Physical and Spiritual Attacks

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)



Jews have been the focus of physical and spiritual attacks throughout the ages. Each attack is either physical or spiritual. Two different kinds of attacks and two different kinds of responses. In this study, I would like to examine these attacks to discern what should be my response to an attack.


In II Kings chapters 18 and 19, we have the story of the attack of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, against Hezekiah, king of Judah. Hezekiah offers tribute and Sennacherib responds bringing up a giant army to attack and to belittle HaShem:


II Melachim (Kings) 18:28-36 Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew: "Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in HaShem when he says, 'HaShem will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.' "Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, Until I come and take you to a land like your own, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death! "Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘HaShem will deliver us.' Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can HaShem deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, "Do not answer him."


Hezekiah responds to this physical attack with a spiritual response:


II Melachim (Kings) 18:37 – 19:7 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said. When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of HaShem. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They told him, "This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. It may be that HaShem your God will hear all the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words HaShem your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives." When King Hezekiah's officials came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, "Tell your master, 'This is what HaShem says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard--those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.'"


Sennacherib continued his attack and his taunts against HaShem until Hezekiah’s and the people’s prayer was heard on high:


II Melachim (Kings) 19:8-37 When the field commander heard that the king of Assyria had left Lachish, he withdrew and found the king fighting against Libnah. Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the Cushite king [of Egypt], was marching out to fight against him. So he again sent messengers to Hezekiah with this word: "Say to Hezekiah king of Judah: Do not let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, 'Jerusalem will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.' Surely you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them: the gods of Gozan, Haran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar? Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, or of Hena or Ivvah?"  Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of HaShem and spread it out before HaShem. And Hezekiah prayed to HaShem: "HaShem, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, HaShem, and hear; open your eyes, HaShem, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. "It is true, HaShem, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands. Now, HaShem our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, HaShem, are God." Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: "This is what HaShem, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria. This is the word that HaShem has spoken against him: "'The Virgin Daughter of Zion despises you and mocks you. The Daughter of Jerusalem tosses her head as you flee. Who is it you have insulted and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! By your messengers you have heaped insults on the Lord. And you have said, "With my many chariots I have ascended the heights of the mountains, the utmost heights of Lebanon. I have cut down its tallest cedars, the choicest of its pines. I have reached its remotest parts, the finest of its forests. I have dug wells in foreign lands and drunk the water there. With the soles of my feet I have dried up all the streams of Egypt." "'Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone. Their people, drained of power, are dismayed and put to shame. They are like plants in the field, like tender green shoots, like grass sprouting on the roof, scorched before it grows up. "'But I know where you stay and when you come and go and how you rage against me. Because you rage against me and your insolence has reached my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will make you return by the way you came.' "This will be the sign for you, O Hezekiah: "This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of HaShem Almighty will accomplish this. "Therefore this is what HaShem says concerning the king of Assyria: "He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came he will return; he will not enter this city, declares HaShem. I will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David my servant." That night the angel of HaShem went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning--there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.


So, a physical attack brought a spiritual response. Please note that if the Assyrians had attacked and begun killing us, our response is to fight back physically while our bocherim should continue to study Torah and performing the mitzvot with fervent tefila and teshuva. These spiritual warriors will determine the outcome of the army.


Chanukah is the festival celebration over those who have tried, and failed, to culturally assimilate us (the Greeks and Western Culture). They did not try to kill us, they tried to separate us from HaShem and from Torah. For a spiritual attack, we attacked physically. “Everything is in the hand of Heaven except the fear of Heaven.”[1] When we must demonstrate our fear of Heaven, we are on our own and we must physically demonstrate our fear of Heaven.


II Maccabees 6:1-31 1: Not long after this the king sent an old man of Athens to compel the Jews to depart from the laws of their fathers, and not to live after the laws of God: 2: And to pollute also the temple in Jerusalem, and to call it the temple of Jupiter Olympius; and that in Garizim, of Jupiter the Defender of strangers, as they did desire that dwelt in the place. 3: The coming in of this mischief was sore and grievous to the people: 4: For the temple was filled with riot and revelling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots, and had to do with women within the circuit of the holy places, and besides that brought in things that were not lawful. 5: The altar also was filled with profane things, which the law forbiddeth. 6: Neither was it lawful for a man to keep sabbath days or ancient fasts, or to profess himself at all to be a Jew. 7: And in the day of the king's birth every month they were brought by bitter constraint to eat of the sacrifices; and when the fast of Bacchus was kept, the Jews were compelled to go in procession to Bacchus, carrying ivy. 8: Moreover there went out a decree to the neighbour cities of the heathen, by the suggestion of Ptolemee, against the Jews, that they should observe the same fashions, and be partakers of their sacrifices: 9: And whoso would not conform themselves to the manners of the Gentiles should be put to death. Then might a man have seen the present misery. 10: For there were two women brought, who had circumcised their children; whom when they had openly led round about the city, the babes handing at their breasts, they cast them down headlong from the wall. 11: And others, that had run together into caves near by, to keep the sabbath day secretly, being discovered by Philip, were all burnt together, because they made a conscience to help themselves for the honour of the most sacred day.


