While the winds of war with Iraq are coming closer and closer and in spite of our understandable concern with our own security, committed Jews have a special obligation to think where others may not want to think: The enormous loss of life this war is surely going to cost to many human beings who are or are not on our side of the conflict.
First of all there is the small Jewish community of Baghdad which finds itself on the wrong side of the conflict and which will most likely incur many losses when war breaks out. Then there are the many Iraqis who oppose Sadam and who would like to live in peace with their neighboring countries. Others, such as those who have been silenced by Sadam with the threat of death or have been brainwashed and manipulated by his regime, will also pay a heavy prize. And last but not least, the many innocent people such as women and children as well as many American and British soldiers. All will lose and many will die.
Thinking of the above, we are well advised to listen to the words of the great Neziv, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin z.l., the last Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshivath Volozhin, the most prestigious Talmudic Institution of Eastern Europe before the second World War. In his magnum opus Ha’emek Davar, Neziv asks why the sages also called the book of Bereshith “Sefer HaYashar”, the book of those who are straight. His response is most telling.(1)
“The reason for this is on account of the great praise which the Torah bestows on to the patriarchs. They were not only righteous and pious in ways far above the norm but also uncompromising when it came to straightforwardness and honesty. The patriarchs dealt pleasantly with the most heinous idol worshippers of their days and were concerned with their welfare. This we can see in the case of Abraham who prayed for the wellbeing of the wicked people of Sedom (Bereshith, chapter 18) although he hated their deeds in the same way a man hates the wicked deeds of his son but still seeks his wellbeing. Therefore Abraham was called a “Father of the Nations”. And so we see in the case of Yitzchak, who appeased the wicked shepherds who stole his water wells but who instead of having a battle with them moved somewhere else (chapter 26) or in the case of Yacov who handled his wicked father in law, Laban, with great mercy while the latter constantly fooled him and wanted to destroy his family……. (chapters 29-31)”
Neziv goes on to say that this is the very reason why the book of Bereshith is called “Sefer HaYashar”. While very few mitzvoth are found in this book, it is the outstanding example of the patriarchs which stands out as a constant reminder of what is demanded from Jews: constant concern even for the wicked. This does not mean that one should not fight the wicked when they become a real threat. Not to do so is clearly forbidden. Even Avraham waged a war against several wicked kings and killed them (chapter 14), but at the same time he revealed an unusual sensitivity for even the wicked once he established that they did not constitute a real threat.
When thinking about the possible war with Iraq, we should indeed remind ourselves of the many innocent people who may get killed. While this war might be necessary in order to remove one of the most dangerous men of our days, we should at the same time imitate Avraham and pray not only for ourselves and our soldiers but also for the many innocent people in Iraq who may lose their lives together with American and British soldiers. As taught by Avraham we should even pray for those wicked people who are not a direct threat to us.
That they will repent and not get hurt. After all, one of the great lessons of the Jewish heritage is that every human being carries the dream of God, that one day he may become righteous. He incorporates the divine anticipation of great things yet to come. Human beings always carry the possibility of surprise and are not restricted by a foregone conclusion. Each person has the capacity to create a change and repent. He is exclusive and it is up to him to become a moral disclosure. Even the wicked.
(1) See his introduction to Bereshith.