Rabbi Pinchas Avruch
Knowing that the Jewish Nation would soon be waging war for the conquest of the Land of Israel, Moshe discussed the protocols for the draft and laying siege. He opened his narrative with the statements of encouragement that would be offered by the specially anointed Kohen (Priest). “Hear, O Israel, you are coming near to the battle against your enemies; let your heart not be faint; do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not be broken before them. For Hashem your G-d is the One Who goes with you, to fight for you with your enemies to save you.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 20:3-4) The Talmud (Tractate Sotah 42a) explains that this “pep talk” had a much deeper meaning: “Let your heart not be faint from the neighing of horses and the glittering of swords; do not be afraid of the clashing of shields and the hordes of enemy soldiers; do not panic from the blasts of the horns; Do not be broken by the sound of the enemy’s shouts; for Hashem your G-d is the One Who goes with you, they come with the strength of flesh and blood but you come with the strength of the Omnipresent. With Hashem as your champion, you will prevail.”
The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan of Radin; 1838-1933; author of basic works in Jewish law, philosophy and ethics and renowned for his saintly qualities) explains that this tactic is germane to other battles we fight in Hashem’s name, most notably, the one we wage numerous times each day against the yetzer hara (internal desire to act contrary to G-d’s will; in many experiences it is the side of the internal tug-of-war that pulls us to do what we know we should not). The enemy armies come with a mass of soldiers and horses to instill fear and hopelessness into the hearts of the adversary and create all types of noise to create panic in the hope the rival will turn and flee. The yetzer hara utilizes the same deceitful methodologies employed by our human opponents. He creates a myriad of ideologies and theologies, with millions and billions of steadfast adherents, so that we – those who trust in the truth of Hashem’s Torah – will become fearful at being such an overwhelming minority (“It can’t be that they are ALL wrong and we’re right”) and wilt in their presence. Furthermore, they have the power to physically force us into submission. And then there is the endless torrent of diatribes to shame us and blaspheme our beliefs. All of these tactics are undertaken by the yetzer hara to infuse us with fear and panic, to break our dedication to the word of Hashem and fill us with despair.
Thus, this parsha reminds us that they are all a subterfuge, messengers of our enemy. But they are not a substantive challenge to us, the messengers of the King of Kings, for He accompanies us at every step, through every generation, to save us from those who rise against us to interfere with our mission. But we must maintain our spirit, for with spiritual weakness we will stumble.
As we look at the events in the world around us, we see that the timeless Torah concepts related by Rabbi Kagan a century ago are no less true today. Now, as we start the month of Elul – with the approach of the Yomim Noraim (High Holydays) – and look for inspiration to draw us closer to Hashem, we look back through the millennia at the civilizations that have risen and fallen while the Jewish nation, small as we are, through two thousand years of exile and torment, has continued to endure. With Hashem as our champion, we will prevail.
Have a good Shabbos!
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Pinchas Avruch and Project Genesis, Inc.
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