No Longer To Learn War

Maimonides' Vision Of Universal Peace:
The Foreglimpse Of The Fulfillment Of That Vision In Our Society

Publisher's Foreword

We are living in a paradoxical age. On one hand, the crudest elements of society receive front page attention in what could be interpreted as a deliberate attempt to demonstrate that mankind has not progressed at all since the stone-age. Simultaneously, there are glimmerings of progress, and not merely relative progress, but an advance to an entirely different plateau of human relations.

Our Torah tradition explains that the era preceding the coming of Moshiach will be characterized by an enigma of this nature. We will see a breakdown of the value system that has prevailed throughout the ages [1]. At the same time, we will experience a foretaste of the ultimate good of the Era of the Redemption [2].

The essay that follows explores the expression of these principles in one area: the human tendency to wage war and our desire for peace. It is our hope that the awareness of this paradox will motivate our readers to seek its resolution through spreading knowledge and in this matter precipitate the coming of the age when "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed." [3]

Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5753

No Longer To Learn War

Let's learn a portion of Maimonides' magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, together: "There will be no difference between the current age and the Messianic Era, except [Israel's] subjugation to [gentile] nations." [4].

A few paragraphs later, Maimonides says, "In that Era, there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy or competition." [5] You tell me: Don't these two quotes appear to contradict each other? Doesn't the universal peace he promises appear to be a miraculous change from today's world order?

War appears to be a constant human condition. Sociologists tell us that shortly after the first band of nomads decided to settle down and grow wheat, another band of nomads came to attack them and raid their crops.

Or to put the concept in Biblical terms: Within a sparse time after creation, Cain killed Abel; i.e., half of humanity was involved in a major conflict that decimated one fourth of the world's population.

And we haven't changed very much, except that we have gotten better at killing. Then they did it with rocks and clubs and now we have smart bombs, lasers, and atomic, chemical, and biological weapons in reserve if our conventional ones fail. Given all this, how can Maimonides tell us that the Messianic Era will not change nature, and yet men will no longer wage war against each other?

The resolution lies in the continuation of Maimonides' statements: "For good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be as freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be to know G-d." [6]

The world will not change. Man will. We will develop our resources successfully and enjoy abundance. Moreover, we will understand ourselves, the people around us, and our purpose in life much better. And then we will see how damaging, wasteful, and cruel war is. And as a natural response: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more." [7] Instead of using our intellectual and economic assets to create weapons of destruction, we will use them to enhance our lives and the lives of our fellow men.

On the surface, such an approach makes so much sense. One cannot help but wonder why mankind did not realize it all along.

The answer is obvious. It was not that the perpetrators of war had good reason to justify their behavior. On the contrary, they were not interested in reason [8], they were concerned with their own immediate desires. To refer to the examples given above: The one group of nomads wanted the other's wheat, or Cain was envious of G-d's recognition of Abel. A nation who went out to war temporarily chose to forgot about what's right, and decided that right or wrong, they were going to take what they wanted.

In the Era of the Redemption, this will change. We will all enjoy wealth and affluence. Simultaneously, we will have the knowledge and the awareness that will enable us to control our possessions, instead of having them control us. Maimonides hints at this by saying "All the delights will be as freely available as dust." We will all enjoy an abundance - and indeed, an over-abundance - of good things. Therefore, just as man does not crave dust, we will not loose our equilibrium in our desire for any material benefits [9].

This transition will not come about miraculously; no wizard will wave a wand, and suddenly mankind will change. Rather this change will come about through the functioning of our own minds. As Moshiach spreads knowledge throughout the world [10], war and conflict will be shunned as primitive and devastating.

A utopian dream of a far-off future? No, a reality that is shaping itself in continuously progressing stages from day to day. A look at the defense policies of the U.S., Great Britain, the former Soviet Union, and many other leading nations provide us with a foreglimpse of how Isaiah's prophecies will become reality. Swords are being beaten into plowshares, i.e., governments are cutting defense budgets and directing the freed resources and technology to agriculture and social reform.

It is true that this shift in direction has not stopped people from killing each other throughout the world. As this article is being written there are three or four mini-wars going on, and others are waiting like cinderboxes for a match to ignite them.

But let's look a little beneath the surface. All over, people are saying, Who won the Cold War? Japan. While the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were busy devoting their resources to financing the stockpiling of weapons, the Japanese were devoting their effort to education and trade And now, we are downright jealous. The economic and technological advances they made during the decades when our attention was directed toward national security projected them into a position of prominence with few or any parallels.

And this leads to another point. In the next decade, the likelihood of a military conflict between Japan and the U.S. is next to nil. Both sides simply have too much to lose. The same concept applies in Europe. The probability of armed conflict between the U.S. and the nations of Western Europe or wars among these nations themselves is negligible. The stakes are too high.

