In this week’s Parsha, we read something very peculiar. If there is a city, Ir Hanidachas – in which all profess to be idol-worshippers, it’s a commandment in the Torah to wipe out the city. Can the Torah actually mean to kill them? WOW, to kill a fellow Jew!! Yes. One is required to burn the city and destroy the inhabitants and the property as well. The peculiarity continues further: “I will instill in you mercy to those who have followed this commandment.” It seems like G-d is giving them a special bracha for this action, a special protection. Why does the person doing G-d’s commandment of destroying the city need a special bracha of the attribute of mercy?
Rabbi Baruch Dopelt who quotes the Or Hachaim Hakadosh says that when one goes to war, he presumably needs to use the attribute of din – justice – to perform his duties. What tends to happen is that human nature will gravitate more and more, deeper into extreme justice. In other words, he might go overboard. The monster will come out. Dr. Goldman, the Psychologist at the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, says the external brings out, wakes up, the internal. The act of war manifests cruelty.
We have the potential to develop an array of characters within us and through our experience, though sometimes at no fault of ours, strengthens a good or bad character. For example, the character of kindness, a virtue of our forefather, Abraham, was developed to a level where no man has gone there before. By physically bringing in guests, he strengthened the character of kindness within his heart. On the other hand, war is an environment where one can lose his humanity. He can turn into a savage beast. Even children can become savages. Does anybody remember the Lord of the Flies?
A cruel person is called an ACH-ZAR. If one notices, ACH means brother and ZAR means stranger. In other words, he acts like a stranger to his brothers. Dr. Goldman says this is an accurate definition of a cruel person because a cruel person’s compassion, which is the opposite of cruelty, is misguided. The Nazis showed great love and compassion to their dogs; however tortured and killed, in the most inhumane way, people.
People approached the great Rabbi, Reb Moshe Feinstein, many years ago, whether to boycott German products. He said no. Reb Moshe said the potential of cruelty is in everybody. It all depends on the leader. Their character manifests and magnifies itself on the whole nation.
We have to be careful in the friends we choose; same goes with the neighborhood. It’s not the George’s house with the jacuzzi; however, more important, the neighbors surrounding it. School and jobs are important too. It’s the characters we encounter daily, that have an influence on us. It rubs off; something is in the air. So we have to be careful with negative characters that could penetrate and filter in.
King David was prohibited to build the Holy Temple. The Temple represents peace. David was in many wars where cruelty was prevalent. Perhaps some of that war stuff rubbed off.
We see a special bracha was needed to preserve and sanctify G-d’s name. When these soldiers went to destroy Ear Hanidachas -city of idol-worshippers, they will be protected by a special bracha of preventing the cruelty to escalate. This is against human nature and indeed a miracle.