Monday, July 25, 2011

the battle against Midyan: war or kinetic military nekama?

1. I have to thank Havolim for mentioning a beautiful sevara of the Rogatchover that I otherwise might have missed. The Rogatchover notes that the Torah characterizes the fight against Midyan as an act of nekama, not a war. Placing this battle in its own halachic category explains a number of its unique characteristics:

a) On Shabbos I saw the Taz quotes a Tzeror haMor who holds there was no heter to take a yefat to'ar during this war. Tos' (Shabbos 65, also quoted in the Da'as Zekeinim al haTorah) asks why the generals were concerned lest the soldiers had sinned with hirhurei avirah -- if actually taking a yefat to'ar in battle was permitted, how could hirhur of the same be prohibited? The Tzeror haMor's approach renders this question moot. Tosfos is forced to answer that the concern was for the women who were exceptions to the rule of yefat to'ar and could not be taken.

The Taz assumes that the Tzeror haMor held there was no heter of yefat to'ar for wars waged outside Eretz Yisrael and he marshals proof otherwise. However, based on the Rogatchover one could suggest a different justification for the Tzeror haMor’s view: the battle against Midyan was not a war, but rather was an act of nekama.

(Parenthetically, from a mussar perspective it makes perfect sense that there be no heter of yefat to'ar here. The troubles with Midyan started because of the enticement of znus -- would it make sense to allow the same situation to develop? On the other hand, chassidishe seforim argue just the opposite -- the reason the soldiers at first let the women live was to prove their ability to overcome the yetzer ha'ra that had previously possessed them and do teshuvah gemurah.)

b) Ramban asks why the Torah teaches the halachos of kashering and toiveling only after the war with Midyan and not earlier, after the wars against Sichon v'Og. He answers by quoting the gemara in Chulin (17) that katli d'chaziri was permitted during wars of kibush v'chiluk -- chazir was allowed to be eaten during the wars of conquest of Eretz Yisrael. The wars against Sichon v'Og were wars of conquest, for the purpose of obtaining territory; the war against Midyan was not. Based on the Rogatchover, one can draw an even sharper distinction -- the war against Midyan wasn't a war at all.

Current events sheds some light on why some people are averse to the use (or overuse) of lomdus like this. Does calling something a "kinetic military action" (Pres. Obama's description of what we are doing in Libya) make it any less of a war than it otherwise would be? Does calling a battle an act of nekama instead of milchama change reality? Does a rose by any other name.... I love lomdus like this, but I can see why it would drive some people crazy.

2) M'inyan l'inyan -- Why did Reuvain and Gad wait until after the battle with Midyan to request that they be given the land of Sichon v'Og? Why didn't they make this request immediately after the defeat of Sichon and Og? Chasam Sofer answers that the assumption of Reuvain and Gad was that the land of Sichon v'Og was distinct from Eretz Yisrael. It was the halachic contrast between the war with Midyan and the war with Sichon v'Og which taught them otherwise. As Ramban explains, the war with Sichon v'Og was a war of kibbush; the war with Midyan was not. Once it became clear that the land of Sichon v'Og was included in the mitzvah of kibush ha'aretz, Reuvain and Gad reasoned that it is no worse than Eretz Yisrael proper from a nachala perspective.

3) Last week we touched on the question of why the generals did not step forward with their gifts to the Mishkan for the sake of a kapparah on hirhur immedately after the war ended -- why did they wait? Some of the meforshim explain that it was hearing the parsha of kasheing kelim which made them recognize the need for kapparah. A kli can be completely clean from ma'achalos asurus, yet it still needs to be kashered. It's not just mamashus of issur which is a problem, but it is also that which is absorbed, that which lies unseen below the surface, which is halachically dangerous. The generals realized that even if the army was innocent of any mamashus of aveirah, the thoughts that lurked below the surface might have a ta'am issur that needed kashering.


  1. great unknown10:17 PM

    According to the Rogotchover, how would you classify the "milchomo" against amalek? Actually, the question can be applied to the Ramban's approach also: would bacon be permitted during a milchomo against amalek?

    Looking forward to finding out hands on.

  2. Anonymous11:22 PM

    how could the "chassidishe seforim
    argue" thus??
    the soldiers would necessarily be fearful, at some level, of a second (& worse) plague for further znus; they couldn't isolate the yetzer ha'ra as the single factor to avoid (as it had been the single prompt to sin), so could never "do teshuvah gemurah" {& teshuvah itself would be added motive for Israeli restraint, motive missing during the original test}

    the midianite women, after the
    slaughter of their males, would hardly be as inclined to frolic for
    a 2nd-round, a difference further skewing any likening of the two contexts

  3. Thank you for the note. Eventually, I'll change the name of the blog so it won't be embarrassing to quote it.

    It's not just lomdus. As those of us that remember Vietnam can attest, this particular lomdus matters very much. The constitution gives the power to declare and fund wars, but almost every president since WW II has expanded presidential powers by creating new categories, such as Police Actions, which is based on Presidential power to repel attacks against the United States and to quell insurrections. Then, you have the theory that if you transfer decision making to an outside body, such as the Allies, or NATO, then you, the president, are not really conducting a war.

    My point is that these lomdishe chilukim often turn out to be astonishingly real.

  4. Anonymous1:29 AM

    what reason, beyond vengeance, had
    Hashem for telling Moshe to order an
    attack on midian? so that He could
    give him a very particular schar,
    & at the same time bring Moshe's
    personal history full-circle:
    one who does something which he is
    not commanded, receives less reward
    than he who is commanded (Rambam,
    talmud Torah, 1:13)-- when in
    chumash does Moshe first actively appear? in shemos 2:12, where he
    voluntarily kills the abusive
    egyptian, with-a-vengeance; & Moshe's last official act? Hashem
    Commands him to order the vengeful
    attack on midian, to die thereafter,
    bamidbar 31:2; Hashem has Moshe
    redeem the Hebrews, receive the
    Torah, lead the Chosen Nation,
    incidentally(!!!), to get him into
    position for the upgrade of his 1st
    recorded action!! only after that
    can the self-sacrificing, singular
    prophet say, b'eretz moav, mool beis
    p'or, alone with Hashem & the levelling wind, b'shvili nivra haolam...

  5. I skipped one important word. The Constitution gives Congress the exclusive power to declare and fund wars....

  6. Anonymous8:05 AM

    i dont get it. firstly, taam is kiikar, so if anything should be learnt from there, it should be may ikur hadin and not lfnim mshurat hadin. also, why does the hirhur need kaparah, machshavas not kmaaseh.

  7. Aharon1:32 PM

    1) Where is this Rogatchover found?
    2) This Ramban on Taanis 15a supports this mehalech as well
    ובפ' משוח מלחמה (סוטה מ"ג א') גבי מלחמת מדין דריש וחצוצרות התרועה בידו אלו השופרות, ולא ידעתי אם שלא דקדקו בלשונם או שאין חצוצרות אלא במלחמת אויבים הצרים עליהם בארץ כדכתיב בארצכם על הצר הצורר אתכם דלמה להם לפרש אלו השופרות אלא לכך.