Tuesday, July 26, 2011

the mitzvah of not surrounding the enemy

1. The Sifri darshens that when Bnei Yisrael waged war on Midyan they were told to not surround the Midyanim, but to leave one side open for escape. A surrounded enemy is a hopeless enemy and a far more dangerous enemy – the Torah doesn’t want us to wage war this way. Ramban counts the command to fight in this way, “Vayitzbe’u al Midyan,” as separate mitzvas aseh; Rambam does not. Meshech Chochma explains that the Rambam held that this din is just a detail that falls under the broader mitzvah category of waging milchemes mitzvah.

Yesterday we discussed the chiddush of the Rogatchover that the battle against Midyan was not technically a milchama, but rather was an act of nekama. Perhaps the machlokes Rambam/Ramban hinges on that chakira. Rambam's view (as understood by the Meshech Chocma) makes sense if one assumes the battle with Midyan was a war like any other war, and therefore falls under the umbrella of milchemes mitzvah. Ramban may have disagreed because he understood the fight with Midyan as nekama, a distinct and separate category from normal warfare.

(It is still a bit difficult according to Ramban why the mitzvah given in the context of nekama should apply to other war situations as well. It seems Ramban understood that the mitzvah relates to the act of fighting, irrespective of whether that act takes place in the context of nekama or milchama.)

2. Rav Shteinman in his sefer on chumash raises the question (link) of whether a bracha was recited over killing the men of Midyan (or over killing Amalek). It sounds from his wording that his safeik was only with regard to the killing of Midyanites in particular, which he compares to misas Beis Din, but not to war in general. Again this reinforces the notion that the parsha of nekama is a unique category.


  1. great unknown7:19 PM

    Thank you for the R' Shteinman reference. It implies that Beis Din made a brocho on an execution, although I would have to see it inside to be sure, if I can ever get a copy of the sefer. I always assumed this to be true.

  2. I linked to the sefer (the whole thing is here http://hebrewbooks.org/19897). He quotes a Rashba in the teshuvos that B"D did *not* say a bracha on executions because Hashem has rachmanus and doesn't desires misa. The question is whether the same is true when it comes to killing an aku"m. Even though we find Hashem did have rachmanus on places like Ninveh, it could be it is different when there is a tzivuy to kill them.

  3. great unknown8:51 PM

    I was afraid of that: the quoted Teshuva of the Rashba is not by the Rashba, but by R'Y ibn Pelet. See the Machon Yerushalaim edition, first footnote on that tshuva, where the son of the Rashba is quoted as saying that there is no rhyme or reason for why certain mitzvot have berachot and others not - and that that is the opinion of his father.

  4. Maybe according to Reb Elazar ben Azaria in Makkos 7a they should make a שהחיינו.

  5. Anonymous1:35 PM

    ...maybe according to Reb Yehoshua
    ben Levi in Kidushin 31a, we
    shouldn't surround the enemy, as
    we shouldn't walk erect-- only He,
    His Kavod, shall dominate ha'aretz/space...

    ("ufaratzta" in all 4 directions? [assuming both emergence across space & convergence in space equally evince domination] yes, but only after the pasuk says
    "ka'afar ha'aretz"...so
    cover/surround our enemies ka'afar [Operation Duststorm]? the Torah
    was given before the advent of
    chemical warfare, when soldiers were fierce fighters, not dustspecks that could boil [or be boiled; see Seuss, & Horton there]; & were Yaacov's descendents not proud Israelites
    [more than spreading dust]? away from war, not simply so [see Kid. 31a, & Reb Yehoshua, there], in approach to battle, "Vayitzbe'u")

  6. Anonymous11:14 PM

    (can we leave those hollowing words, that amalekian phrase, "no rhyme or reason", simply hanging, great unknown? what of siyata d'shmaya for our lawmakers, of "sod Hashem li'reiav, u'vriso l'hodiam"? what of a pattern that's yet to be detected by sensitive or inspired attention?)

  7. Yes, great unknown, shame on you for not realizing that there is meaning here that, as Reb Shlomo Carlebach used to say, "It's so deep, you know, it's beyond words...."

  8. great unknown10:14 AM

    Indeed, I hang my head in shame as I join, ignominiously, R' Yehuda the son of the Rashba who quotes his father as saying
    דהנחו כללי דכיילי על איזו מצוה חייב
    לברך ועל איזו מצוה פטור
    כולם הם אבני תוהו על אבני בוהו

    If only the Rashba had been familiar with the torah of Reb Shlomo, how different history would have been.

