Parashat Re'eih places an emphasis on the destruction of Avodah Zarah in Eretz Yisrael. In it, the Torah commands the complete destruction of altars, idols, and other vessels used for idolatry. One of the most shocking examples of this mindset is the commandment to destroy an Ir HaNidachat, a wayward city. If a majority of a Jewish city is found to serve Avodah Zarah, the entire city must be annihilated. The perpetrators are killed and the rest of the city is leveled by fire. Nothing from the city may be preserved; rather, the city should remain untouched as a pile of rubble forever.
There is a justification for this harsh reaction to Avodah Zarah. The Torah explains, “VeLo Yidbak BeYadecha Me’umah Min HaCheirem LeMa’an Yashuv Hashem MeiCharon Apo VeNatan Lecha Rachamim VeRichamcha VeHirbecha KaAsher Nishba LaAvotecha,” “And none of the spoils should stick in your hands so that Hashem will return from his anger and show mercy to you, have compassion towards you, and multiply you like He promised to your fathers” (Devarim 13:18). When the Jews leave the spoils of the city, God promises to act kindly towards Yisrael. This Pasuk seems to provide a reward for properly dealing with the Ir HaNidachat. With few exceptions, the Torah rarely provides such specific details regarding rewards. Nonetheless, here, the Torah does go into the specifics, mentioning that having many children is the reward for correctly disposing of these cities.
We can now ask two questions. First, why is the city punished so severely for a simple majority of idolaters? It would be more understandable to punish those that directly sin and leave the others alone to grow their city back with only Ovdei Hashem, servants of Hashem. Furthermore, we have the example of Sedom, which would have been saved on behalf of a mere ten righteous individuals. Why can't we extend that same logic to this situation and say, as some do regarding Sedom, that ten individuals could save an entire city? Second, why does Hashem describe a reward for following this command, when He typically does not?
These two questions can be answered by examining the section of Ir HaNidachat. The purpose of Ir HaNidachat is not primarily to punish idolaters. The destruction of Kena’anit Avodah Zarah that is mandated at the start of the Parashah may be related to the Ir HaNidachat. There is tremendous import being given to the removal of Avodah Zarah, which, in general, manifests itself in a number of ways. One of these is through the utter and complete destruction of a city. Eretz Yisrael cannot tolerate a polytheistic society, and therefore, requires that all Avodah Zarah be stamped out. An Ir HaNidachat is not just a city of individuals who all happen to perform the same actions. More essentially than that, it is a community that represents a value incompatible with Jewish life. This group must be destroyed if there is to be a Jewish future, especially in Eretz Yisrael. In the same way that there is a commandment to cut down an Asheirah tree that is worshiped, there is a Mitzvah to put an end to an idolatrous city. While the tree might be recoverable, we still break it down based only on its spiritual past. The city, its people, and certainly its spoils can be saved, but they are not allowed to be. They must serve as a reminder by lying as a pile of ashes on the ground. The ruins will warn all that Avodah Zarah is not tolerated, and is necessarily antithetical to Judaism.
The Pesukim describe how the city must be closely analyzed and investigated to determine if it is truly an Ir HaNidachat. A simple search is all that would be required to count the number of idolatrous citizens, so what need is there for this meticulous investigation? It may be that a count of those who worship idols is not enough. A determination must be made regarding the effect of such a city. If there truly is more to the city than individuals worshipping idols, perhaps that must be determined as well. There may be a subjective element regarding the effect of a city in its status as an Ir HaNidachat, which requires a large-scale investigation to determine.
With this we can explain the promise to grant children to those who properly execute the Mitzvah of Ir HaNidachat. How can children be born - and the nation grow - in conditions where an Ir HaNidachat thrives? It isn't that there is a special reward given to those who fulfill this Mitzvah. Rather, there is no way for the Jewish people to continue to exist when such institutions are around. It is a promise to return to a state of normalcy, not anything additional.
In our own lives, we may find that there are similar roadblocks in our pursuit of a connection with Hashem. We might be involved in communities that preach ideas that hinder our spiritual development. It may be that like the Ir HaNidachat, some situations cannot or should not be fixed. We should perform an analysis, like the one done to a potential Ir HaNidachat, to determine not only the straight facts of a situation, but also the impact. After doing so, it is possible for us to come to a decision regarding the proper course of action to become the greatest that we can.