Disproportionality and Culpability
Through all the media clutter surrounding the sad and worrying events in Eretz Yisrael, there are two key moral-legal themes. The first is the issue of proportionality in International Law. International law allows sovereign states to protect and defend themselves against attack. It is internationally acknowledged that Hezbollah initiated hostilities and that Israel has the right to respond with force. The question is whether or not the Israeli response is disproportionate to the provocation.
The second theme is around culpability: In what way are the civilians of Beirut responsible for the attacks on Israel and its people? Is Israel being too indiscriminate in its targets?
What would the media have said about the events of our Parsha? The Midianites cunningly use their attractive young women to seduce Jewish men and persuade them to participate in idolatrous practices. This incurs G-d’s wrath, and weakens the Jewish Nation’s moral defenses. The response? The utter annihilation of the Midianite nation, men women and children with the exception of 32,000 young girls who were taken captive. Did the response to the Midianites satisfy principles of proportionality? Did only the guilty die? How comfortable would we be today, to defend the Nikmat Midian (avenging of Median) – which, after all, was a Mitvas Hashem (Commandment of G-d)?
In considering proportionality it is important to look at the seriousness of the crime from the perspective of the victim, not the aggressor or outside bodies. In a modern Western democracy the idea of using sex to sell products is the norm. Taking that a step further, to seduce the members of one religion to participate in the practices of another would be considered almost as normal in a world of the free market of ideas. Surely, from a modern perspective we would argue, the men who succumbed to Midian’s seduction are responsible for their own actions. Surely they cannot claim victimization by the Midianite women. Nobody compelled them into seduction; they were free to resist.
This is true. The young men who committed idolatry were held responsible for their actions. But in the field of responsibility, if one party is 100% responsible, it does not leave the other party or parties blameless. In the world of responsibility shared responsibility means each can be 100%
responsible. In the opening part of the parsha we learn that if a father fails to annul his young daughter’s oaths, he shares in the responsibilities of her transgression of that oath. It is for this reason, the Ba’al Haturim suggests, that the parsha of the avenging of Midian follows the parsha
of Nedariom (oaths). The fact therefore, that the young men of Israel were free to reject the advances of the Midianite women but did not, doesn’t detract from the malicious intent and severely destructive actions of Midian in the terrible seduction.
Attempted Spiritual Annihilation is Serious
How serious was Midian’s crime? If we look at the Jewish people and the events of the seduction by Midian from a modern secularist perspective, then the crime was small and the response was insanely disproportional. However if we recognize that to the Jew, spiritual wellbeing is even more important than physical wellbeing, then the picture is different. Trying to destroy the Jewish soul by means of seducing Jewish men into idolatrous practice is a strike at the very heart and core of what Jewishness is. Being Jewish is about our soul more than anything else. It is about our uncompromising singularity of dedication to one G-d. The Midian seduction was a strategy for the annihilation of the Jewish spirit. The response was no less than the way any nation would respond to the overt attempt by another nation to annihilate it.
The Infinite Value of a Single Jewish Life
In a similar way, we do not look at life as a statistic. If we truly believe that if one saves one Jewish soul is as if he saved an entire world, then we must also believe that one who destroys a Jewish soul is as if he destroyed an entire world. To a nation whose G-d is its economy, a single human being is a single unit of production. He is a statistic. But to a nation such as ours, whose G-d is Hashem and who lives by its soul, not by its physical numbers and strength, a single Jewish person is infinitely valuable.
The Israeli response to the killing and abduction of Jews by Arab terrorists is not disproportionate. There is no sufficiently large response to the spreading of terror in a nation and the murder and kidnapping of its people, other than a response that puts an end to that viciousness. And yes, the government of Lebanon and its civilian population as Hezbollah’s hosts and supporters share in the responsibility for Hezbollah’s actions. Once again Israel is doing the “dirty work” for the rest of the world. Israel is saying “no” to terrorism in the only language that terrorists and their supporters understand. Israel is paying the price. The free world will be the beneficiaries. Go Israeli soldiers go – and may Hashem bless and protect each one of you every step of your way as you fight for the freedom of each one of us to live peacefully and fearlessly!