Thursday, July 13, 2017

Whoever is Merciful on the Cruel

By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

"Harass the Midianites and smite them." (Bamidbar 25:17) 

Chazal say about this in the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:5):
Even though I wrote, "When you draw near to a city to wage war against it, you shall call out to it for peace" (Devarim 20:10) – for these (the Midianites) do not do so – "You shall not seek their peace or welfare, all your days, forever." (Devarim 23:7)

Chazal learn a lesson for generations from here: "You find that one who deals with them with the trait of mercy, in the end comes to disgrace, battles, and troubles. Who is this? David." (Midrash ibid.) Namely, when David escaped from Shaul, he and his father's entire household went to Moab. Afterwards the king of Moav killed all of David's family, and only one remained, who found refuge by Nachash, King of Ammon, where he hid until David arrived. When Nachash dies and his son Chanun took the throne, David said, "I shall do an act of kindness for Chanun son of Nachash." (Shmuel II 10:2) The Midrash continues:

G-d said: You are violating My words? I wrote, "You shall not seek their peace or welfare," and you do acts of kindness with them? "Do not be overly righteous" – a person should not add beyond the Torah. This one sends to console Ammon and to do kindness with him, in the end comes to disgrace – "Chanun took David's servants and shaved off half of their beards and cut their garments in half." He also came to war with Aram Naharayim and the kings of Zova and the kings of Ma'achah and with Ammon, four nations, and it says, "Yoav saw that the battle faced him from the front and from the rear, etc." (And there was great trouble for Israel until Hashem saved them.) Who caused David all this? That he sought to do good with what those about whom G-d said, "You shall not seek their peace or welfare." That is why it says, "Harass the Midianites."

The attempt to find favor in the eyes of a nation that hates Israel, to find the way to their heart to form a peace treaty with them, with the thought of sparing war, is a mistaken thought. "Whoever is merciful on the cruel, in the end is cruel on the merciful." In the end, he does not prevent the war and also gets disgraced.

It seems that any further talk on the application to our generation is superfluous.

The Chasidim relate that R. Zusha and R. Elimelech were once in an inn at the time of their wandering. At night they both slept on a high bed. R. Zusha turned to his brother with a suggestion to fall for the sanctification of Hashem's name. R. Elimelech refused, while R. Zusha fell on the floor groaning with pain. The inn owner heard the sound of his falling, and ran into the room. He saw one on the floor, agonizing in his pain, and the second on his bed. Convinced that it was he who threw R. Zusha, he beat R. Elimelech soundly, and in the end rolled him off the high bed to the floor. R. Zusha said to him: "R. Elimelech, my brother, would it not have been worthwhile from the beginning to fall for the sanctification of G-d's name? In the end you also fell!

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