Fight Like David: Thoughts on War

October 22, 2023

Terror attacks are, unfortunately, not something new to Israel. We experienced way too many just this year alone, even before the heinous attack by Hamas terrorists on October 7th. Every time an attack rocks our nation, we feel angry, we feel devastated and we wonder how much more we are going to have to endure.

Countering devastation with comfort and hatred with love, the Jewish community springs into action. After the murder of Lucy, Rina and Maia Dee hy”d, for example, people from all over Israel sent food, candy and love; people from all over the world reached out to the family and committed themselves to more Bible study and more faithful Torah observance. This is Israel’s true “cycle of violence”; evil Arab terrorists murder our children, and kindhearted Jews respond by showering the victims with love.

But what usually happens is that when the shiva (seven-day mourning period) ends, the government officials and Jewish celebrities who visited the bereaved family turn their attention elsewhere. The rest of us go back to our carpools and commutes, praying to never experience this cycle again – but knowing in our hearts that we almost certainly will. We tell ourselves that we must soldier on; what else can we do until the Messiah arrives?

Actually, there is much we can do, if only we have the will. Something we must do if we want to break this cycle, and now is the time for action!

Yes, we are broken, and yes, our hearts are filled with love and pain for all of Israel’s bereaved families and those whose loved ones are still missing. But we are also angry. No, it’s beyond anger; we are furious.

We want all of the vile jihadists who murdered 1,400 innocent Israelis to die – and quickly. The people who aided and abetted the terrorists, who gave them support and shelter? We want them to feel the iron fist of the people of Israel. And the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who applauded this sick, evil murder? We yearn for the day when their joy turns to tears, when they will tremble before us and beg for mercy. And we pray that this day will come soon, that our generation will partner with God to “avenge the blood of His servants, wreak vengeance upon His foes, and make clean His people’s land” (Deuteronomy 32:43). “Our Father, our King, avenge before our eyes the spilt blood of Your servants.”

I can already hear the alarmed protests from those who find this talk of revenge uncomfortable. As one rabbi wrote to me after the murder of the Dees, “Are we no better than our enemies?  Either we are a bunch of animals who are no better than our tormentors or we are not.” It seems to be an article of faith among many Jewish leaders that forceful action against our enemies – the kind of action that will make terrorists think twice before attacking us again – is somehow immoral or unJewish.

In his classic article, Kol Dodi Dofek, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik directly addressed these concerns. “Pay no attention to the ‎saccharine ‎suggestions of known assimilationists who… think they are still living in Bialystok, Brest-Litovsk, and Minsk of the year ‎‎1905, ‎and openly declare that revenge is forbidden to the Jewish people in any place, at any time, ‎and ‎under all circumstances. “Vanity of vanities!” (Ecclesiastes 1:2) Revenge is forbidden when it ‎is ‎pointless, but if one is aroused thereby to self-defense, it is the most elementary right of man ‎to ‎take his revenge.‎”

Yes, we must be better than our Arab enemies. We must be better at ferociously defending our children than they are, for the murder of one Jew is one murder too many. We must value the lives of our people more than they value their own. And we must be better than our enemies at uprooting and destroying the evil that infests our homeland.

Tragically, our government has forgotten until now the fundamental teachings of Judaism, and innocent families are paying the price. By responding weakly to terror in the past, we have sent our enemies an unacceptable message: that we are willing to tolerate a certain level of terror and that we will juggle the value of Jewish lives with other political and military considerations.

In other words, merely catching the terrorists and bringing them to “justice” does not prevent future attacks. Over and over again, the IDF eliminates the individual terrorists who commit these atrocities, but future terrorists are not deterred. Arab terrorists consciously choose to sacrifice their own lives to murder Jews for the rewards that await them in heaven and the financial benefit their families will receive because of their sacrifice. Through the Palestinian Authority’s infamous Pay for Slay program, the PA makes monthly payments to the family members of terrorists who die while murdering Jews.

How can Israel stop Arab terror and protect its people? By learning from the example of King David, who avenged the murder of his family and brought peace to Israel.

When David became a fugitive from the jealous King Saul, he brought his parents and brothers to the king of Moab, to protect them from the wrath of Saul (I Samuel 22). Tragically, the sages explain that David should not have trusted the Moabites, his distant relations. “The king of Moab killed [David’s family], and nobody escaped except for one brother of David…” (Numbers Rabba 14:1).

