Hamstring the Horses?By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Hearing about Joshua’s conquest of the southern cities, the kings of the northern cities became quite scared. They formed a coalition against Israel under the leadership of Yavin, king of Chatzor and set up camp by the waters of Merom. G-d told Joshua that He would deliver the Canaanite forces into Israel’s hands and that they should hamstring the enemy’s horses and burn their chariots. This Joshua did. Israel conquered the cities of the north and burned the city of Chatzor.
The chapter ends with a summary of Joshua’s conquests. The only city that chose to make peace, we are told, was Givon (Gibeon); the rest chose to fight and were destroyed in battle. G-d “strengthened their hearts” as He did with the Pharaoh in Egypt, so that they could overcome their fear of Israel and do battle, rather than flee. Joshua also removed the giants, seen by the meraglim (spies) in parshas Shelach.
One has to wonder about the order to hamstring the horses. This certainly flies in the face of our “standard operating procedure” of tzaar ba’alei chaim, not to inflict unnecessary pain on animals. Why did G-d command us to render the horses unfit for future battle?
Chariots were the “heavy artillery” of the day. Israel had never before faced an army with horses and chariots. G-d had no interest in Israel capturing them and becoming the military superpower of their time. Had they kept the horses and chariots for battle, they might have forgotten that their strength doesn’t come from their weaponry, but from G-d Himself. That is why G-d had the chariots destroyed and the horses rendered unsuitable for warfare.