By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
The situation in Eretz Yisroel requires our Tefilos, especially so because any day now the ground forces could go into Gaza. YeshivaWorld reports that infantry troops are in a base near the Gaza border where they continue preparations for a possible ground incursion. While the cabinet authorized activating 40,000 reservists, only 15,000 have been called to duty. What will be the ultimate decision? It is difficult to know.
ONE WHO COMES TO KILL YOU
There is a Talmudic dictum found in the Gemorah in Sanhedrin (74a): “One who comes to kill you – arise earlier, and kill him.” Is this halacha or is it merely good advice? Is it obligatory, or is it optional?
The question is, of course, very pertinent on account of the fact that Hama terrorists in Gaza have been shelling the width and breadth of Israel with rockets. Airstrikes are effective, particularly pinpointed targeted assassinations. However, they are limited in what they can do in fully weeding out terrorists.
It might be a good idea to understand some of the halachos behind the concept. For example, is there a difference between the concept of “arise early and kill him” and another concept within Judaism known as a Rodaif – a pursuer? What about the law of “Ba BeMachteres” – one who breaks into your home – where the homeowner is allowed to take potentially lethal defensive action. Is this the same law as that of a Rodaif?
WHAT IS THE SOURCE?
Another question comes to mind as well. What is the exact source for the dictum of “One who comes to kill you – arise earlier, and kill him?” Usually the Talmud appends a verse to a dictum such as this one. Yet here, there isn’t one.
The Midrash Tanchuma (Parshas Pinchas 3) indicates that source of Haba lehorgecha emanates from the verse in this week’s Parsha BaMidbar (25:17) regarding the Midianites where it says, “Tzror es haMidyanim vehikisem osam – Afflict the Midianites and strike them.” It seems from the Midrash Tanchuma that this is obligatory and not voluntary. How so? It is because it is a verse in the Torah. Verses in the Torah are generally obligatory.
TWO DIFFERENT VIEWS
Rav Yitzchok Halperin in his Maaseh Choshaiv(Vol. III p.141) writes that it is in fact, not obligatory but optional. He does not mention Tzror es HaMidyanim as a source, however.
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, therefore Israel would, at first glance, be halachically unable to accommodate any future Hamas request for a ceasefire and might be obligated to continue . Presdient Obama might have to do the same thing as well.
WHY DID DOVID SPARE SHAUL?
We do find, however, that in Shmuel I (Chapter 24), King Shaul was in pursuit of the future King David, and would have killed him. Dovid, though, spared Shaul – only cutting his clothing. Certainly, Shaul would have killed him – why then did Dovid spare him, according to the Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi? He should have been obligated to kill him!
RAV POVARSKY’S VIEW
HaRav Boruch Dov Povarsky zatzal, in his Shiurim on Sanhedrin cites the Gemorah in Sanhedrin (74a) that the law in regard to a Rodaif is only if it is impossible to stop him in another manner. There is therefore an essential difference between the law of Rodaif and the law of HaBa L’horgecha. If someone is coming to kill you, then you may kill him without worry about stopping him in some other manner, and you are completely exempt. The law of Rodaif, however, limits an observer in killing the pursuer in a number of ways. If he could have stopped him in some other way then he might, in fact, be liable.
RAV ASHER WEISS’ VIEW
The Minchas Asher (Shmos #39) in trying to resolve the question on King David suggests another caveat to the laws of Haba lehargecha, even according to the opinion that it is obligatory. He writes 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 all cases of “waking up early to kill him” perforce deal with a case where it is not during the actual time. The “obligatory” nature of it would thus never be practically relevant according to the Minchas Asher.
A THIRD SUGGESTION
This author would like to propose an altogether different caveat. 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? If Dovid HaMelech killed Shaul the King, the repercussions would reverberate in Jewish history for thousands of years. That being the case, it would not be obligatory but would be optional. Israel as well might be limited by this factor too. What are the ultimate repercussions of sending in ground forces? 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.
The leaders of the country would have to use their judgment in each situation as it comes up and there is no clear halachic mandate according to this view. It would seem, however, from a political and strategic point of view that now is the time not only to punish the Hamas organization severely, but to eliminate its military component altogether.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org