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The War on Terror

Friday, 13 September, 2019 - 1:12 pm

This week marked 18 years since the horrific attacks of 9/11.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the United States launched the “War on Terror.” The tactics of this military campaign have long been debated, as has the name itself. Do we wage a war against a tactic and a philosophy, or do we wage a war against enemies? Is the military-engagement-with-no-end-in-sight a worthwhile endeavor? When and how do we win such a war?

Three presidents later, countless American and global sacrifices later and many political promises later – we have not resolved all these questions.

I don’t foray into politics, but I do believe that current events can help us think about our own lives and challenges. What can the “War on Terror” teach me about my life?

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Perhaps a look into this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, can shed some light.

The opening words of the parsha are, “When you go out to war on your enemies, the L-rd your G-d shall deliver them into your hands.”

At face value the Torah is offering the world’s best guarantee. Almighty G-d Himself assures the Jewish people of success in battle. But a deeper look at the wording also offers some insight into how we can attain such triumph. The Torah does away with the expected language of ‘When you go out to war with your enemies,’ instead opting for “When you go out to war on your enemies.” What does it mean to go to war on your enemies?

The Chassidic masters, quoting from the Talmud, help us understand this verse. “One who wrestles with a filthy person becomes dirtied, as well,” say the Sages. Would this suggest that we never engage in warfare? Rather, the Rebbes explain, we must never reduce ourselves to the level of our foes. We must always retain the higher ground. If we remain above them, we will triumph.

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This is sound advice to dealing with naysayers, scoffers and the pull of addictive, unhealthy social trends.

And, it’s also sound advice on how to deal with the enemy within. We each have an evil inclination. This animal inside us manifests itself in many ways, altering from person to person, from moment to moment, and from circumstance to circumstance.

We are often tempted to combat the doubts, urges and detrimental character traits with a hands-on approach. If I explore my doubts enough, I’ll figure out what’s at the core of my uneasiness. If I journey to the depths of my temptations, I’ll discover they aren’t as glamorous as advertised. If I concede to my addictions, I’ll eventually grow bored of them.

“No!” says the Torah. Getting into a wrestling match with my own demons is not productive. It’s a path littered with moral hazards; it’s a spiritual minefield. Even if I eventually survive, the collateral damage is virtually guaranteed to impede my growth.

Instead, I should be waging a war on my enemies. To the tweets that ridicule my Jewish rituals, to the voice inside that whispers intimidation at keeping kosher, to the culture that frowns on my respect for elders, to the laziness I feel when I need to study Torah and to the lure offered by wonderful neighbors of other faiths – I ought to have the same frame of mind. They are not me. If I wrestle with them, in some form or another they have already become me.

An enemy doesn’t need to be hostile. It just needs to be something that throws me off track. If it distracts from my true identity, if it impedes my calling – it’s already sullied my soul.

We can debate the “War” part or the “Terror” part. But, one thing is indeed accurate: It’s a War ON Terror, not simply against Terror. The moment it becomes a war AGAINST terror, we have already lost.

Comments on: The War on Terror
9/16/2019

Don Grayson wrote...

Thank you for a very insightful blog about the war on terror and the distinction between waging war on vs. against your enemies. The Parshah lesson and it’s many links was chock full of wisdom. I remain moved by the story of false accusations - The First Rothschild.