When and how to fight!?


Parashat Miketz - Rav Aviner

Prepared by Rabbi Mordechai Tzion 

On the Haftarah…

Not by Might and Not by Power

[Zechariah 2:14-4:7]

The famous verse of the prophet Zechariah: "Not by might and not by power but by My spirit, says Hashem of Hosts" (Zechariah 4:6), seems rather strange. After all, human history has proven through countless examples that spirit alone is not enough. On the contrary! The weapon is the deciding factor of events, and even directs their evolution.

So isn't this a pretty na?ve stance? In the verse itself the Master of the Universe, who is the Source of the message to Zerubavel, is called "Hashem of Hosts," i.e. of armies! Did Zerubavel, the prince of the Jews who led the return to Israel after the Babylonian Exile, only utilize spiritual means, or did he also employ a strategy on the ground? Didn't he take pains to build the Temple (Ezra 3-4)? Even when the King of Persia ordered the Jews to cease building, didn't they continue to do so without his permission (ibid. 5)?

Furthermore, against their enemies' threats (ibid. 4:5), those new immigrants initiated rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nechemiah 2:17). It is related regarding those enemies: "And all of them joined together to fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it" (ibid. 4:2). The response of the Jews was not only spiritual: "And we prayed to our G-d and stood on guard against them day and night because of them" (ibid. v. 3).

Those enemies, different non-Jews who dwelled in our Land during our absence in the time of Babylonian Exile and who toyed with the idea that this Land belongs to them, continued planning their pogroms (ibid. v. 5). The Jews responded with strength to protect themselves: "I stationed the Nation according to family with their swords, spears and bows" (ibid. v. 7).

All of this military preparation did not slow down the rebuilding of the wall. "And from that day, half of my young men did the work and half of them held the spears, shields, bows and coats of mail" (ibid. v. 10). It was an inspiring sight: "Those who build the wall and those who carried the burden arranged it so that he did the work with one of his hands and held a weapon with the other. And each of the builders had his sword girded by his side" (ibid. v. 11-12). Doesn't this picture fill us with incredible pride?

Since this is the Haftarah of Chanukah, we ask the question: did the Hasmoneans defeat the Greeks through spirit alone, without the use of force? And doesn't the Torah itself direct us to use weapons when there is no other way to protect our independence? It commands us numerous times to arrange military censuses: "From twenty years and up, everyone who goes to the army in Israel" (Bemidbar 1:3).

There is therefore a clear misunderstanding in the reading of our verse. In truth, the verse does not say: "Not by might and not by power but by spirit" but rather "but by My spirit." What is worthless is might and power detached from the word of Hashem - violence for its own sake, power as its own ideal. Everything must be illuminated by faith in Hashem, by the most pure ethical standards.

When Nechemiah established defensive units surrounding Jerusalem, he charged them: "Do not be afraid of them. Remember, Hashem, who is great and awe-inspiring, and wage war for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses" (Nechemiah 4:8). The Rambam, the great halachic authority of the laws of war, emphasizes that a soldier must wage war out of a faith in Hashem (Hilchot Melachim, end of chapter 7).

Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, never missed an opportunity to be present at the great Tzahal military parade on Yom Ha-Atzmaut. Each time a tank, weapon or army unit passed him, he recited the verse: "Some trust in chariots and horses, but we will mention the Name of Hashem our G-d" (Tehillim 20:8), but he would immediately add the beginning of the verse: "Through chariots and horses," i.e. we rely on Hashem, but this reliance expresses itself in an active manner, through our military efforts.


The Hasmoneans also acted through deep faith, and therefore their small military force with limited weapons succeeded in crushing the powerful Greek army. This is true in our time as well. "The secret weapon of the Israel Defense Force" is morale, faith, the inner conviction that we are fighting for a just cause, and our connection to Hashem – whether all of Israel is aware of it or not.