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Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on July 24, 2020

We are a week away from the darkest day in Jewish history. Every year we hope it will be the last, but despite our hopes, it appears to be back and stronger than ever this year. Apart from the worldwide pandemic, the Jewish security situation in many parts of the world is as precarious as ever.  We don’t believe the situation is random.  If things are chaotic in the world that means something is chaotic inside of us. What are we missing that we can’t get right year in and year out?  A hint in this week’s parsha may give us an insight into what is missing.


              Moses spends the first part of book five recounting the conquests that had transpired so far around the boundaries of Israel.  As he does so, he notes that G-d had told him to go to war with a certain nation.  Two verses later, Moses says that he sent this nation messengers to make peace.  This is perplexing- why did Moshe seem to disregard the command of Hashem to go to war and try to make peace to no avail?


              The Midrash notes this aberration and says something astonishing. G-d was very happy that Moshe didn’t listen to his command like an automaton.  Moses thought to himself and realized that while G-d told him to go to war with said nation, this was from G-d’s omnipotent place that knew that peace wouldn’t work. But as a human being, who doesn’t know where overtures of peace may lead, Moshe understood, that peace always come first.  We need to do our part to bring unity, even if the chances are low that it will work.   In other words, G-d’s command reflected reality, but our job as human beings is to seek to go beyond realism and strive for idealism.  Striving for peace infuses the world with the necessary idealism to make it greater.


              The Talmud, unrelated to this story of Moses, says that Jerusalem was destroyed because the judges in Jerusalem ruled meticulously according to the letter of the law and never went beyond that.  They didn’t understand what Moses understood that at times we need to seek out solutions beyond the letter of the law.  G-d’s revealed word may reflect the reality, but there are times to seek out a more idealistic position that is in accordance with how we wish the world could be, rather than the way it is. Only when that fails do we default back into what we need to do given our reality.