The intent here is not merely that the winners will also lose, that immense damage and loss of life will result on both sides from such a conflict. Much more is involved. Such a war would destroy the underpinnings of the new global economy on which the functioning of our society has begun to depend.

Where will we let war take place? Where wars take place today. In nations like Yugoslavia, where unfortunately for there is no reason why economic relationships or the lack of them should influence our sensitivity to the destruction of human life - the nations involved are not sufficiently integrated into the world's economic picture. For the same reasons, we allow wars to go on throughout the Third World. We do not understand how such wars affect our lives and so we let them continue.

And even our willingness to tolerate such wars is changing. The communications revolution has brought war into our living rooms live. Watching the Gulf War was like watching the Super Bowl. We cheered our troops like fans rooting hard as the home team pulled off a draw play up the middle. We were happy to watch our planes and helicopters take off and knock out targets.

But in the middle of the war something changed. One of those targets accidentally - that was the Pentagon's words - happened to be a bomb shelter and suddenly we saw that those targets contained beings with human faces and human hearts like you and me. Yes they had supported Saddam, consciously or unconsconsciously, but they were human and we felt very uncomfortable when we saw that their blood was as red as ours.

In other words, economics and communication (something like the wealth and knowledge mentioned in the passage from Maimonides quoted above) are making war obsolete.

Again, if you read the newspapers, the obsolesce of war will not be so obvious. But that is because there are nations whose conception of reality resembles that of the inner city. These nations will continue to promote war and terrorism, so that it will take time, and perhaps the actual coming of Moshiach, before international peace will become an actual reality. On the other hand, we've come a long way from the days when it was the leading nations of the world who waged war against each other. Affluence and education have made a difference.

There is another dimension to the concept that the spread of knowledge will lead to international peace. The growing consciousness people have of the concepts of Moshiach and Redemption serves as an active force promoting change. Not only does the present international situation enable us to gain a glimmer of awareness of the state of peace Moshiach will introduce to the world, our awareness of the imminence of the Era of the Redemption encourages movement to such a state of peace [11].

This is not to assert that President Bush read one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's addresses before signing the disarmament treaty [12].

What has happened, however, is that those addresses and the wave of interest they inspired have prompted a transition in people's thinking.

The climate of the world is changing and people are looking forward to an era of universal peace. They're tired of continued stress and politicians who tell them its healthy. Most of us were very happy to win the Gulf War; few would seek a return to interventionary foreign policy.

Man has a natural desire for peace and security; we want to live in an environment where growth and knowledge can flourish without danger. As the awareness of Moshiach and the Era of the Redemption are becoming more widespread, these natural feelings are rising to the surface.

The more we become aware of the potential mankind will realize in the Era of the Redemption, the more we will seek to incorporate these values into our contemporary experience. This, in turn, will serve as a catalyst that will precipitate change, making it possible for us to realize the ideal of Redemption faster and to create an environment of universal peace in our time.


  1. See the conclusion of the tractate of Sotah.
  2. See Sheloh Tractate Shabbos.
  3. Isaiah 11:9, quoted by Maimonides in the conclusion of his discussion of the Messianic age in the Mishneh Torah.
  4. Halachos Melachim 12:2. Similar statements are found in Halachos Teshuvah 9:2, and in Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah, Introduction to ch. 10 of tractate Sanhedrin. Maimonides' source appears to be Berachot 34b. See also the explanation of this concept and a discussion of the subject of miracles in the era of the redemption in the essay "Two Periods Within the Era of the Redemption," in "I Await His Coming" (Kehot, 1991).
  5. Halachos Melachim 12:5.
  6. Halachos Melachim 12:5.
  7. Isaiah 2:4.
  8. This is not to say that we must adopt a policy of pacifism at all costs. On the contrary, there are wars that must be fought, but they are defensive in nature. Were there to be no aggressors, these wars would also not be necessary.
  9. We will highlight the concept of the prosperity and affluence that will characterize the Era of the Redemption in a forthcoming essay devoted primarily to that subject.
  10. As will be explained in a forthcoming essay, in particular, this refers to the unique approach to knowledge that Moshiach will introduce and spread.
  11. There is a concept of spiritual causation. In that vein, the story is told (Meah Shearim p. 28a) that the Maggid of Mezeritch would recite teachings which he knew his listeners could not understand so that they would be "drawn down into the atmosphere of the world." This would facilitate their comprehension by others at a later date. Without minimizing the effects of such a process of causation, the intent above, however, is to express the much more tangible influence of public opinion which is mobilizing our society.
  12. There is, however, no question that he was aware of such addresses having been made. The attention which the media have given the concepts of Moshiach and Redemption is unfathomable. There are few Americans -- no matter what their faith or where they live who have not come into contact with these ideas.