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To Fight or Not to Fight?


The opening verse of Deuteronomy reads, “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel . . .”


Words. What ‘words’? These are the farewell speeches of Moses to the people of Israel as they stand on the plains of Moab, ready to make their final journey, across the Jordan River, to enter the promised land. They will make this journey without Moses who prepares to die as the Lord foretold (Num. 27:13).


Here, we focus on Chapter 2 of Deuteronomy, giving particular attention to how Moses recalls the Lord’s instructions to the Israelites as they journeyed through foreign lands:


The land of Seir: “Be very careful not to engage in battle with them” (2:4-5).

The land of Moab: “Do not harass Moab or engage them in battle” (2:9).

The land of the Ammonites: “Do not harass them or engage them in battle” (2:19).


How do you interpret this repeated command to refrain from warfare? Remember: in traditional Jewish approaches, repetition in the Bible is a signal to pause, to creatively ponder the spiritual depths of God’s word. Read Ch 2 and ponder these verses. Ideally, share your responses to the text with a friend. Read some Torah commentary. What insights emerge in conversation?