Shoftim - Fighting the Real Battle

When you go out to war against your enemies, and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you, you shall not be afraid of them, for the L-rd, your G-d is with you Who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ וְרָאִיתָ סוּס וָרֶכֶב עַם רַב מִמְּךָ לֹא תִירָא מֵהֶם כִּי ה קלֹקיךָ עִמָּךְ הַמַּעַלְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
Devarim 20:1

  • What war is the Torah referring to in this verse?
  • Why does it say "When you go out..." and not "When you go to fight..."
  • Why does it start in the singular "Taytzai" and when the intention is for the entire group (should be plural)?

The Real Enemy: The Evil Inclination

  • Why war?: The Or HaChaim HaKadosh notes that perhaps the statement "When you go out to war" is referring to the war that man faces with his own inclination. This comes to remove the cowardice from your heart, and can be read "When you go out to 'the very well known' war" that there is no war larger than this.
  • Go out: The Slonimar Rebbe comments, since this is an eternal war of the soul against the evil inclination, we need to go out to fight it and not wait for the Yetzer Harah to attack.
  • Singular: He also explains, it is written in singular rather than plural since everyone has their own personal inclinations and battles that they need to contend with.

Challenges in Fighting the Evil Inclination
The Or HaChaim explains how the war against the evil inclination is difficult, and that which diminishes his power.
  1. There is no one more experienced and more learned in the arts of this war than the Evil Inclination
  2. The physiological and psychologically makeup of man inherently bring us towards taking part in prohibited behavior, whether stealing, robbery, arrogance, eating forbidden food and other enticements the soul. This inclination prevents us from heeding the words of Torah and the commandments.

Furthermore, succumbing to these acts and failing to adhere to Torah, grows the numerous transgressions and fuels the power of evil.

Clues to the Great War with the Evil Inclination
We see all this in our  verse:
  כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה... וְרָאִיתָ סוּס וָרֶכֶב עַם רַב מִמְּךָ 
When you go out to war ... and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you

  • Horse: Symbolizes the essence of the evil inclination, a toughened war-horse - a creature ready for this war, unlike us.
  • Chariot: Symbolizes our makeup, or structure (הרכבה), where our inclinations lead us towards succumbing to the prohibited.
  • People more numerous than you: Symbolizes the forces of evil that have grown out of one's own evil actions

The Remedy to the War with the Evil Inclination
Yet the Torah continues and contrasts these challenges with:
"you shall not be afraid of them"
"לֹא תִירָא מֵהֶם"
Why? Why should we not fear these overwhelming qualities of our adversary - The Evil Inclination?
Ah! The verse continues with the answer:
"for Hashem, your G-d is with you"
"כִּי ה קלֹקיךָ עִמָּךְ"
What does this mean?
If you were to come alone to this war, relying on your own powers, the outcome would be a foregone conclusion. You would lose. It would be hopeless.

The Source of True Strength
Since Hashem is with us, we have the most powerful ally in this war. The closer we draw to him, the stronger we become in our fight with the Evil Inclination. This is an ongoing fight where we must be ever vigilant and continue in our efforts to enhance our connections to Hashem.

The Ongoing War
How do we know that the war carries on, and no matter how much we improve personally each day brings new challenges?
The verse closes with the phrase
 “Who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”
הַמַּעַלְךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם
HaShem removes the outer peel (klipah) that conceals and filters out holiness. This explains meaning of ‘brought you up out of the land of Egypt,’ -  an act of kindness. And serves for us as a sign to further fortify us in this war.

How? Like it says in Tehilim:
The wicked man watches for the righteous man and seeks to put him to death. HaShem shall not leave him in his hands, and He shall not condemn him [the righteous] when he [the wicked] is judged.
צוֹפֶה רָשָׁע, לַצַּדִּיק; וּמְבַקֵּשׁ, לַהֲמִיתוֹ ה`  לֹא-יַעַזְבֶנּוּ בְיָדוֹ; וְלֹא יַרְשִׁיעֶנּוּ, בְּהִשָּׁפְטוֹ

Tehilim 37:32-33
Explained in Masechet Kiddushin:
And R. Simeon b. Levi said: Man's inclination gathers strength against him daily and seeks to kill him, for it is said: "The wicked watches the righteous, and seeks to slay him;" and were not Hakodesh Baruch Hu to help [man], he would not be able to prevail against this inclination, as it is says: "HaShem will not leave him in his hands."
Kiddushin 30B (Soncino Translation)
The war that we have described here is eternal. The crafty Evil Inclination enhances itself daily and finds new weaknesses for where to launch an attack. The ultimate response and weaponry is true closeness to Hashem, which is gained through Torah and Mitzvot.

