A Costly Peace

by Rabbi Nussbaum

February 21, 2020
SHEVAT 26, 5780
Candlelighting Time 5:25 PM

We are commanded upon entering in to Israel to totally uproot and destroy any remnant of the people that reside there and their respective idols. Even the slightest reminder of their idol worship must be fully eradicated. Yet a few verses later the Torah prohibits us from any kind of peace treaty that we may decide to make with them. Obviously the question is that if we are to annihilate them, then there isn’t anyone left with which to make peace. Therefore, what is the concern that is being stated in the Torah?

Many of the commentators understand this to mean that we are only commanded to eliminate the people living in Israel if they continue to live their idolatrous lifestyle. However, if they are willing to abandon their evil ways, then we will accept them in to our culture with open arms and friendship. This is very indicative of what is stated in Proverbs that the ways of the Torah are pleasant. We are not a warring nation however, when it is necessary for our self-preservation then we must take action to protect ourselves from contamination from outside influences that will be detrimental to our nation. However, when the necessity is not apparent but on the contrary we can invite others to join us and partake of our rich legacy, then the tables are turned and we sincerely welcome others to be part of our great heritage.           

Malbim presents another important perspective. The enemy nations will not be destroyed immediately upon our conquest of the land. If they would be, then Hashem is concerned that the wild animals that roam around will begin to infiltrate in to the civilized areas thereby making them inhospitable. Therefore, they will be removed slowly, a little bit at a time, however eventually they will be decimated. Perhaps the thought may occur as time drags on that since only a small portion of the original nations that populated Israel remain, the danger of assimilation has been essentially mitigated. Therefore if we resign ourselves to deal with the few remnants of the nations no harm will befall us. To avoid that trap, the Torah warns us that we cannot, at any level, have any contact with them as long as they are steeped in their evil ways. And this is truly a very important point to ponder. We should never underestimate the power of corruption and feel that it is not so terrible. Any type of culture which is adverse and therefore potentially damaging to our nation must be removed from our midst. And if we erroneously decide to maintain a relationship with those who espouse ideas contrary to our religion, then we may unfortunately pay the price!         

The Torah clearly states that we must eliminate the idolaters because they will trap us in to their mode of life and philosophy. Ohr HaChaim points out that of course there is no predictable concern that we will truly turn towards the idol worshipers and do as they do. But there was an attraction to idol worship, which we do not have anymore, and there was a strong possibility of entrapment that would lead some to be enticed to serve idols unless they were all destroyed. And in today’s world even though we do not necessarily have that challenge of idol worshiping in our midst, nonetheless, there are other distractions which attract our attention and they also serve to direct our interests away from Hashem to other areas that are not beneficial to us. For example, even though sports are not prohibited. However,  many people are so involved and interested in different teams and who is going to win the championships in different types of sports that its distraction diverts one’s attention away from those matters which are truly important and eternal!


We are commanded to treat the widow and orphan with kid gloves and if we maltreat them, we are severely punished. In the time of the Chofetz Chaim there was a poor widow who was unable to pay her rent. Her landlord kicked her out in the middle of the cold winter. The Chofetz Chaim was amazed at the cruelty of that individual and wondered when he would receive his just due. Eventually he was bitten by a mad dog and contracted rabies and died. He certainly did not die an easy death. The morale of the story and others like it is that Hashem may lengthen the time of His retribution for our misdeeds, but eventually justice is performed.