Why Jewish Teachings on Enemies Will Change How You See Humanity Forever

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Are the Jewish People and Modern Israel Violating Core Torah Principles? A Deep Dive into Jewish Ethics and Authority.

Jewish tradition places profound importance on the value of life, extending this respect even to those who oppose or hate us. This ethical treatment of all individuals, including enemies, is deeply embedded in the Torah, Talmud, and Rabbinic teachings. This article will uncover the Jewish commitment to transforming the wicked, teaching righteousness, and upholding teshuva (repentance). However, this raises significant questions about our current actions and their alignment with these values, especially considering the absence of a Sanhedrin, a legal Torah government, and the revealed presence of Mashiach.

Repentance and Transformation

The prophet Ezekiel conveys HaShem’s desire for repentance over punishment: “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign HaShem, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11). This verse highlights HaShem’s preference for repentance and life over death, even for the wicked, aligning with the broader Jewish ethos of valuing life and encouraging moral transformation. What does this teach us about our own role in seeking justice and mercy in the modern world? More importantly, without a Sanhedrin or divine authority, do we have the right to enforce or act upon these principles?

Rabbi Shimon, in Pirkei Avot 2:13, emphasizes the importance of mercy in prayer: “Be meticulous in the reading of the Shema and the Amidah prayer; and when you pray, do not make your prayer a fixed form, but rather an entreaty for mercy and grace before the Omnipresent, blessed be He, as it is said, ‘For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness, and repents of the evil.’” This teaching underscores the importance of approaching HaShem with a heart inclined towards mercy and forgiveness, fostering an environment where repentance and transformation are possible. Yet, in the absence of a legal Torah framework, how can we effectively implement such values in governance and law?

The Talmud Bavli in Sanhedrin 99a discusses the importance of bringing even the most wicked individuals to repentance, reflecting the belief that no one is beyond redemption. This aligns with the Jewish value of seeking to elevate and transform all people, irrespective of their current moral standing. Reflect on how this perspective might influence our interactions with those we find challenging in our own lives. However, does our current secular government in Israel align with these values, and can it claim the authority to act in ways that the Torah prescribes?

Light to the Nations

The role of Jews as a light to the nations is encapsulated in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I, HaShem, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6). This verse reflects the responsibility of the Jewish people to exemplify divine wisdom and ethical conduct, serving as a beacon of moral guidance for all humanity. Isaiah further emphasizes this mission: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). This broader vision includes teaching and uplifting non-Jews, sharing the transformative power of Torah and HaShem’s wisdom. How can we better fulfill our role as a light to the nations in today’s interconnected world, especially when our actions as a state may not reflect these values?

The Talmud Bavli, Avodah Zarah 3a, elaborates on the obligation to teach the Seven Noahide Laws to non-Jews, reinforcing the idea that these universal ethical principles are integral to creating a just and righteous world. This obligation extends the Jewish mission of being a light to the nations, promoting a moral framework that benefits all of humanity. In the current geopolitical context, are we living up to this mission, or have we deviated from it by assuming roles and responsibilities not sanctioned by a Torah authority?

Teshuva and Ethical Conduct

Teshuva, or repentance, is a central theme in Jewish thought. The prophet Hosea calls for Israel to return to HaShem: “Return, Israel, to HaShem your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to HaShem. Say to him: ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips’” (Hosea 14:2-3). This call to repentance highlights the transformative power of teshuva and its capacity to restore individuals to a state of grace and righteousness. But without the divine guidance of Mashiach or the Sanhedrin, how can we ensure that our national repentance is genuine and aligned with HaShem’s will?

Maimonides (Rambam) provides a clear definition of complete repentance: “What is complete repentance? When a person is confronted once more with the opportunity to commit the sin, and he refrains from doing so because of his repentance, and not due to fear or lack of strength” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuva 2:1). Rambam’s explanation underscores the sincerity required for true repentance, emphasizing its depth and significance. Rabbeinu Yonah, in Shaarei Teshuva 1:1, discusses the steps and importance of repentance, further elaborating on its transformative power. These teachings collectively highlight the Jewish commitment to personal and communal growth, urging individuals to constantly strive for moral and spiritual improvement. How can we apply these principles of repentance and transformation to foster better relationships in our communities? Moreover, do our current communal actions align with these teachings in the absence of a recognized Torah authority?

Justice and Vengeance

Jewish teachings stress that ultimate justice and retribution are the domain of HaShem. Deuteronomy 32:35 asserts that retribution is HaShem’s domain: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” This verse reinforces the principle that ultimate justice is in HaShem’s hands, not ours. Proverbs 20:22 echoes this sentiment: “Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for HaShem, and He will avenge you.” This reinforces the idea that personal vengeance is not appropriate, and we must trust in HaShem’s justice. Psalm 94:1 proclaims: “HaShem is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth.” Again, the emphasis is on HaShem as the ultimate judge and executor of justice, reminding us that our role is to uphold holiness and righteousness. What does this teach us about the balance between seeking justice and leaving ultimate retribution to HaShem? In the absence of a Sanhedrin, can we be confident that our actions of defense or offense are sanctioned by HaShem?

