First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/chukat-gentle-strength/
Netziv Numbers: Chukat
“Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” -Eric Hoffer
“Rotund” was the simplest way to describe the smiling, mild mannered professor who lectured us regarding ancient Near East archeology. However, what belied that gentle exterior was a martial arts master who could pulverize bricks with a single blow. During one particularly disruptive class the professor warned in a deceptively mild tone, which I remember decades later: “Don’t confuse niceness with weakness.” The class immediately quieted down.
Ancient enemies of Israel did confuse politeness with feebleness. Moses and the Israelites asked permission of the nations in their path in the desert to pass peacefully through their territory on their way to the Promised Land. According to the Netziv on Numbers 21:1, these nations assumed that Israel was nicely asking for permission because they didn’t have the strength to pass by force of arms. The nations saw such politeness as a sign of weakness and marched to war upon the presumably feeble Israel. What ensued was a massacre. Israel completely destroyed the entire armies and leadership of the two attacking kings of Sichon and Og and conquered their entire territory in a swift decisive victory that caused the entire region to tremble in fear of the approaching Israelites.
May our enemies learn to fear us and may we show strength to people who don’t understand gentleness.
To Israel’s army and security forces. May God protect them during their search for our sons: Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.