A Perpetual State of War?

Friday, 1 December, 2023 - 8:39 am

Our hearts are split. We are joyous for the hostages that have been able to reunite with their families. And, we are heartbroken for those that are still in the hands of terrorists.

Alas, the war between Israel and barbaric Hamas continues.

How do we ensure that good prevails over evil?


In this week’s parsha Vayishlach, Yaakov meets up with his brother Eisav for the first time in over three decades. Eisav had pledged to murder Yaakov, causing him to flee.  His pledge was not simply bombastic rhetoric. He backed it up with action, sending his son Eliphaz to pursue Yaakov.  Many years later – with no upgrade in the relationship – Yaakov was heading back to Israel.

The report was not encouraging: Eisav was heading his way with 400 armed men. The blood-hungry Eisav had not changed.

What did Yaakov do?

The Torah informs of three steps that Yaakov took:

1)     He prayed to the Almighty.

2)     He prepared for war.

3)     He sent gifts to Eisav to appease him.

Ultimately, Yaakov and Eisav met briefly. They embraced and parted ways, never in their lives to meet again. The commentaries differ on Eisav’s intent at the moment he encountered Yaakov. But what’s clear is that – other than perhaps this moment – Eisav and Yaakov were in a constant state of war.


The mystics describe the struggle between Yaakov and Eisav as the cosmic struggle between good and evil.  How do we ensure the victory of good over evil?

The key to resolving the conflict between right and wrong lies in our approach and attitude. Evil is here for a reason – a challenge for us to overcome. 

Tonight marks the Chassidic New Year. Chassid teachings emphasize the need to seek the spiritual backbone to physical reality. By focusing on the spiritual battle between good and evil, we can glean lessons for the unfortunate realities of warfare.

Our duty is – as the upcoming festival Chanukah teaches – to transform darkness into light.  Overconfidence in dealing with evil is misplaced, however. At the end of the day, the terrain is awfully dangerous. But it is nonetheless our mission: our job is to uplift the material world by infusing it with holiness.  We do this by saying a blessing on kosher food; sharing with our neighbor; inscribing the Shema on a piece of parchment and affixing it to our doorposts.

Yaakov set the tone for how to deal with evil in our world:

1.      Prayer: Recognize that we depend on a Partner above.  He is here to encourage and assist us when we do our part.

2.      Warfare: Recognize that there is an enemy.  Hopefully, fighting will not be necessary. But we must always be on guard, lest we stumble in this truly hazardous environment. If necessary we will fight the darkness around us.

3.      Diplomacy: Recognize that the challenge is really an opportunity.  G-d would not put us in a world that we cannot fix. By fulfilling our mission, the spiritually perilous world will become a perfect one.

Following the Torah’s advice we can maintain the upper hand in a confusing and trying world.


If we are looking for advice in the Torah, it is clear:

To maintain the upper hand with a proven enemy like Hamas and with the concerning rise in Antisemitism, it is in Israel’s best interest to turn to Hashem, defend itself to the utmost, and try its best to resolve conflicts peacefully.  Jews don’t seek death. But, Yaakov teaches us that we will never willfully allow others to bring death upon us either.

Throughout our history, we have artfully adopted all of these methods. Absent even one of them, we would not be here today.

War without diplomatic overtures may be unnecessary. Diplomacy without the real threat of war is treacherously foolish. And either of them without help from Above are destined to fail.

Let us pray that we suffice with spiritual warfare and do away with the need for physical combat.

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