and the greater Jihad (Post II, 9/11 Ki Tetze)

(Following on from and substantially reworked version of the post

Today, 11 September is a time to reflect on tragedy, war, prejudice, spirituality and prevention.

As mentioned in a previous post, the 10th anniversary of this indiscriminate brutal murderous act belongs first to the victims and their families. It is also a time to bear in mind the death of a huge number of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Along with care and assistance to the victims of 9/11 attacks, it is worth considering our guidance relating to asylum seekers in times of war[i], “Do not turn over an (escaped slave[ii]) to his master, who is rescued from his master to you. He shall dwell with you in your midst, in the place that he will choose in one or your gates, which is good for him…[iii]”.  This needs to be weighed up against the calls to “stop the boats”.

Ravages of War
The Torah is clearly not a tradition of pacifism. It asserts that there are some people who must be fought such as Amalek who attack the vulnerable, the stragglers and the tired[iv].  Yet, its discussion of war shows an awareness of its ravages, even of the spirit of the victors.

Despite Torah’s insistence on morality even in war expressed in the demand that “your camp be holy[v]”, it swallows a bitter pill when it accommodates the evil urge[vi] and lust of some soldiers. It tells the soldier who sees a woman of beautiful form[vii] among the captives that she will be permitted to him if he follows a set of procedures[viii]. She is to be brought into his home for a month and cry over her family and/or gods[ix], her head shaven, her decorated nails cut. This process cannot be carried out in another house[x], she must be seen by the soldier every day when he comes and goes[xi]. It is hoped that while initially the confidence that he will eventually be allowed to indulge[xii] will enable the soldier to delay gratification, eventually being confronted with this scene will enable him to call it off entirely when the excitement wears off.

If in spite of all this, they get married, there is a danger that in the end he will hate her and children born from this union will be rebellious as hinted at in the sequence of laws[xiii]. King David is said to have married such a beautiful woman named Maachah[xiv] who gave birth to Absalom who led a violent rebellion against his father. 

While not a prohibition of war, then a least a warning of some the devastation it causes.

We are told twice in the Torah to help a person struggling with a donkey, first we are told about a case with your enemy[xv], the second time we told about helping a brother[xvi]. This is interpreted as reflecting the truth that by working together we can turn an “enemy” into a brother. This will not always work, there are people for whom the blood of the others is of little consequence, these people need to be contained and fought. 

Yet there are others who can be reached and improved through education and habit forming choices starting with ourselves. At first we might see the needs of another such as a lost object and be tempted to look away, but after forcing ourselves to do the right things a few times “you will not be able to look away[xvii]”. What is needed is engagement between communities but also an internal effort within individuals as well as faith communities to prioritise our hopes over our fears[xviii].

The Inner Struggle
The word Jihad burst into the consciousness of western world, at that point. For me, the word Jihad has come to mean something entirely different. In the 10 years since 9/11 I have made countless friends among the Muslim community. I have learned the idea of “the greater Jihad”, the battle with Evil within[xix]. When the Torah talks about war, it mentions enemies plural, one a physical enemy, the other the “inner oppressor and enemy, the Satan the evil inclination[xx]. If enough people of all backgrounds, can succeed with the greater Jihad, the lesser one of violent conflict will be less likely. 

This struggle will not turn us into angels, (in spite the ideal of complete eradication of evil[xxi]). For most of us, our challenge is not to become something entirely different[xxii] but simply to be human, half animal, half divine and to make good choices. These involve the ability to distinguish between ends and means, and no matter how pure and holy one’s cause, never to fall into the ugly place in which all the “others” are monsters are fair game and deserve to die because they are part of the dark side.

The stakes are high. Our portion talks about a rebellious child who can be put to death at his parent’s discretion if he disobeys them[xxiii] and he is a drunk and a glutton. On a literal level this is a pre-emptive punishment because such a person will eventually commit more serious crimes[xxiv]. There is an argument in the Talmud that the idea of the rebellious son is only theoretical and can never happen[xxv], it is only so that people learn from it and recognise that a failure to educate a child combined with indulgent habits and choices can lead to horrific outcomes and therefore intervene early[xxvi]. 

For me 9/11 is about the need to stand up to evil, not to be tolerant of small acts of violence which can lead to even greater violence. At the same time each of us must struggle with the evil inside of us, the temptation to paint our own as the good and see the other as collectively evil and deserving of destruction. May the victims of this tragedy not have died in vain, may bigotry and violence be removed from the face of the earth.

[i] Seforno
[ii] Unkeloos translation, first interpretation brought in Rashi
[iii] Deuteronomy 23:16-17
[iv] Deuteronomy 25:17
[v] Deuteronomy 23:15
[vi] Talmud Kiddushin 21b
[vii] Deuteronomy 21:10
[viii] There is a dispute among Talmudic sages (See Tosafot Kiddushin 22a) in the Jerusalem Talmud, and between Maimonides in Laws of War, and Rabbenu Tam in the Tosafot, who believe the soldier is permitted to be intimate with her just once before the procedure, while Rashi, Daat Zekainim Baalei Tosafot, Bchor Shor and Ramban take the view that there are to be no relations until after the process of a month or mourning etc. leading to marriage
[ix] Ramban
[x] Meam Loez
[xi] Rashi
[xii] See Tosafot Kiddushin 22a, explains this as the effect of “having bread in one’s basket”, stills hunger.
[xiii] Rashi, explaining the sequence of the case of the beautiful woman 21:10-14, followed by the hated wife in 21:15-17 and the rebellious son in 21:18-21
[xiv] Talmud, Sanhedrin 21a
[xv] Ex. 23:5
[xvi] Deuteronomy22:4
[xvii] Alshich, a creative interpretation of Deuteronomy 22:1-3 quoted in Leibowitz, N Studies in Devarim,.
[xviii] Mohamed Dukuly, explained to me in a phone conversation
[xix] I am grateful to those in Governments who take responsibility for protecting the community from violence, as long as they approach it ethically. With the physical security being attended to, I am free to focus on the beautiful meaning of the word Jihad, the spiritual struggle against Evil.
[xx] Klei Yakar
[xxi] Tanya Chapter 1, regarding the work of the Tzadik
[xxii] Tanya, part 1
[xxiii] Deuteronomy 21:18-21
[xxiv] Rashi
[xxv] Talmud Sanhedrin 71a
[xxvi] Nachshoni

No comments:

Post a Comment