Humility and Compassion

Jewish wisdom emphasizes maintaining humility and compassion even towards adversaries. Proverbs 24:17-18 provides direct guidance on not taking pleasure in the downfall of an enemy: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest HaShem see it and be displeased, and turn away His anger from him.” This wisdom emphasizes the importance of maintaining humility and compassion, even towards those who oppose us. Additionally, the Talmud Bavli in Bava Metzia 32b teaches us to help even those who might hate us: “If you see the donkey of someone who hates you lying under its burden, do not leave it there; be sure to help them with it.” This principle extends the obligation of kindness and assistance to all, reinforcing the value of compassionate action. But can we, as a nation, claim to embody these values in our state actions?

Pirkei Avot 4:3, with Ben Azzai’s teaching, “Do not despise any man and do not spurn anything, for there is no man that has not his hour, and there is no thing that has not its place,” highlights the intrinsic value of every individual, regardless of their current status or actions. This teaching underscores the Jewish commitment to seeing the potential for good in everyone. How might our communities change if we always sought to recognize the intrinsic value in every person we encounter? In the context of a secular government, are these values being upheld, and do we have the divine authority to ensure they are?

Practical Applications and Reflections

The Mishnah, Sotah 8:6, outlines the ethical conduct required even in times of war: “When you approach a city to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it responds peacefully and opens its doors to you, all the people found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you.” This teaching demonstrates the preference for peaceful resolution and the value placed on avoiding unnecessary conflict and bloodshed. Deuteronomy 20:10-12 instructs offering peace before engaging in battle: “When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city.” This commandment reflects a profound respect for life and a preference for peaceful resolution over conflict. However, does the modern Israeli government adhere to these ancient principles, and if not, what are the implications for our adherence to Torah values without a binding legal Torah authority?

The Talmud Yerushalmi, Shevi’it 4:2, further elaborates on war ethics, discussing the practice of surrounding a city on only three sides to leave an escape route: “When besieging a city in order to capture it, it is forbidden to surround it on all four sides. It should be surrounded on only three sides, thus leaving a path of escape for the inhabitants to save their lives.” This practice demonstrates an ethical approach to warfare, valuing life even in times of conflict. Maimonides codifies this ethical conduct in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 6:7: “When besieging a city in order to capture it, it is forbidden to surround it on all four sides. It should be surrounded on only three sides, thus leaving a path of escape for the inhabitants to save their lives.” This reinforces the Jewish commitment to minimizing harm and preserving life. How can we apply these principles of ethical conduct and respect for life in contemporary conflicts and disputes? More crucially, without a Sanhedrin or the guidance of Mashiach, do we have the right to wage war and enact these principles, or are we overstepping our bounds?

Reflections on Sacred Texts

The call to holiness is a fundamental aspect of Jewish identity: “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, HaShem your God, am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2). This directive emphasizes the aspiration to reflect divine attributes in human behavior, creating a society rooted in holiness and ethical conduct. Deuteronomy underscores the role of the commandments in showcasing wisdom and understanding: “Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deuteronomy 4:6). This verse illustrates how adherence to Torah laws serves as a testament to the wisdom and moral clarity of the Jewish people, inspiring respect and admiration from other nations. How can we ensure that our adherence to Torah principles continues to serve as a beacon of wisdom and understanding in today’s society? And in the absence of a recognized Torah government, how do we maintain this standard?

Humility and Leadership

The importance of humility in leadership and interaction is exemplified by Moses, described as “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Moses’s humility serves as a guiding example of how to approach others with respect and compassion, reflecting the divine attributes of mercy and kindness. How can leaders today emulate Moses’ humility to foster a more compassionate and respectful society? Without a divinely sanctioned leader, are our current leaders justified in making decisions that impact the entire Jewish nation?

The Torah’s repeated commands to treat the stranger with kindness—“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am HaShem your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34)—emphasize the need for empathy and compassion, stemming from our own historical experiences. This principle is mirrored in Exodus 22:20: “You shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This commandment underlines the importance of treating all individuals with respect and dignity, regardless of their background or beliefs. How does our treatment of strangers reflect our own values and the lessons from our history? Does our current national policy reflect these values, and if not, what are the consequences?

Sanctity of Life

The value of human life is a cornerstone of Jewish ethics. Genesis 9:6 states, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” This verse underscores the sanctity of life, teaching that all humans are created in the divine image and thus deserving of protection and respect. How can we uphold the sanctity of life in our daily actions and decisions? In the context of national defense and conflict, are our actions in line with this sanctity, especially without the authoritative guidance of a Torah-based government?

The story of Ruth and Boaz from the Book of Ruth provides a narrative example of this inclusive ethic. Boaz’s respectful and kind treatment of Ruth, a Moabite woman, highlights the recognition of dignity and worth in every individual, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. This story exemplifies how kindness and respect can bridge divides and create harmonious relationships. What lessons can we draw from Ruth and Boaz in fostering inclusive and respectful communities today? In our contemporary setting, are we able to implement these lessons without the formal structure provided by a Sanhedrin?

