The Righteous Warrior
Rabbi Reuven Mann
A major portion of the Torah narratives are devoted to episodes in the lives of our Patriarchs. That is based on the principle of, Maasei Avot Siman LaBanim (the deeds of the fathers are a sign/guide to the children). Our forefathers experienced many of the challenges which the Jews were to confront throughout history and demonstrated the proper responses.
The objective of studying the lives of our role models is to discover the underlying principles which governed their behavior and apply them to our situation. A major aspect of Avraham’s conduct was his inspired activism. He didn’t sit back and wait for a miracle, but did everything possible to solve the problems, which came his way.
He even went so far as to undertake great risks for the sake of those close to him. His nephew Lot had settled in Sedom, because the area was rich in land suitable for grazing. But when that nation was conquered by the “Coalition of the Four Kings” Lot and his property was taken into captivity.
The news reached Avraham and he decided to embark on a rescue mission. He felt that he could not abandon his “brother”–who had left his birthplace behind–in order to join Avraham on his epic journey. Amazingly the initiative achieved total success. The midnight raid caught the enemy by complete surprise and all the captives and their property were freed.
But, in spite of his success, Avraham’s behavior raises many questions. Did he not engage in recklessness? What chance did this elderly religious personality have of defeating the mightiest military force on earth? And why would he subject the 318 youths who had been raised under his tutelage to what seems like a sure disaster?
It is important to remember that the validity of actions cannot be determined by their results. Just because Avraham was effective doesn’t necessarily mean he was right. It seems like his victory was truly miraculous, yet our religion forbids us from relying on Divine intervention. So what chance could Avraham and his homegrown team of warriors have had, against the mighty Coalition?
I am of the opinion, that Avraham knew exactly what he was doing–and although, he took a great risk–it was a calculated one.
In describing the adventure the Pasuk says:
When Avram heard that his kinsman was captured, he armed his disciples who had been born in his house–three hundred and eighteen–and he pursued them as far as Dan. And he with his servants deployed against them at night and struck them; he pursued them as far as Chova which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the possessions; he also brought back his kinsman, Lot, with his possessions, as well as the women and the people.”
The basic elements of sophisticated modern warfare are hinted at here. Avraham led his trained men on a carefully calculated commando raid–which, while dangerous, had a reasonable chance of success.
He utilized the element of surprise as the victorious army was returning home from its great triumph; they had no reason to fear anyone and clearly had their guard down. Avraham employed speed, night fighting and the division of forces; and struck a quick blow which disabled and defeated his enemy.
Of course Avraham had Divine Providence on his side; but that is because he operated with superior Chachma and bravery. This is reminiscent of another great warrior who followed in our Patriarch’s footsteps. As the Tanach says, “And David was wise in all of his ways and Hashem was with him.” Nonetheless, how was it possible for the 318 men of his household to pull off such an operation?
I think it is fair to say that Avraham trained his students in the arts and tactics of self defense. He was quite aware that he lived in a dangerous world and that the religious doctrines he taught went against the prevailing idolatrous outlook. He clearly recognized his obligation to take measures for the protection of himself and his family. He therefore trained his 318 discipleship and formed them into an effective fighting force; to be prepared if a situation requiring their capabilities should arise. To strengthen his position he arranged for alliances with his neighbors, Aner, Eshkol and Mamrei. When news reached him about Lot, he calculated the dangers and determined that he had a good chance of pulling off a coup.
And this caused a widespread sensation, as news of Avraham’s amazing exploit got out. On his return from the battle the king of Sedom came out to greet him. In addition the priest known as Malki-Tzedek of Shalem, who served the true G-d, brought out bread and wine and proclaimed:
Blessed is Avraham to the Supreme G-d, the Most High, Maker of Heaven and earth. And Blessed is the Supreme G-d Who delivered your foes into your hands.
Avraham’s brave undertaking resulted in a great Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of Hashem). When the wicked triumph, the Name G-d is desecrated; but when the righteous fight back and prevail, His Name is glorified. The great leaders of the Jews, such as Avraham, Moshe, Yehoshua, King David and many others, were–in addition to their great spiritual qualities–great fighters as well.
In recent years Israel has found itself in a situation very much like that of Avraham. In 1976 Arab terrorists seized a French airliner carrying many Jews and landed it in Uganda. The terrorists threatened to execute the Jews, if their demands were not met. The Israeli government agonized over the matter, until its elite combat unit put together a rescue plan, which was deemed to have a favorable chance of succeeding. The raid on Entebee achieved its goals, and liberated the prisoners to the acclaim of mankind. This type of courageous behavior emulates the heroic action of Avraham Avinu.
The need for Jewish self-defense has become extremely significant of late. There has been a marked increase of anti-Semitic violence around the world, which has rendered the security of Jews quite precarious. In response, some Jewish organizations have organized protests which are insufficient to really change things.
It is necessary to establish Jewish defense organizations–which will operate within the law–with wisdom and judiciousness, but will be ready to visit violence on aggressors in order to defend Jews.
The world needs to know, that the era of Jewish weakness–when the Jews couldn’t or wouldn’t fight back–is over. This is the time when Jews need to confront their enemies and fight back. This will increase the security and well-being of Jews everywhere, and sanctify the Name of Hashem in the world.