Is Civil War on the Horizon?

March 20, 2023

“It’s time for Americans to wake up to a fundamental reality: the continued unity of the United States of America cannot be guaranteed. At this moment in history, there is not a single important cultural, religious, political, or social force that is pulling Americans together more than it is pushing us apart. We cannot assume that a continent-sized, multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy can remain united forever, and it will not remain united if our political class cannot and will not adapt to an increasingly diverse and divided American public.” (David French, Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation).

Each new day brings another story about America and Israel tearing themselves apart. Partisan hatred has been on the rise for years in the United States, while left-wing protests have become daily events throughout Israel. Unsurprisingly, the growing enmity has led to threats of political violence and even talk of secession.

How can we prevent our countries from self-imploding? The answer, as always, can be found in the Bible, and specifically in the sordid and tragic story of the concubine at Gibeah.

In a horrific, Sodom-like story, the people of Gibeah, a town of the tribe of Benjamin, abused and raped a woman traveling through their town until she died. Her husband cut up her body into pieces and sent them to the tribes of Israel, leading the other eleven tribes to ultimately declare war on the tribe of Benjamin. The war was disastrous for all sides; tens of thousands of soldiers were killed in battle, and almost the entire tribe of Benjamin was wiped out.

When the war ended with only a few hundred Benjamite men surviving, the eleven tribes came to a terrible realization:

“Now the men of Israel had taken an oath at Mitzpa: ‘None of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjaminite.’ The people came to Beit El and sat there before God until evening. They wailed and wept bitterly, and they said, ‘O God of Israel, why has this happened in Israel, that one tribe must now be missing from Israel?’… For they said, “There must be a saving remnant for Benjamin, that a tribe may not be blotted out of Israel.” (Judges 21:1-3,17).

In the last chapter, the eleven tribes were so infuriated by the atrocities committed by the Benjamites that they charged into war, destroying entire Benjamite cities. Now, only a short time later, the eleven tribes cry bitterly over the destruction of Benjamin. What changed?

One of the great Biblical commentators of the 19th century, Rabbi Meir Leibush Wisser (1809 – 1879), explains the deeper significance of this moment: “Only now, after passions had cooled, did the people remember that they had sworn in anger not to give their daughters as wives to the men of Benjamin. Therefore, even though 600 men were left of the tribe of Benjamin, they could not find wives, for all the women of Benjamin had been killed. This would lead to the blotting out of the entire tribe of Benjamin, which would be a terrible wound to the people of Israel, for it is impossible for God’s presence to rest upon the people of Israel without all twelve tribes. Therefore, if one tribe would be lost, the damage would be felt for all generations; it would be a brokenness that could not be fixed for all time.”

Only after a terrible and avoidable tragedy did the people of Israel learn a critical lesson – that God’s presence will only dwell among them if all twelve tribes of Israel unite! This is the most critical lesson of the Book of Judges – a lesson the nation had to learn before they could unite under kings Saul and David in the Book of Samuel and achieve its greater purpose in the world.

The lesson for both America and Israel is clear. Each nation will only be able to fulfill its Godly mission by first learning to appreciate the importance of each and every tribe – even those “tribes” that have sinned and turned away from God. Though we do not approve of their sinful ways, we must find a way to show them that we value them and need them. We must change the tone of our arguments; instead of threatening to “destroy” our opponents, we must treat them with respect – and patiently work to convince them of the truth!

Clearly, this won’t be easy. But must we experience a civil war before learning this lesson? As David French writes, “Our nation’s angriest culture warriors need to know the cost of their conflict. As they seek to crush their political and cultural enemies, they may destroy the nation they seek to rule.” Let’s do everything in our power to ensure that doesn’t happen!

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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