Universal Kindness

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, in his responsa (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:79), emphasizes the importance of showing kindness to all people, Jews and non-Jews alike, as a reflection of the divine image in which all are created. This perspective reinforces the universal application of Jewish ethical principles. The Sefer HaChinuch, in its commentary on the mitzvah not to hate any person in Israel (Mitzvah 243), extends this principle to all humanity, encouraging love and respect for every person. This teaching highlights the universal applicability of Jewish values of compassion and justice. How can we extend our acts of kindness beyond our immediate communities to impact the wider world? And without a centralized Torah authority, how do we ensure these values are upheld in our collective actions?

Kabbalistic Insights

In the realm of Kabbalistic thought, the interconnectedness of all souls is a recurring theme. The Zohar (Parashat Vayikra, 11a) teaches that the divine presence (Shekhinah) rests upon every person, emphasizing the sanctity and intrinsic value of every human life. This mystical perspective deepens our understanding of the divine image within all people. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, in Likutei Moharan I:282, teaches that one should strive to find the good points even in those opposed to them. This approach encourages a focus on potential redemption and positive transformation rather than celebrating downfall, reinforcing the value of seeing the divine spark in every individual. How can we cultivate the habit of seeing the good in others, especially those with whom we disagree? Without the guidance of a Sanhedrin, how do we ensure these spiritual values are integrated into our societal norms?

Examples from Scripture

Elisha’s compassionate treatment of the Arameans in 2 Kings 6:21-23, where he instructs the King of Israel to feed and release them rather than kill them, further demonstrates the Jewish commitment to mercy and ethical conduct even towards enemies. This narrative illustrates the power of kindness in transforming adversarial relationships. Are our modern interactions with our adversaries reflective of this principle, especially in the context of state actions that may not be rooted in Torah authority?

Through these teachings, we learn to uphold the sanctity of all human life, strive for peaceful resolutions, and foster an environment of respect and dignity for all. These principles of mercy and compassion, deeply ingrained in Jewish tradition, guide us towards a harmonious and righteous future. This holistic approach, rooted in Torah, Talmud, Rabbinic commentary, and Kabbalistic insights, highlights the profound commitment to compassion, justice, and ethical conduct towards all individuals, including those we might consider enemies. How can we integrate these timeless teachings into our modern lives to build a more compassionate and just world?

Reflection on Modern Implications

Considering these profound teachings, we must ask ourselves about our modern-day actions and their alignment with these values. For instance, without a Sanhedrin, without our Temple, and without Mashiach, do we have the authority to act in the ways we currently do? The Tanakh repeatedly tells us that HaShem will fight our battles for us. Are our current actions aligned with the divine instructions provided in the Torah and the prophets? Could our modern state be acting prematurely without the legal and spiritual framework prescribed by HaShem?

Deuteronomy 32:35 asserts that retribution is HaShem’s domain: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” This verse raises significant questions about our current geopolitical actions and whether they are divinely sanctioned. Are we assuming roles that are meant for HaShem or Mashiach? In light of the teachings of the prophets, such as Isaiah, who spoke of HaShem gathering us from the exiles, is our current return to Israel aligned with the prophetic vision? Can Mashiach gather us if we are already there without his revealed leadership?

Revisiting Foundational Questions

Reflecting on our modern situation, do we find ourselves potentially guilty of acting outside the Torah’s prescriptions? The book of Daniel warns of the vulgar among our people exalting themselves to fulfill a messianic vision. Could this be reflective of our current state? How can we ensure that our actions are truly in line with the divine will, especially in the absence of the clear guidance of a Sanhedrin or Mashiach?

In the Torah, the commandments and ethical teachings are not just about personal piety but about creating a just society under divine law. With no legally binding Torah government to enforce such laws, how do we navigate our communal and national actions? Are we risking divine retribution by acting without proper authority?


This exploration of Jewish teachings on enemies, justice, and compassion offers profound insights into how we might view our modern actions and their alignment with divine will. As we strive to apply these timeless principles, we must continuously reflect on whether our actions are authorized by Torah and aligned with HaShem’s guidance. In the absence of a Sanhedrin and Mashiach, this reflection becomes even more critical, ensuring that we do not prematurely take on roles meant for divine intervention.

Our responsibility as Jews is to live as a light to the nations, embodying the ethical and moral standards set forth by HaShem. This includes upholding the sanctity of life, striving for peace, showing humility and compassion, and promoting justice and righteousness. However, without the clear guidance of a Torah-based authority, our collective actions must be scrutinized to ensure they align with these values.

The foundational questions raised about our authority to act, the potential risks of assuming roles meant for HaShem or Mashiach, and the ethical implications of our national policies are not just theoretical concerns. They are vital considerations that impact how we live our faith and fulfill our divine mission.

To truly integrate these teachings into our modern lives and build a more compassionate and just world, we must return to the core principles of Torah and seek divine wisdom through prayer, study, and reflection. Only by aligning our actions with HaShem’s will can we hope to create a society that reflects the divine attributes of mercy, justice, and holiness.

Let us strive to uphold these values in our daily lives and communal actions, fostering a world of compassion, justice, and divine wisdom. May we merit to recognize the guidance of Mashiach soon, and may our actions until then be worthy of divine approval.

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