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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:


What goes up must come down, people say. But is it true that what goes out must come in? The opening of our parshah certainly does make it seem so.

In the last parshios, three different sections dealing with warfare began with the words, “When you go out.” It is almost relieving to discover the shift, as our parshah begins, “It will be when you come in to the land.” But what does the Torah mean by this substitution?

If we assume as we have before2 that the preceding parshios apply to two different kinds of warfare, the change from “going out” to “coming in” is expected and intuitive. The Torah certainly means to dictate military policy for the Jewish army. At the same time, it also deals with the personal struggle that defines our mission in life – the constant battle against the yetzer hora, whether in resisting prohibitions that are tempting, or battling the temptation to get drawn further in to the pursuit of permissible pleasures, or in becoming more earthly simply by periodically coming down from any higher, contemplative existence and having to involve ourselves in necessary material activities. In all these areas, we have no choice but to dutifully go out to battle and attempt to vanquish the forces that would make us less than what we can be. (Chazal tell us that just as tzadikim praise Hashem in Gan Eden, the evildoers praise Him from Gehinom. We know that the function of this world is to provide Hashem a place, as it were, in the lower worlds. We do this through the constant struggle with the distractions and competing elements of this world, something that the Heavenly angels simply cannot mimic. The tzadik brings satisfaction, as it were, to Hashem through his Torah and avodah; so does the rasha! Those in whom the fire of yetzer hora rages also contribute to His honor, even in their failures, as the tears brought on by their wrestling with their own natures cools the fires of Gehinom.3 )

There is no point in fighting on, unless Hashem designed things to enable us to succeed. At some point, we should be able to declare that we have achieved some significant milestone in the conduct of the war. This is precisely what our parshah alludes to.

Imagine a person in bygone days who took an incredibly dangerous journey in order to pursue some parnasah goal in a far-off land. Dodging unrelenting danger, he arrives at his destination, relieved at surviving, but mindful of the fact that the real pursuit of his goal is just then beginning. Having arrived, he can now get down to the business of earning his parnasah. This mashal carries over quite nicely to our spiritual journey.

Mesilas Yesharim defines the difference between taharah and kedushah. The former means desisting from any concession to ta’avah, even when completely permissible; the latter means elevating the objects of ta’avah to the level of korban. This higher level is truly beyond Man’s reach. He attains it only by making the attempt – and thereby winning the Divine assistance that can make it possible.

Before “arriving” at the beginning of our parshah, the perpetual warrior could not possibly hope to consecrate everything around him. His avodah was in fending off the allure of the illicit. All the “going out” to war was important to get a person to the point of bikurim, at which point he can elevate even the peri ha-adamah, the fruit of the ground, and make a korban out of earthliness. At this point, he has come into the Land – the special territory of a lofty world.

Unlike any other korban, bikurim is accompanied by a speech, a relatively lengthy formula taking us back to our pre-national history. In it, we retrace the steps we took to arrive at the spiritual place at which we could meaningfully bring bikurim as an exercise in consecrating the ordinary and earthly. We revisit our relationship with Lavan. His declaiming “the daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, and the flock is my flock; all that you see is mine” 4 overflows with possessiveness, with self- importance, with the heresy of denial of the Hand of G-d in his fortune. It is the polar opposite of the mindset of the person who brings bikurim. The bikurim-offerer has pushed and strained against the forces of nature, and finally seen the fruit of his labor, literally. No sooner does he spy out the first fruit that he has carefully teased from the earth, that he runs to it and suppresses the powerful urge to possess it and keep it as a treasured trophy, a reminder of his accomplishment. Instead, he ties a ribbon around it so that he can offer it in the Beis HaMikdosh,acknowledging that all comes from Hashem, and downplaying his own role.

We experience something similar each Shabbos. “Let no man go out from his place on the seventh day.” 5 Going out and doing battle with the yetzer hora may be our charge and mission in life, but it is to preoccupy us only six days of the week. The forces of evil that we typically encounter are blunted on Shabbos; they cannot muster the stranglehold from which we daily try to break away. Ordinarily we cannot hope to achieve deep and probing insight into the ways of Hashem until we have overcome our yetzer hora. On Shabbos, we can access supernal truths without first going through the laborious steps of conquering our inner demons. Shabbos allows us to leap-frog over the lower levels and act as if we have climbed the ladder to the top. We can take the ordinary and consecrate it in a manner similar to consecrating an offering in the Beis HaMikdosh! This is the deeper significance of oneg Shabbos. All other days we work to decrease our dependence on and involvement with material things, trying over time to sanctify ourselves within the realm of the permissible. On Shabbos, we allow ourselves to romp in a garden of earthly delights, because Shabbos alone gives us the capacity to partake of them in a way that we elevate them, rather than having them diminish us.

