Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19 from 20 August till 26 August
כִּֽי־תֵצֵ֥א לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עַל־אֹיְבֶ֑יךָ וּנְתָנ֞וֹ ד’ אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ בְּיָדֶ֖ךָ וְשָׁבִ֥יתָ שִׁבְיֽוֹ׃
Moses continued, “If you go out of the land to wage an optional war against your enemies, and G-d, your G-d, delivers your enemy into your hands, you take captives.
וְרָאִ֙יתָ֙ בַּשִּׁבְיָ֔ה אֵ֖שֶׁת יְפַת־תֹּ֑אַר וְחָשַׁקְתָּ֣ בָ֔הּ וְלָקַחְתָּ֥ לְךָ֖ לְאִשָּֽׁה׃
and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her and would take her [into your household] as your wife… (Deuteronomy 21:10-11)
We obviously have the text as given to us. The people are instructed to start war against their enemies. To take an active stance against the enemies who want to attack the Jewish Nation before these have struck the first blow. If a man sees a beautiful lady from the enemies whom he wants to marry, it is allowed after a special procedure.
However, we can also look at this text on a deeper level – we all face a war every day – and in this way give it meaning for our lives right now, specifically in this month of Elul, the month of Teshuvah.
We are at war with the evil inclination every day. Our soul faced this enemy the moment it went out – and lost her oneness with G-d – and came into this world. This world is full of physical temptations that distract us from our life task. These physical temptations can lead to great sins. Sins that must be warred against, not as an option but as an obligation. We must wage war against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, adultery, etc. Ensuring compliance with the 7 Noahide Laws, and its details.
However, not only the above can distract us from our life’s task. We may be doing deeds that are not forbidden, even permissible or necessary, but can still create a separation between us and G-d, and thereby hinder us from carrying out our life task.
For example, let’s look at eating. Of course, it is not forbidden to eat, how else could we live, but obsessive eating does not bring us closer to G-d, and anything that does not bring us closer brings us distance from G-d. It reminds me of the Rabbi who ate only because he could then say a brachot and did not say a brachot because he was going to eat. Anything we do to satisfy our own physical and material needs without “increasing” it is a losing battle, but not the end of the war.
This applies to all our actions, words, and thoughts. Our deeds, words and thoughts are determined by our attributes. Are we quick to anger or are we tolerant, are we helpful or are we mainly self-centered, etc.? We need to work on our traits so that they are strong enough to carry out G-d’s will, and the task we have been given by Him.
“Go out”, go out of your routines, go out of your ingrained habits and evaluate them and where they are not good, wage war to remove the bad elements.
When you [men] go out as a troop against your enemies, be on your guard against anything untoward. (Deuteronomy 23:10)
When you fight what you must fight against, you will find that all kinds of unexpected things come your way, things you had not noticed before. When I wanted to get rid of my coffee addiction, coffee was on sale, in the canteen it suddenly smelled much stronger of coffee than usual, a friend had suddenly discovered coffee with special beans that were supposed to be less harmful, etc. But we know that if we fight the evil inclination, when we “go out” the text promises that G-d will help in victory.
When you [an Israelite warrior] take the field against your enemies, and see horses and chariots—forces larger than yours—have no fear of them, for your G-d Hashem, who brought you from the land of Egypt, is with you.(Deuteronomy 20:1)
The word סוס, “horse,” is a simile for the readiness of the evil urge to do battle and the word רכב is a simile for the fact that man is composed of a variety of materials, drawn to the profane as well as to the sacred, instead of a single element as is his attacker the evil urge. The words עם רב, “numerous people,” are a hyperbole for the multitude of evil forces created by man’s sins all of which are arraigned against him in this battle.
One of those “people” is called “failure”. As soon as we enter the fray, there is that little voice in the back of our mind: do you really think you will succeed. Think about what you did then and there and now you want to improve yourself, that’s just hypocritical. And there are many other “names” that will want to oppose us, but G-d who brought Israel out of Egypt is taking us out of our oppressions that prevent us from growing spiritually.
We put our trust fully in Him, going into battle without fear of dying, or losing, knowing that we will overcome as written in Tehillim/ Psalms 20: 8-10
They [call] on chariots, they [call] on horses,
but we call on the name of the L-rd our G-d.
They collapse and lie fallen,
but we rally and gather strength.
O L-rd, grant victory!
May the King answer us when we call.
We go into battle, we overcome…and then we take something back “home” after all, a beautiful woman.
On the one hand, this woman can stand for not completely giving up on a worldly experience. As with the example of eating, you can’t give that up. But you can elevate it by saying brachot over it. The Kehot Chumash phrases it as follows:
As a wife: The word for “wife” in Hebrew (אשה, ishah) can also be vocalized to mean “fire offering” (isheh). You should elevate the Divine sparks in the materiality you confront to their Divine source. Rather than allowing the experience of this world to drag you further away from G-d, consecrate it to G-d’s service and use it to enhance your relationship with Him.
On the other hand, this woman may symbolize a new challenge. You defeated what you wanted to overcome, but then G-d gives a new challenge at a higher level. So, after a period of rest comes a new struggle. As with Abraham who was given 10 tests in his life, and each test took him to a higher spiritual level.
The month of Elul is the month to evaluate yourself, to take stock of the past year. Have you accepted the task you have here on earth and have you been busy with it or are there things you must fight about (still).
All of us – Jews and non-Jews – will soon stand before G-d, on Rosh Hashana in which each will be judged. Do we stand there as children or do we stand there as servants.
If we stand before G-d as servants, we keep the 7 Noahide Commandments and do what we are obligated to do. But if we want to stand there as children then we go a step further and engage in the struggle that is optional, we want to work on our qualities so that our thoughts, words, and deeds improve, not because we must, but because we know that G-d derives joy from that.
By Angelique Sijbolts
 See also the following blogs:
With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration
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