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Parashat Chukat – The Legitimate Rights of the Ammonites - Rav Binyamin Ze'ev Kahane

The modern concept of “Jewish occupied territories” rears its ugly head in Parashat Chukat and our Haftarah of the Shabbat. In our Parashah, the kings Og and Sichon prevent the Jewish People from passing through their borders on their way to the Land of Israel. Not only that, but they even wage war against us – and lose. The children of Israel conquer their land and do not let go. Interestingly enough, the following idiotic idea never dawned on either of the parties involved: O.K., we tried to annihilate you and we did not succeed, so just give us back what you conquered from us during our attempt to wipe you out, and in exchange we promise not to try to wipe you out again. No, such a proposition was never raised. When you lose, you lose, without dictating conditions afterwards.

“Land for Peace”: And what if Sichon would have come to Israel and demanded “land for peace”? What would have been the reaction then? To answer this question, we are forced to move the clock ahead another 300 years until we arrive at the Haftarah of our Parashah. That is precisely what happens. The king of Ammon brazenly demands that Israel return to him the territories that were conquered, and if they refuse, there will be war. The difference between him and the Arabs of today is that the king of Ammon is a lot more “moderate”. He personally has no previous “record” of hostility towards the Jewish People. He simply makes a very limited albeit uncompromising request. “Because Israel took away my land when they came out of Egypt, from Ammon as far as the Yabbok and the Jordan.” (Judges 11:13) The king of Ammon does not want everything. He does not seek the liquidation of the Jewish entity. He simply wants that which was taken from him. He is simply demanding to exercise the historical right of his people. And then, as if he jumped off the pages of the Tanach into today's reality, he concludes in the following manner: “Now, therefore, restore those lands peacefully.” (Judges 11:13) “Peace”. That magic word. What normal Jewish leader can refuse such an offer? After all, it is not an illogical claim; the lands were taken from them. They once even had a sovereign empire with a capital and an army there. And most importantly, here is a genuine opportunity for peace: “No more war, no more bloodshed.”

“Not one Inch”: But Yiftach's answer is a real knockout. He recounts all the relevant past history, and then concludes: “So now the L-rd of Israel has driven out the Emori from before his people Israel, and you should possess the land?! Will you not possess what your god Kemosh gives you to possess? So likewise that which the L-rd our G-d has voided before us, that shall we possess.”(Judges 11:23,24) This is the reaction of a true Jewish leader. A reaction of emunah [faith]. The land is ours not because of any “historical claim” or because we are strong, but rather because G-d gave it to us. And pay attention how Yiftach even mocks the Ammonite god “Kemosh” - take what he gives you, but from us you will get nothing – not an inch.

“How to subdue the Enemy”: How can we begin to understand the minds of those Jews, particularly religious ones, who do not grasp all this. The cursed Arab enemy has initiated war after war against us in an effort to obliterate us, and he has failed each time. Each time G-d has granted us great miracles to overcome them, yet we insist on being ingrates, not recognizing the miracles. Only when we understand that our true right to the land is based on the ultimately ethical concept that G-d gave it to us – only then will we get the results that Yiftach achieved, “thus the children of Ammon were subdued by the children of Israel.”

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