Land for Peace?

By Yanki Tauber
Since G-d gave us a brain, why did He need to give us a Torah?

Torah, after all, is truth. And the brain is a piece of gray meat imbued with the amazing ability to ascertain truths. So why a divinely ordained code of life? Isn't the whole point of having a brain that we now possess the ability to figure it out on our own?

This question can be asked -- and answered -- on many levels. But the most simple explanation is that while reason is a very powerful tool, there is something in the human being that is even more powerful -- desire.

When we want something badly, desperately enough, we grab our brain, twist its arm behind its back, and compel it to manufacture such gobilydoop that anyone looking at us from the distance of a generation or a culture away will exclaim, "What happened to that person? Did his brain leak out of his head?" Of course, our brain is right there inside our head. It's even working overtime. It's just that it's running in reverse. Instead of figuring out the truth, it's figuring out how to build a logical foundation for what we want should be the truth.

That's why G-d gave us the Torah -- a set of truths that are not the product of our brains, but of the inherent truths upon which He predicated His creation of reality and the universe. The Torah's purpose is not to absolve us of the need to use our brains -- on the contrary, it expects us to work the brain to death comprehending the what, why and how of the truths it embodies. But it does enable us to know when our brain is running backwards. If the end result of our reasoning and logicizing doesn't mesh with the divine truths contained in the Torah, we're doing something wrong.

The people of Israel desperately desire peace. And we desperately desire that our enemies should desire this as much as we do. We are simply not prepared to accept a reality that contradicts this all-consuming desire.

People looking at us from the outside are scratching their heads and saying: What's the matter with these people? Have their brains leaked out of their heads? Don't they see that every time they make concessions to their enemies, or even talk about making concessions -- more people die? More Jews die, and more Arabs die, and the sufferings of both peoples increase. Yet when they hold firm, refuse to give up any land, and fight the killers with intelligence and determination, there are fewer Jewish casualties, fewer Arab deaths, and the lives of both peoples improve. They've been in this back-and-forth cycle for 100 years now, and every time the same thing happens!

But even when we lose the ability to think straight, we still have the Torah. So what does the Torah say about the question of "land for peace"?

There's actually an explicit, unambiguous ruling in the Shulchan Aruch, the Torah's "Code of Law." It's in the Code's first volume, Orach Chayim, section 329. This law does not even speak about the land of Israel -- it applies equally to Jerusalem, to Brooklyn, New York, and to Wellington, New Zealand.

The law describes the following scenario: A hostile army attacks you, or threatens to attack you, and demands a piece of territory. They say, "Give us this piece of land, and we'll leave you alone." The overriding issue is pikuach nefesh, saving lives, which supersedes the entire Torah. Do we go to war to prevent the enemy's occupation of the territory, or do we relinquish the territory in return for a promise of future non-aggression?

The Torah rules: Giving up territory will make you more vulnerable to attack. To give up territory in return for a promise of "peace" is not just a reckless gamble of your and your people's lives -- it's a gamble that you're sure to lose. Do not yield territory that makes you more vulnerable to attack, even if you must go to war to prevent that. It's a matter of pikuach nefesh -- preventing the loss of life. War is a dangerous thing, but one must go to war to save lives.

The holiness of the land is not the issue (though the Torah has a lot to say about that). The fact that the land of Israel is the eternal possession of all Jews of all generations, and no one has the right to give it to anyone else, is not the issue (though the Torah has lots to say on that, too). The issue is pikuach nefesh, saving lives.

Protecting your own life and the lives of your loved ones is generally a matter of common sense. It's also a Torah ideal.
Common sense sometimes fails us.
That's why we have a Torah.

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