  9. When I was in NIRC, the Rosh Yeshiva was upset about a recently printed sefer by the Meiri, in which he complains that the Talmidei Haramban had come to town, escaping some people that wanted to kill them or convert them, and they totally ignored the psokim of the Meiri, because they, of course, were REAL bnei torah. One of the things they did that drove him crazy was that they used to play musical instruments at Kabbalas Shabbos. Now, obviously, they did not have the Kabbalas Shabbos we have, but whatever it was that they did then, they did it to music.

    Well, what can you do. Sometimes, the most sweet holy knowledge is the saddest thing in the world, you know?

    But as it happens, the Rashba you bring does not support you. All he says is that the purported rules are bubbeh maisehs. He doesn't say that no rule exists, just that nobody has come close to defining it. This, of course, is in response to all the Rishonim that have exhaustive rules for the nusach of brachos.

  10. great unknown11:16 AM

    The continuation of the Rashba, that we only make a brocho when there is a mesorah to do so, implies that it is useless to attempt to determine a rule. For a rishon to say this is tantamount to saying that there is no rhyme nor reason. "Rhyme and reason" to mean rational at the level of human understanding.

    BTW, the part of the Tshuvos HaMeiri that Rav Ruderman zt"l worked to assiduously to suppress was precisely that concerning playing music during kabbolas Shabbos. After shkia. Based on the Rabbeinu Tam. [available on hebrewbooks.org, naturally]

    There is another tshuva where the talmidei haRamban introduced the Meiri to the saying of El Melech Ne'eman prior to krias shma. Interesting how what is now common practice was once considered strange in some circles.

    Sort of like searching out the mitzva of shilu'ach haKain.

  11. great unknown11:50 AM

    For some reason, this thread reminds me of when a high-school history teacher at a yeshiva asked me how to deal with a particular student. On a test question asking for the reasons for the French Revolution, the student answered, "Because that's what Hashem wanted." I advised him to give the student an F, and when the student would come to ask him why, he should answer, "Because that's what Hashem wanted."

    One opinion in the gemoro says that there are no ta'amei hamitzvot. They are all chukim. Does that mean that Hashem created the mitzvot with a random-number generator? Obviously not. Even Parah Adumah has a reason...but not necessarily one comprehensible by any human being or any creature. Perhaps Moshe Rabbeinu finally grasped such a reason on his dying, perhaps not; there is a machlokes regarding that. But I am comfortable saying that for the Parah Adumah, there is no "rhyme or reason."

  12. great unknown11:55 AM

    I retract my argument from the previous comment: perhaps Hashem did generate the mitzvot with a random-number generator. That is not my business, and should make no difference in my ma'asei haMitzvot.
    In fact, the creation of the mitzvot may have consequently created their reasons.
    I once saw a beautiful vort that by commanding "Lo Sig'zol" Hashem created the concepts of property and theft.

  13. Coincidentally I just saw on Parshas Masei that exact discussion- about how the enactment of mitzvos created the circumstances that allow them expression, like putting skin on an armature. It's either in the Shulchan Gavoah or the Sholol Rov or the Lekach Tov.

  14. Anonymous2:09 PM

    "...shehakol bara li'chvodo"

    would a random-number generator
    reflect His Glory?

    "as it happens" (comment 9),
    "Coincidentally" (13)--
    these too have been flagged by The
    Monitoring Committee of The Society
    for the Extirpation of Amalekian
    Diction, Ir Ha'Arim, Israel

    our host, Rav Chaim, may he forgive
    these digressions...

  15. >>>In fact, the creation of the mitzvot may have consequently created their reasons.

    Yesh lachkor whether Hashem is like a melech whose decree makes something legal or illegal, or is Hashem like a doctor who guides us to do that which is inherently right and good for us.
    Old question that the Shiurei Da'as has a nice essay on.http://divreichaim.blogspot.com/2006/09/eishet-yefat-toar-nature-of-halachic.html

  16. Anonymous2:13 AM

    to attempt an alternate version of
    comment 5 above (now that the dust
    has settled)-- the Israelites
    could spread forcefully in all 4 directions, as long as their heads were slightly bowed ("according to" R. Yehoshua ben Levi); but Israelite soldiers, when set to squeeze a target, stand strong & tall, so must yield one side of space to restore proper deferential shrinkage lifnei Hashem Tzvaos, "whose glory fills the earth" (R. Yehoshua's citation, Kid. 31a)