The end of this story began with Mattithias slaying the Syrian soldier, and ended more than fifteen years later with Syria’s ousting:


I Maccabees 2:19-27 19: Then Mattathias answered and spake with a loud voice, Though all the nations that are under the king's dominion obey him, and fall away every one from the religion of their fathers, and give consent to his commandments: 20: Yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers. 21: God forbid that we should forsake the law and the ordinances. 22: We will not hearken to the king's words, to go from our religion, either on the right hand, or the left. 23: Now when he had left speaking these words, there came one of the Jews in the sight of all to sacrifice on the altar which was at Modin, according to the king's commandment. 24: Which thing when Mattathias saw, he was inflamed with zeal, and his reins trembled, neither could he forbear to shew his anger according to judgment: wherefore he ran, and slew him upon the altar. 25: Also the king's commissioner, who compelled men to sacrifice, he killed at that time, and the altar he pulled down. 26: Thus dealt he zealously for the law of God like as Phinees did unto Zambri the son of Salom. 27: And Mattathias cried throughout the city with a loud voice, saying, Whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me.


Judah Maccabee led his faithful band and restored the desecrated altar. Theirs was a physical response to a spiritual attack.


Purim is the festival celebration over those who have tried and failed to physically destroy us (the Persians and Western Culture). For a physical attack, we reacted spiritually. Here our lives are physically in danger for no other reason than just pure hate. There is no attack to prevent us from fulfilling the mitzvot. There was no spiritual attack, only a physical attack. For this we realize that HaShem is coming against us. When HaShem is coming against us, all we can to is repent. Any physical response will be entirely in vain because we would be fighting HaShem.


Please note that when our enemies attacked us and begun killing us, our response is to fight back physically while our bocherim should continue to study Torah and perform the mitzvot with fervent tefila and teshuva. These spiritual warriors will determine the outcome of the army.




At this point we need to be able to put some pieces together. This Torah knowledge must be applied in a practical way. We must learn from the Purim experience. So, lets apply this:


Just prior to the beginning of World War II, Germany was known as place of culture and hospitality. Germans were known as warm loving people. Germany, in the days of Hitler, was very much like Babylon in the days of Haman.


Haman had no particular education, training, or nobel birth that he should be entitled to rule. In fact, he was Mordechai’s barber. It seems that his only qualification to rule was because HaShem wished to use his intense hatred of Jews.


Hitler, like Haman, had no particular education, training, or noble birth that he should be entitled to rule. It seems that his only qualification to rule was because HaShem wished to use his intense hatred of Jews.


From the Purim story we learn that the proper response to a totally irrational hatred of Jews, is teshuvah, repentance. Just as this was the proper response in the days of Haman, so it should have been the response of every Jew during the days of Hitler. HaShem brought this intense hatred against us in order to drive us to repentance. Because of our stony hearts, HaShem allowed Hitler to bring his illogical hatred to such an intense level, ONLY to drive us to repentance. He proved that the destruction of the Jews was his total and complete focus. He killed Jews rather than use those resourses to defend his country.


To a physical, illogical, and irrational, hatred that focuses on our physical destruction, our response must be spiritual! We must recognize that HaShem is behind this. We must see that our total response must be teshuvah, repentance! We must not react physically.


The Gulf war was another such illogical war as it applied to the Jew. Sadam, like Hitler and Haman, had no particular education, training, or noble birth that he should be entitled to rule. It seems that his only qualification to rule was because HaShem wished to use his intense hatred of Jews. When he wished to fight Kuwait and the allied army, he shot scud missles at Israel. What an illogical reaction. This response, alone, should make us realize that HaShem’s hand is behind it. The very lack of logic should cause us to see the hand of HaShem.


To a physical, illogical, and irrational, hatred that focuses on our physical destruction, our response must be spiritual! We must recognize that HaShem is behind this. We must see that our total response must be teshuvah – repentance! We must not react physically as a way to win the battle, but rather as a way of disguising the hand of HaShem who will fight for us.


* * *


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

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[1] Berachoth 33b