In this week’s Parashah, the Torah teaches us that if a Jewish community serves Avodah Zarah, we are commanded to kill them. This idea is so shocking that most people miss the end of the Pasuk “VeNatan Lecha Rachamim,” “He (God) will grant you to be merciful” (Devarim 13:18). What is mercy doing here in the middle of such cruelty? Aren't we talking about being cruel and trying to put mercy off to the side? This passage is extremely confusing as it seems to switch from annihilation to mercy in a split second.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin mentions that Rabi Akiva says that we can learn from the Pasuk in Devarim that being merciful means that we will not kill the children, and they will be allowed to live. Why do we learn all of this from a Pasuk talking about idolatry and destruction? The Or HaChaim explains that normally when people kill, it leads to them getting sick and being revolted. As a person continues killing, he becomes more and more desensitized, to the point where it eventually has virtually no effect on him at all. By including the verse about being merciful, God is saying that this will not happen to the Jews, they will not be changed by violence and won’t become cruel like other nations.
Avraham Avinu fits this role of a “merciful warrior” very well as he was willing to risk his life for what he thought was right by defeating multiple armies (BeReishit 14)—yet he is one of the most compassionate and caring people in the Torah. He never closed the door to his tent and always enjoyed allowing all weary travelers to rest, eat, and be on their way. As the Jewish people, we must act like this as well; we must be willing to do the hard work and stick up for what we believe is right, yet we must always remember to be kind and compassionate. Every day in Israel, we see the relevance of the Or HaChaim’s interpretation of the Pasuk. In the constant ongoing war between Israel and terrorism we see a manifestation of this every day. We must do these violent actions in order to protect our people and let them live in peace. God’s promise to us is that when we do these necessary but seemingly violent deeds in order to allow others to sleep at night, we will not become desensitized, and we will still be merciful. A great example of this would be Gilad Shalit. Even though he was only one soldier who was captured, Israel was willing to trade more than 1,000 prisoners, many of them known terrorists, just to ensure the safe return of one soldier. This shows how the prophecy came true and that even though Israel must do some things that are gruesome, it is still a country that will never become complacent to killing. Even in the midst of all the violence, “God will grant you to be merciful.”