Baruch Hashem, Rav Weinberger has approved this version of my write-up of his drasha from this past Shabbos, parshas Shoftim, which relates to the same topic as this week's parsha "When you go out to war against your enemies..." See here for past shiurim at YUTorah.org's website by Rav Weinberger both as Mashpia at YU and from the past 20 years. You can also click on one of the following links to subscribe to the shiurim: email, rss feed, podcast, or iTunes. Please note that these drashos will only be available online for one month. If you notice any mistakes, please let me know so I can correct it. If you are interested in a particular drasha that is no longer online, you can email me (right sidebar) and I'll send it to you IY"H, BL"N.
Rav Moshe Weinberger
Parshas Shoftim 5775
The Real Battleground
Going Out to Battle
The Torah teaches us in parshas Shoftim about the Jewish way in war. We learn who is fit to go out to the field of battle and who is exempt. The first three exemptions (Devarim 20:5-7) are one who has built a new house but not yet inaugurated it, one who has planted a vineyard but has not yet redeemed it, and one who has betrothed his wife but has not yet married her. But the most fundamental of the exemptions is the last one (ibid. 8): “And the officers shall continue to speak to the nation and say, ‘Who is the man who is fearful and faint of heart, let him go and return to his house and not weaken the heart of his brothers to be like his heart.’”
It is clear that the presence or absence of fear is the most crucial factor in war. Victory in battle depends primarily on the morale, spirit, and disposition of the troops. This is true both in terms of people’s belief in what they are fighting for as well as their confidence in their own victory. When soldiers believe in the justice of their cause and in the ultimate success of their efforts, they invest their entire heart and soul and are ultimately victorious. But if they are filled with self-doubt, worries, and fear, or if they are ambivalent about the cause they are fighting for, it is almost certain that they will be defeated.
This is why this parsha, which is devoted to how to prepare for battle, focuses primarily on the morale of the soldiers when they go out to war. The Torah says (ibid. 1-4):
When you go out to war against your enemy and you see horse and chariot, a nation greater than you, do not be afraid of them, for Hashem your G-d, who lifted you up out of Egypt, is with you. And when you approach the war, the kohein shall approach and speak to the nation and say to them, “Listen Israel! You are approaching war with your enemies today. Let not your hearts become faint. Do not be afraid. Do not tremble and do not be terrified before them, for Hashem your G-d goes with you to do battle for you with your enemies to save you.”
Even though the Jewish soldiers might be tempted to be afraid because they see an enemy with more soldiers than they have and more powerful weapons than they possess, the kohein anointed for war was commanded to reassure them that they had no reason to fear because Hashem, who performed all the miracles for them in Egypt, would personally arrange their victory. This message was not directed only at “the man who is fearful and faint of heart,” but at the entire nation. Hashem knew that His people would never be successful if they were filled with fear or self-doubt. They had to feel certainty and confidence in their ultimate success, or else they would not be victorious.
Yeshayahu says in the haftara (51:13), “And you will forget Hashem who made you, who spread out the Heavens and founded the earth and you are always afraid all day because of the fear of the terrorizer who is preparing to destroy….” He was rebuking us for being unnecessary afraid and not internalizing the Torah’s reassurances. The Radak explains this passuk as follows: “You should have realized that the One who created the world has the power to save you from a human being. How were you afraid of a person and did not remember G-d, who, if you return to Him and ask Him, will save you from his hand?” We must know that if we trust in G-d and thereby feel confident in battle, victory is ours.
We need this reassurance today more than ever. With anti-Semitism running rampant thorough the world and the Iranian regime’s path to nuclear weapons being paved by the White House, there are many reasons we might be afraid. But Hashem’s message to us through the Torah is that He “has our backs.” Our cause is just and we should fight those who seek to harm us with confidence in the morality of our efforts and in the certainty of our ultimate victory.
The Spiritual Battle
But Hashem’s message to us as we go out to battle is not only relevant to physical battle, which is not something that every Jew has to face. There is another type of battle hinted at in the parsha which does apply to every Jew at all times. It is now Elul, time to fortify ourselves for the ultimate battle. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, zy”a, offers an explanation of the passuk, “When you go out to war against your enemy.” He says: “Perhaps the passuk hints at a person’s war with his evil inclination and [the Torah] comes to remove the faintness from his hearts and says ‘When you go out to war,’ the well-known [war] greater than any other.”
