Coming in the Tunnel: The Ordeal in Gaza and Tradition

Amidst all of the violence it is hard to find words to write anything in this very dark time. Having our brothers and sisters in Israel in mind I wanted to learn one mishna . The mishna is called, HaBa B’Machteret-  the one who comes in by the tunnel. We learn :

[A thief] who comes through a tunnel [into one’s house] is judged on the basis of his end. If he came through a tunnel and broke a jug: if he has blood-guilt, he is liable; if he does not have blood-guilt, he is exempt. ( Sanhedrin 8: 6)

On this Rava asks, “Why may one kill the person that comes in through the tunnel?” There is a legal assumption of  human nature that one does not restrain himself when someone takes his money. According to Rashi, the thief anticipates that the owner of the house will oppose him  and try to kill him, therefore the thief plans to kill the owner of the house. The Torah says, if someone seeks to kill you, you should kill him ( Sanhedrin 72.) In the case here we  assume that the person coming in the tunnel is just coming to steal from you, but in fear of being killed by the owner he is ready to kill the owner. So we are instructed to kill him preemptively.  Our tradition seeks to preserve life, but still we understand human nature.

This mishna took on new meaning for me today when I read the report from Ma’ariv that, “thousands of terrorists were meant to cross over to Israel from Gaza through the tunnels and kill and kidnap as many Israelis as they could. The source added that the army learned about the huge planned attack during the interrogations of Hamas prisoners, captured during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.” Reports state that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed his cabinet about the foiled plot during a Thursday cabinet meeting. The leader of the Jewish State reportedly expressed to officials that if this attack was not stopped, the number of Israeli fatalities may have been higher than the over 2,200 deaths Israel suffered during 1973 Yom Kippur War.

In looking again at this mishna I am not seeking a moral justification for the killing of terrorists whose mission is to kill Jews. That does not deserve our attention. All efforts to question Israel’s need to defend itself are just thinly veiled  anti-Semitic opinion. In this case the would be thief coming in the tunnel is not coming to steal, they are only coming to kill and capture Jews. Israel has a responsibility to seal the tunnels, but then what? How do we make sure that our people did not die in vain? How do we create a lasting peace?  I think this is hidden in our mishna.We need to share what it means to live a good and free life. We need to convince them that we will value our lives and their lives more than just our stuff. We need  to convince moderate Palestinians that we do not need to give into this human nature. It is only then that we will remove ourselves from the  cycle of violence described in the mishna. After we finish waging war on Hamas and removing this threat to the Jews and Palestinians alike, we need to wage peace to preempt terrorists tunneling into our homes and destroying our  lives.

Shabbat Shalom – And I mean Shalom.

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