Ki Tisa – Urban Warfare
Last week we had a small taste from the Sfat Emet commentary on the Torah, written by the Rebbe of Ger. It is worthwhile to draw again from the insight in this work to understand the difficult episode of the Golden Calf, about which we read in Ki Tisa.
Just weeks ago the nation stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai, experiencing the great revelation that launched Judaism into a formal religion, establishing the creed of our nation. As the leader of the nation Moses had to go on a training seminar to gain an in-depth understanding of the myriad laws and their meanings so he could properly transmit this tradition to the people. Moses departed, after assuring the people he would return after 40 days. Whether due to some miscalculation or some other error many people began to panic at the end of this time. They demanded a replacement for Moses, an icon they could relate to as a medium and a symbol of their relationship to God.
To us readers this is incomprehensible. Just weeks earlier the Big Ten were uttered in the presence of everyone, including the Mitzvah or having no images with which to worship. How could this, a direct violation of that commandment, transpire so soon?
The Torah relates that God informed Moses that he must descend from the mountain, “for your people have become corrupt… they have made a molten calf and have worshipped it…” (Ex 32:7-8)
When Moses encountered Joshua waiting for him near the foot of the mountain Joshua, unaware of the details, reported that a “sound of war is in the camp.” Here the Sfat Emet steps in with his comments. A sound of war? Why does Joshua describe the celebratory spounds emenating from the camp as a sound of war? In fact, Moses immediately replies that there is no sound of defeat or victory – which would be the result of a war – rather a sound of singing was coming from the camp.
If we can remember from a few weeks back, Joshua was nominated to lead the forces of Israel in battle against the attackers from Amalek. This was certainly the first battle the nation of Israel had ever encountered, and it left a deep impression on Joshua. He fought not merely against a military force but against an idea, against a dark and sinister mindset that Amalek brought. What Joshua was now hearing from the camp was in fact a virus that had penetrated the camp, an effect Amalek had on the nation. Joshua identified the sound as reminiscent of the encounter with Amalek. But this time it was not outside the camp, it was not coming from an attacking force. Joshua rather reported that “A sound of war is inthe camp.”
Hostile forces are an ever present danger in the world. To focus on just one manifestation, the Islamic State forces are suffering setback after setback, slowly losing the territory they had so quickly conquered. Coalition forces are confident that ISIS is nearly vanquished and they can soon wrap this up and go home. But others are warning that this is not the end. In fact, they are saying, the next phase will be even more destructive because it will not be confined to a specific territory. Fighters returning from their short lived Caliphate have gained experience on the battlefield and have cemented their alliegence to a radical and fundamentalist form of religion. The fundamentalist ideas will not have been snuffed out, and these are now likely to become problems internal to nations rather than a hostile force from without. Rather than a war outside the camp we may find ourselves increasingly engaged in a war within the camp.
It is the war of ideas the Sfat Emet appears to be focusing on. It should not be difficult to understand why in some circles smart phones are restricted, even if we don’t endorse such policies ourselves. In the battlefield of ideas it is much easier to win if the ideas remain external to our territory. Urban warfare tends to exact a much higher civilian toll than conventional battles.