Parshat Ki Tzeitzei: Spiritual Warfare
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The opening of this week’s Torah portion discusses laws that relate specifically to when the Jewish army goes to war. Nevertheless, over the centuries various darshanim have mined these pesukim for nuggets of spiritual insight relating to the “milchemes ha-yetzer,” the broader “war” of religious devotion. These insights are, of course, significant because everyone – without exception – must fight this battle. Any strategy that can utilized when we are tempted to do something we know is wrong is to be studied and appreciated.
In fact, there are three particular messages that we can take from the Torah’s description that can be characterized as the “who, how, and what” of going into spiritual battle.
“Ki teitzei la’milchamah” (Devarim 21:10) means when you – in the singular – go out to war. But what happened to the troops? Where are all of the soldiers? To be more accurate it really should have said “ki teitzu,” in the plural; why the curious formulation? In response to this problem a number of commentators explain that the Torah is alluding to a fundamental principle of warfare: A pre-requisite to military success is the unity of the troops and the unity of the people behind the mission of the troops. There may be thousands of soldiers but they must wage war as “ki teitzei,” as a unified group.
This idea has relevance to battles of the spirit as well. No matter how committed and how strong an individual may be, there is no substitute for being a part of a cohesive and unified Jewish community. Achdus and ahavas Yisrael are potent weapons which provide the necessary strength and support require for success. Not only can the community often help us avoid spiritual shortfalls in the first place, but on those occasions that we have fallen short of expectations and are facing divine judgment there is no better place to stand then shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters. Numerous sources point to the great advantage of being judged as part of the tzibbur and not merely as an individual.
This is the first lesson: Who should fight? All of us, together and united.
A second relevant observation is made by the Kotzker Rebbe. He notes that passuk implies a preemptive approach. Instead of passively sitting back and waiting for the enemy to attack “ki teitzei la’milchamah al oyvecha,” we proactively go out and confront the enemy.
This is a crucial strategy when it comes to the milchemes ha-yetzer as well. Too often people remain passive and allow events to define them rather than taking the initiative to create the reality they desire. When it comes to our Avodas Ha- Shem we cannot sit back, wait for problems arise, and then respond. Rather than being reactive we must be proactive; we must always be focused on finding new opportunities to grow and better ourselves.
This is the second lesson: How should we fight? Preemptively and not passively.
In addition to unity and initiative, a third lesson relates to what strategy we should employ. Rav Mordechai Gifter is bothered by an inconsistency in the continuation of the pasuk. The full verse reads: “Ki teitzei la’milchamah al oyvecha u-ne’sano Hashem Elokecha be’yadecha ve’shavisa shivyo,” when you go out to war against your enemies and Hashem, your God, will deliver him into your hand and you capture its [people] as captives. On the one hand the word “oyvecha” means enemies, in the plural, yet, on the other hand, “u-ne’sano” is singular and means “will deliver him.” Why the sudden shift?
R. Gifter explained that the Yetzer Hara puts many obstacles in our way. Sometimes we can’t concentrate because we are distracted by financial worries and other times we don’t do what is needed because we are too tired and still other times we do things we shouldn’t because we are tempted by illicit pleasures. On the one hand there are so many distractions and so many challenges but ultimately we must realize that it is all just one Yetzer Hara doing whatever possible to ensnare us in the clutches of sin. Rather than attacking all of the various permutations (“oyvecha”), a better strategy is to focus on defeating our mortal enemy which, if successful, will lead to one major victory (“u-ne’sano”).
The milchemes ha-yetzer is a lifelong battle but if we use the insights that Chazal have provided we can all be victors.