Chazal teach6 that the berachah that Hashem bestowed upon the seventh day was the mon. This seems to us to be a short-lived blessing! Mon descended for only forty years!

We must understand one of the inner dimensions of the mon. Ordinarily, any amount of self-indulgence must separate us from HKBH. Yet, the generation of the Wilderness ate the mon for forty years. They were not diminished by it; instead, they grew spiritually through eating the “food of angels.” It did not stimulate other passions and lusts. They succeeded, at one point, of stripping themselves – while being nourished by the mon – of the essential corruption that had become part of the human condition after the sin of Adam. This, then, is the berachah that Hashem bestowed upon Shabbos, for all times – that like the mon in its time, we are not distanced from kedushah by the physical pleasures that we indulge in today as part of our honoring of Shabbos.

Shabbos stands outside of the waging-war-against-the-yetzer-hora paradigm in another regard. The very process of attaching ourselves to the kedushah of Shabbos drives away all the forces of evil, which simply cannot coexist in the rarefied spiritual atmosphere of intense holiness. On a smaller level, this is analogous to what happens on Yom Kippur, as explained by Maharal.7 The day affords a unique opportunity to bond with Hashem. Once attached to Him, our aveiros and shortcomings are incompatible with His Being, and therefore cease to exist.

It is mistaken to look at Rosh Hashanah as a time for teshuvah. The Kadosh of Kobrin remarked that the proper time for teshuvah is Elul. By the time Rosh Hashanah arrives, our focus switches to crowning Hashem as King upon ourselves. More accurately, it ushers in a time in which we crown Hashem as King over each and every part of our being.8 Thus, we can read the references to going out to battle in the context of the work of the entire year. The Torah assures us that Hashem will deliver our enemy into our hands – in the month of Elul. Coming in to the Land alludes to Rosh Hashanah, when we can achieve the goal of spreading His Kingship to every fiber, to every nook and cranny, or our inner selves.

This goal is not icing on a spiritual cake, but the very essence of being Jewish. A Jew can observer every detail of every mitzvah, and miss the mark of his purpose if he does not make Him the Master of every part of himself. This implies far more than avoiding the prohibited. It means subordinating all of himself, in whole and in part, to Hashem.

This, too, is part of bringing bikurim, which symbolizes subordinating all our wants and desires to Him. After months of investing so much of himself in coaxing new life from the ground, a person takes the first and choicest of what he has wrought, and lays it down in Hashem’s house, distancing his possessiveness and his inner connection to his handiwork, surrendering everything to his Creator.

Moreover, he does this with joy 9 and by prostrating himself before Hashem. Bowing before God is not uncommon. We bow by bending the upper part of our body – the seat of our minds and hearts. In bringing bikurim, however, we prostrate ourselves fully, representing our subordinating all parts of ourselves, including the less elevated and refined parts.

The central element of bikurim, however, remains the bringing of the first of our fruits, representing what is primary and choicest to us. This remains a powerful paradigm for the Yamim Nora’im and the rest of the year: subordinating all parts of ourselves, particularly through the reishis, the beginning of all things. At every twist and turn in life, at the contemplation of every new deed, large or small, we should stop at the beginning and ask a question. Is this what Hashem wants from us or not? If we answer affirmatively, then we should begin the activity by making His Will the primary focus.

In that way, the rest of the activity is shaped and defined by its beginning, and all is elevated to Him.

1Based on Nesivos Shalom, pgs. 166-171
2 See “All For the One,” parshas Ki-Seitzei
3 In other words, the “place” of Hashem in our world is assured by tzadik and rasha alike. The tzadik provides the place directly, by obeying His wishes. Even the rasha, however, calls attention to Hashem’s firm place here, through his tears of contrition – whether in this life or the next , demonstrating that His presence cannot be escaped.
4 Bereishis 31:43
5 Shemos 16:29
6 Bereishis Rabbah 11:2
7 Derashah for Shabbos Shuva
8 Based on many passages in the Zohar. See, e.g., Tikunei Zohar, seventh tikun, 132A.
9 Devarim 26:11

Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and