In this spiritual war, just like in a war against a physical enemy, victory depends on a feeling of confidence and a lack of fear and faint-heartedness. The greatest danger is when a person wants to return to serve G-d but is afraid that he is simply too weak and that he will not be successful in battle. In the words of the passuk, he is afraid of “horse and chariot, a nation greater than you.” The Ohr Hachaim explains that these three things hint at the three main factors that take away a person’s confidence in his battle against the evil inclination.
“Horse” hints at the fact that one sees the evil inclination as a horse ready for battle, strong and powerful. The person, however, feels weak and ill-equipped for spiritual war. The Hebrew word for chariot (רכב) is connected to the word “mixed – מורכב.” Fighting one’s evil inclination is hard because we have mixed feelings. We desire not only holiness and goodness, but also physicality. Because we are not exclusively committed to our own side, we are afraid that we will not be successful. And “a nation greater than you – עם רב ממך” can also be translated to mean “a great nation from you.” We are afraid that our past sins have created a great nation of sins and evil forces which handicap us in our fight against the evil inclination.
If we had to fight this spiritual battle on our own, we might have reason to fear. But thankfully, we need not be afraid because we have our own kohein anointed for war, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohein Kook, zy”a, who shows us (Oros Hateshuva 14:4(1)) how the Torah’s message applies to us in our own fight against the evil inclination. He says, “Most failures come because a person does not believe in the ease of teshuva.” It is actually a cinch! A person thinks it is impossible for him to beat the evil inclination because he is under the impression that spiritual battle must be difficult and drawn out with many casualties and much pain. The truth is in the war of teshuva, victory is easy and guaranteed! The Holy One Blessed be He promises: Go out to war! Be a soldier! And I promise you, “G-d will not abandon you into his [the evil inclination’s] hand” (Tehillim 37:33). “Hashem your G-d goes with you to do battle for you with your enemies to save you.”
A Confident Elul
Each person has his or her own favorite phrase hinted at by the letters of the word “Elul – אלול.” The most well-known is “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine [אני לדודי ודודי לי].” But there are several other, less well-known acronyms which correspond to the word Elul. One of the more interesting ones is “sending gifts a man to his friend, and gifts to the poor [איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים]” from the book of Esther (9:22). Yet another one is “And Hashem your G-d will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of [את לבבך ואת לבב] your children” (Devarim 30:6).
But Rav Naftali Ropshitzer, zy”a, in the sefer Zera Kodesh has one that many people are not familiar with, which is particularly appropriate to the topic at hand: “For Hashem your G-d goes in the midst of your camp to save you and to give over your enemy before you [להצילך ולתת איביך לפניך], [so] your camp shall be holy…” (Devarim 23:15). Hashem is in our midst, fighting for us in our physical battles as well as our spiritual battles, so we need not be afraid. If we give ourselves over wholeheartedly to G-d in the battle for teshuva and thereby fulfill “I am my Beloved’s,” then we know Hashem will reciprocate – “my Beloved is mine.”
Chabad chassidim have a tradition regarding another acronym for Elul: “לעבעדיק און ווייטער לעבעדיק – lively and more lively.” If we fight with confidence and joy because we trust in the fact that Hashem will make us successful in the battle against the evil inclination, the battle of teshuva, then it is certain that He will fight for us and we will win.
As we say in L’Dovid starting in Elul, “Hashem is my light and my salvation, of whom should I be afraid?! Hashem is the might of my life, of whom should I be terrified?!” We must approach the battle for teshuva, for spiritual growth, with joy, confidence, and strength, and not with fear, dread, and hopelessness. As Rav Kook says (Igros Haraya II p. 36), “The foundation of everything is that one must come to explain the over-arching principle of the unwavering trust in teshuva, the powerful serenity, and joyful might in which every person in whom the light of teshuva illuminates his soul must enclothe himself.”
May we merit to remember Hashem’s love for us and His promise that He will do battle with our physical and spiritual enemies. By doing so, we will fight with confidence and certainty and Hashem will cause us to be victorious over those who would harm us physically and over the evil inclination. May we thereby merit to see the complete conquest of our enemies and the slaughter of the evil inclination with the coming of the complete redemption, may it be soon in our days!
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