David’s mother, father and brothers, were mercilessly murdered in cold blood. How did David respond? Was he measured in his response? Did he carefully distinguish between the great majority of “innocent” Moabites and the few bad actors who had murdered his family?

Not exactly. “And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, making them lie down on the ground; he measured out two lengths of cord for those who were to be put to death, and one length for those to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David, bringing tribute” (II Samuel 8:2). In one short verse, we matter of factly learn that David humiliated and slaughtered two-thirds of the Moabite army, ensuring the Moabites would never again perpetrate terror against the people of Israel. David made the price of terror untenable – and so the terror ceased.

Did God approve of David’s harsh retribution against the Moabites? Not only did God approve of David’s actions, He ensured David’s victory: “And God saved David wherever he went. And David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and charity for all his people” (II Samuel 8:14-15).

Every morning, traditional Jews remember that God desires the destruction of evil. In David’s words: “Let the faithful exult… with high praises of God in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance upon the nations and punishments upon the peoples… to execute the doom decreed against them. This is the glory of all His faithful. Hallelujah!” (Psalms 149:6-7,9).

For 3,000 years, our people have prayed like David, whispering the beautiful words of Psalms through the darkest days of our exile. It is high time we learn to fight like him as well.

David was not passive. David did not sit back and wait for God to act, for an earthquake to swallow up his enemies. David did not wait for a future messianic era, when God would miraculously destroy Israel’s enemies. David understood that the people of Israel must partner with God in carrying out His will, that we must be the sharp edge of God’s sword.

David did not fight the terrorists that plagued his people with half measures, nor was he afraid to punish the “innocent civilians” who supported the terrorists who murdered his family. “I have pursued my enemies, and overtaken them; neither did I turn back till they were utterly consumed” (Psalms 18:38).

David was unconcerned with world opinion or with self-righteous condemnations of other countries. He was not ashamed to seek revenge. “Oh God, smash their teeth in their mouth; shatter the fangs of lions, God… The righteous man will rejoice when he sees revenge; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Men will say, ‘There is, then, a reward for the righteous; there is, indeed, divine justice on earth.’” (Psalms 58:7,11-12).

David’s actions were harsh – but they were both moral and effective. By responding forcefully to those who murdered his family, David ushered in an unprecedented era of peace, enabling his son, Solomon, to build God’s Temple in Jerusalem. Most important of all, David gave us the playbook for redemption – if only we are willing to use it.

War is not pleasant; in this imperfect world, innocent people inevitably suffer. But a government’s responsibility, first and foremost, is to defend its own people. Between October 2001 and June 2003, the United States unintentionally killed about 3,500 Afghan civilians through Aerial bombings during Operation Enduring Freedom. Civilian deaths are tragic, but the free world understood that after the murder of American citizens on 9/11, the United States had to do everything in its power to defend its people. Yes, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than terrorists – but not to impossibly high standards that restrict our ability to defend our people.

“May it be good in Your eyes to bless Your people Israel at every time, in every hour, with Your peace.” For thousands of years, our people have yearned for peace, and we will not stop praying for peace until the Messiah comes. But love alone will not stop the terrorists. The path to peace will not be strewn with roses, but through faith in God and the fortitude to make our enemies pay for their sins. Like David, we must not forget – and we dare not forgive.

Now is the time to fight like David! May God grant us success against our enemies and protection for our soldiers, civilians and hostages, and may He bless us with eternal peace.

Rabbi Elie Mischel

Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365. Before making Aliyah in 2021, he served as the Rabbi of Congregation Suburban Torah in Livingston, NJ. He also worked for several years as a corporate attorney at Day Pitney, LLP. Rabbi Mischel received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rabbi Mischel also holds a J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law and an M.A. in Modern Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. He is also the editor of HaMizrachi Magazine.

Rabbi Elie Mischel

Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365. Before making Aliyah in 2021, he served as the Rabbi of Congregation Suburban Torah in Livingston, NJ. He also worked for several years as a corporate attorney at Day Pitney, LLP. Rabbi Mischel received rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Rabbi Mischel also holds a J.D. from the Cardozo School of Law and an M.A. in Modern Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. He is also the editor of HaMizrachi Magazine.

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