A Story of the Ohr HaChayim Hakadosh
One week nearly three hundred years ago, in the area of Sali, Morocco, a plague broke out amongst the cattle, and much fo the livestock were found to be traife. Only one calf was acceptable without question, and that was slaughtered specifically by the tzaddik, Rabbi Chaim Ben-Atar, the "Ohr HaChayim Hakadosh" and as it was his custom to distribute meat to the poor Torah scholars in honor of Shabbat every week.

One of the wealthy men in the city heard about this and rushed over to Rav Chaim's house. He offered an enormous price for a piece meat to have at his seudah, but the Ohr Hachaim refused, saying, "This is not a butcher shop, and the meat is reserved for the poor Torah scholars of our city."

While they were speaking, one of Rabbi Chaim's "customers" walked in. Upset, the rich man exclaimed, "Huh? You call this one a Talmid Chacham?" The Ohr Hachaim ignored his comment and gave the scholar his portion. The rich man walked out in anger.

That night, the Ohr Hachayim had a dream in which he was told from Heaven that since he had not protested against the embarrassment of a Talmid Chacham, he would have to go into exile for a full year. Immediately, Rabbi Chaim packed his few belongings and set out on his long journey, traveling from one town or village to another, making sure not to sleep two nights in the same place. He often went to sleep hungry, yet he accepted his pain with love and prayed to Hashem to forgive him for his sin.

One Friday many months later, the Ohr Hachayim found himself on the outskirts of a city. He sat down on a stone to rest his weak body and reflected on the first verse of the weekly Torah reading, "Eem b'hukotai tailaihu." When he continued walking towards the city, deep in thought and attachment to the Hakodesh Baruch Hu, forty two original explanations of this verse occurred to him!

Later, when he arrived in town, he went directly to the local shul. The shamash invited him to his home for Shabbat. After the Friday night meal, the shamash told his guest of their custom to go to the house of the Rabbi of the city. So they went together, joining those already gathered, waiting to hear the Rabbi's wisdom.
When the time came and all eyes turned towards the head of the table, the Rabbi was sitting quietly, in a trance-like state. After a few more moments, he roused himself and began to speak. He shared fourteen brilliant explanations on the first verse of the weekly Torah reading, "Eem b'hukotai tailaihu," and concluded, "These explanations I just heard in Heaven, in the name of the holy tzadik, Rabbi Chaim Ben-Atar."
"Chaim ben-Atar!" the unknown guest called out. All eyes turned to see who had the chutzpa to dishonor the Ohr Hachayim, and were prepared to punish him. However, the shamash, feeling responsible for his guest, requested them to leave the poor man alone.

After the Shabbat day meal, they went and heard the Rabbi expound on another set of fourteen interpretations, saying that these too he had heard in Heaven in the name of the holy tzadik, Rabbi Chaim Ben-Atar.

Again the anonymous guest screamed out, "Chaim Ben-Atar," further irritating the townsmen.
By shalosh seudas, the shamash warned his guest to behave properly. Yet, the scene repeated itself a third time, as the rabbi shared another 14 insights in the name of the Ohr HaChaim, bringing to 42.
So after Shabbat, they decided to lock the disrespectful guest in a basement room.

Then a sudden strong storm swept through the city, causing much damage. The townspeople franticly rushed to their Rabbi. The Rabbi told them that he had just been informed from Heaven that the minister of Gehinom was waiting to reignite the fires on Motzei Shabbat, and would not start until the Ohr Hachayim recited Havdala. Since the tzadik was locked in a room, the minister of Gehinom started a great uproar, causing a terrifying storm.

Upon hearing this and realizing their mistake, the townsmen immediately released their holy guest from his confinement. Rabbi Chayim understood that he had been shamed publicly in the same way and his repentence had been accepted in Heaven, allowing him to immediately to return to his home.

The Directive of Elul
As we begin the Elul period, this is an excellent time for going into 'training' for how to fight in this war. Now is the time to work on improving our performance of Mitzvot, and dedicating more time to learning Torah. These activities will strengthen our faith and draw us closer to Hashem, strengthening us in our ongoing confrontations with the Yetzer Harah.

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