Matot: There Are No Innocent Midyanites

“You can’t take the law into your own hands!” and “It’s forbidden to take revenge!” are the typical reactions we hear whenever good proud Jews rise up and avenge the spilled blood of Jews who have been murdered by Arabs. Typically enough, many of those who condemn these acts of vengeance do so in the name of Torah. Revenge is strictly G-d’s domain they claim, once again dismissing man from doing the “dirty work”.

Does Judaism really see G-d as the only exacter of vengeance, and our duty in the meantime is to continue to be murdered (deader, but better) and restrained? When all the future prophecies are fulfilled in which we finally even the score for all the Jewish blood that has been spilled by the gentile, are we relegated to being mere spectators?

Such myths are exploded in Parshat Matot, which is one of the primary sources used by the codifiers for teaching us the entire concept of vengenace. “And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Execute vengeance of the Children of Israel on the Midyanites”. G-d explicitly commands us to take revenge. YOU do it, He says. Moses immediately relays G-d’s message to the Jewish People, but with a significant change: “And Moses spoke unto the people saying: Arm from among ye men for war, that they may go against Midyan, TO EXECUTE THE VENGEANCE OF THE LORD ON MIDYAN”. What Hashem termed the “vengeance of the Children of Israel”, Moses called the “vengeance of the Lord”, for vengeance exacted by the Jewish People against the enemy IS G-d’s vengeance. We as His eartly servants wield His sword.

Purity of Arms and Collective Punishment
Another favorite hobby of the “humanists” is to condemn randomn attacks on “innocent” Arabs. After all, these Arabs were just passing by. They personally did not commit any acts of terror, and simply suffer for the “ultra-nationalism” of their brethren. The answer to such arguments may come as a shock to those who were weened on western culture, and view “collective punishment” as an abhorrent concept. But Judaism certainly views collective punishment as something quite legitimate. Though it may not be appropriate in every situation, when dealing with “the vengeance of the Lord”, against the enemies of Israel, collective punishment is mandatory. “To execute vengeance of the Children of Israel against the MIDYANITES”, the verse says. It does not say “Mr. X” or “Mr. Y” because they personally committed acts of terror. It is not relevant to us whether they committed acts of terror or not. What matters is that they are part and parcel to an entire nation which poses as an enemy, and thus the revenge is against the entire nation. (see “Maharal”, Gur Aryeh, parshat Vayishlach on Shimeon and Levy) There are no innocent bystanders. According to Torah law, there is an obligation in war to kill all the males, and for this particular war against the Midyanites, all the females as well.

Hilchot Revenge
There are no innocent Arabs. The Arabs are a hostile enemy nation, and against an enemy, one must fight. Would any sane soldier during the heat of a battle against Syrians, for example, think twice about pulling the trigger while he is contemplating if that particular Syrian soldier is really interested in participating in the war or not? After all, maybe the poor fellow is being forced into battle against his will? Obviously such a soldier would find himself dead in a matter of minutes. In time of war, one does not hesitate, and he who does so will come out the loser, as witnessed by the Israeli reaction to the Arab “antifada”.

In short, the Arabs are an enemy nation and the laws of vengeance apply to them. Yes, the laws of vengeance. “Nikama” (revenge) is not some vague concept, but rather a subject well-grounded in the “halacha” (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Dayah, 158:1 and Choshen Mishpat 425:5). The sages tell us: “To teach you, that Moses longed to see revenge against Midyan before he died, and he requested this of G-d. Of Moses it is said: ‘The righteous shall rejoice when he sees vengeance’ “. And further it is written, “to proclaim the praise of the righteous since they do not leave this world until they have carried out the revenge of Israel which is the vengeance of the Creator”.

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