By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
The events of today, where Hamas terrorists tunneled 750 feet into Israel and attempted to target Kibbutz Sufa with launchers but were foiled, were nothing short of miraculous. The alert IDF soldiers that spotted them and bombed the terror tunnel from they emerged saved hundreds of lives, Boruch Hashem. Clearly, they have fulfilled the huge Mitzvah of defending the people of Israel.
But what exactly is the Mitzvah? Is there more than one Mitzvah? In this short essay, we will try to explore a few of them.
One basic Mitzvah is that of saving lives. What is the source of this Mitzvah? The verse in Parshas Ki Taytzai (Dvarim 22:2) discusses the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveida — returning an object with the words, “Vahashaivoso lo — and you shall return it to him.” The Gemorah in Sanhedrin (73a), however, includes within its understanding of these words the obligation of returning “his own life to him as well.” For example, if thieves are threatening to pounce upon him, there is an obligation of “Vahashaivoso lo.” In other words, this verse is the source for the Mitzvah of saving someone’s life — which is what our soldiers are doing in preventing the further shooting of rockets. It is highly probable that it is to this general Mitzvah that the Shulchan Aruch refers to in Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 325.
Lo Saamod Al Dam Rayacha
There is a negative Mitzvah of not standing idly by your brother’s blood as well. This is mentioned both in Shulchan Aruch (CM 426:1) and in the Rambam.
Lo Suchal l’hisalaym
There is yet another negative commandment associated with the positive commandment of Hashavas Aveida, and that is the verse in Dvarim (22:3), “You cannot shut your eyes to it.” This verse comes directly after the Mitzvah fo Hashavas Aveidah. The Netziv (HeEmek Sheailah) refers to this Mitzvah as well.
V’Chai Achicha Imach
The Sheiltos (Sheilta #37), based upon the Gemorah in Bava Metziah 62a, understands these words to indicate an obligation to save others with you. The Netziv in his He’Emek She’ailah understands it as a full-fledged obligation according to all opinions. He writes that he must exert every effort to save his friend’s life — until it becomes Pikuach Nefesh for himself.
V’Ahavta l’Rayacha Kamocha
The Ramban, Toras haAdam Shaar HaSakana (p42-43) understands the verse of “And love thy neighbor as yourself” as a directive to save him from danger as well. Although he discusses the issue of medical danger, it is clear that this is an example, and it would apply to danger from physical enemies as well. Even without the Ramban, however, it is clear that defending and protecting someone from danger is a fulfillment of this Mitzvah.
The Rambam writes (Hilchos Malachim 7:15) that he should know that he is going to war for the unification of Hashem’s Name. It is indicative from these words that whenever a Jewish soldier is going to war for the Jewish people (at least for a Milchemes Mitzvah) he is contributing to the unification of Hashem’s Name. This is considered a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of the Divine Name.
Kivush Eretz Yisroel
There is yet another Mitzvah involved in ensuring that the land of Eretz Yisroel remain in Jewish hands. This is called the Mitzvah of capturing Eretz Yisroel. This Mitzvah applies in modern times as well (See Tashbatz 3:288, Ramban in hosafos to Mitzvah #4, and Maharit, Responsa Vol. II YD #28). Rashi, in Sanhedrin 2b, however, seems to indicate that it was only applicable in the time of Yehoshua. The majority of Poskim seem to be in agreement with the Tashbatz (See responsa Dvar Yehoshua Vol. II OC #48).
At Least Seven Mitzvos
We see that there seems to be at least seven Mitzvos involved in the Mitzvah of defending against the vicious onslaught of the Hamas rockets. However, this does not necessarily mean that there is an obligation to actually send in the ground forces, although it seems that the government of Israel seems poised to do just that.
Previously, we had explored whether the Talmudic dictum found in the Gemorah in Sanhedrin (74a): “One who comes to kill you – arise earlier, and kill him” is obligatory, or optional. Rav Yitzchok Halperin in his Maaseh Choshaiv(Vol. III p.141) writes that it is in fact, not obligatory but optional. The former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv in his Assei Lecha Rav (Vol. IV p.35) follows the view that it is obligatory but qualifies the idea of it being obligatory as only when there is certainty that the enemy will attack. He distinguishes between the obligation of seeing a Rodaif in pursuit of his victim and the law of “One who comes to kill you.” His distinction is that the latter only applies when it is definite that he will try to kill you. In such an instance, there would be an obligation to kill him. It would seem that this is indeed the case regarding Israel’s enemies in Gaza.
The Minchas Asher (Shmos #39) He writes that the parameters of Haba L’horgcha are that it is only obligatory to kill him if it is during the actual time when he is trying to kill you. If it is not during this time— then this is optional. The suggestion is somewhat perplexing because it would seem that all cases of “waking up early to kill him” perforce deal with a case where it is not during the actual time. How then would the “obligatory” nature of this dictum ever be practically relevant?
We had also suggested that the laws of “waking up early to kill him” might be limited by another factor. That factor is the following question: What are the ultimate repercussions of killing this person? What will be the repercussions in the immediate future? If it may be too devastating then the normally obligatory nature of “arise early and kill him” changes and becomes optional. If the government chooses to send in the ground forces — the Mitzvos enumerated above certainly apply. Let us all continue in our Tefilos, learning, and advocacy to make sure that our brethren remain safe. Amain.
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman