Photo Credit: IDF
Israeli soldiers operating against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Nov. 1, 2023.

As I write this, another eight Israeli soldiers have been killed overnight in Gaza. As I contemplate the tragic loss of yet more vibrant, idealistic young men, I find myself asking: How does any country truly win a war?

I visited the front a few weeks ago, with a group of volunteers who arranged a barbeque for our brave fighters on the Gaza border. I asked the soldiers individually, “Are you scared to go into battle?” They all answered me unflinchingly: “We are excited! We are ready!” Then I asked, “Do you want to kill Palestinians?” And they answered, to a man: “No, we want to protect our people and make sure that such attacks on Israel will never happen again.”


How do you take a teacher, a doctor, a plumber, and a student and turn them into an army? Into a battalion of fighters willing to die for their people and for their country? In particular, how do you do this when just a few weeks earlier they were marching against each other in opposing factions down the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?

Jordan Peterson, in his book 12 Rules for Life, explains how the human mind is able to create extensions of itself outside the body. For example, he asks if we would rather sacrifice our arm or our spouse? Our legs or our daughters? I can personally testify to the former in both cases. It is this ability to see an extension of ourselves in others that enables us to fight battles. Peterson explains that it is not our aggression, but rather our extreme sociability and willingness to cooperate that enables us to fight for our country, “relying on the same mechanisms that drive us to protect our bodies.”

So this is the paradox: The key to fighting successfully for our country is not our aggression but our love for our people. Training in hatred might enable people to commit the greatest crimes against humanity, such as those we witnessed on October 7, but it does not empower them to win a war. Training in love and kindness, and learning to appreciate each other, are the greatest predictors of success in battle.

This extends to the tools of war as well. The cooperation required to produce an Iron Dome defense apparatus or an Arrow missile interception system is tremendous. From planning to design, from procurement to production, from logistics to training, there are tens of thousands of people involved – highly educated, highly skilled, and highly committed to defending life. All have to work in harmony in order to meet a delivery deadline. Contrast this with the simplicity of creating a Molotov cocktail or procuring a Kalashnikov rifle on the black market. That can be done by any fool with cash provided by a terror-supporting entity that wishes to create destruction and fear.

Countries are defended by their morality. That’s why, in the history of warfare, every war has been fought either between a free country and a totalitarian state, or between two totalitarian states. In the former case, the free country has always been perceived to be the defender and the totalitarian state as the aggressor, because morality – that invisible glue that holds people together and makes us see ourselves as an extension of the other – is always worth defending. Strangely, the only wars in the history of mankind between a free country and a totalitarian state where the free country is regarded as the aggressor are the wars fought between Israel and her enemies.

Ironically, it is the Jewish people, the purveyors of morality in the world, who are the most frequently accused by hostile nations of acting immorally. When you win a war, you prove that your side’s morality was greater, because your soldiers’ ability to perceive themselves as part of the bigger picture was superior. You then have the right to take the moral high ground over the vanquished.

By winning this war against Hamas, Israel will not only destroy the source of terror on our border, but also demonstrate to the world our superior morality over the regressive culture of our foes. Our soldiers are our true tzaddikim – they are the purveyors of truth, kindness, brotherhood, and morality. May G-d defend them in all their battles, and may He bring them home safe, whole, and victorious, speedily in our days.

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Rabbi Leo Dee lives in Efrat with his three children and is the author of Transforming the World - The Jewish Impact on Modernity.