Time after time these words resound: “when you go to war with your enemies.” Was there always going to be war? Could this just be some generic and distant warning?
8 Then the king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrah, the king of Adma and the king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela, which is Zoar, engaged in war with them in the Valley of Siddim: 9 with Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of Goiim and Amraphel king of Shinar and Antioch king of Ellasar – four kings against five. 10 The Valley of Siddim was covered with bitumen pits; as the king of Sodom and Gomorrah fled there, they threw themselves into them and the others escaped to the hills. 11 They the invaders took all of the possessions of Sodom and Gomorrah and all of their provisions and left. 12 They took Lot, the nephew of Avram, and his possessions and left – he had settled in Sodom. … 14 When Avram heard that Lot had been taken captive, he mustered those born into his household, about 328, and went after then up to the Dan area.Genesis 14
Abraham found that war could be a possibility from the very beginning of his journey. The effects of war were seen by Abraham, when he was compelled to rescue his nephew Lot from warring kings. After he had rescued Lot from his kidnappers, which must have been stressful, Abraham went outside and contemplated the future.
It was probably a clear night that showed him a multitude of stars. How did he connect them with a belief in the future for his descendants?
5 Then he took him outside saying: please look at the skies and count the stars, if you can count them; so you will have descendants. 6 He trusted in YHWH and found merit in it.Genesis 15
How did Abraham feel when he gazed into the sky? Was he was seduced by myriads of twinkling spots of silver in the night sky? Can one be blinded by starlight from the night sky’s delicate glow? His conviction in the journey ahead seemed to be strengthened by what he perceived. Although Abraham was entranced by the heartfelt nocturnal promise, would he have continued on his journey if he had seen the many incidents of war that would embroil his descendants?
5 So he said to the children of Israel: I am YHWH, who brought you out of your suffering in Egypt, saving you from their enslavement; I redeemed you with an outstretched arm and great judgments; I took you to be my people—I became your God; for you know that I am YHWH your god, the one who took you out of suffering in Egypt. 8 I will bring you to the land that I promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. …Exodus 6
Many generations later, Moses and Aaron led slaves on a journey to be free. Those slaves grasped at the promise made to them and went forward into the unknown; they were sure that the future generations would benefit from peace and tranquility in their own land. But what happened was not exactly as promised.
18 Joshua spent so many days at war with those kings. 18 No city made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, residents of Gibeon; everything was acquired through war.Joshua 11
Years later, the pronouncement came up just before Joshua would lead the people into the Land of Israel. Would they have continued if they had known the arduous consequences?
13 The Philistines were subdued and no longer attacked the border with Israel; for the might of YHWH was against the Philistines during Samuel’s lifetime.I Samuel 7
Abraham started us on our journey and we have soldiered on faithfully protecting our existence in every generation. From the Sinai desert into the Land of Israel, throughout we faithfully followed so many leaders: judges, prophets and even kings.
3 He will judge between many peoples and prove to powerful nations far and wide: they will beat their swords into plowshares plowing tools, their spears into pruning shears – for nation will not lift a sword against nation and war will not be learned anymore.Micha 4
We haven’t given up on that heartfelt nocturnal promise. In spite of it, war seems inevitable, so be prepared and not surprised, but keep longing for the time that peace will reign.
Midrash Harabah and English translations by Rabbi Gail Shuster-Bouskila ©2021