Thursday, September 4, 2014

Parsha Perspective

By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman, Dean, Cheder Chabad of Monsey

We are now in the Hebrew month of Elul, just a few weeks away from Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays – a time of reflection, introspection and taking on new resolutions with which to enhance our lives, spiritually and meaningfully.

Cheder Chabad of Monsey hopes that these weekly Torah thoughts will help inspire to achieve those goals. All the students, staff and administration of Cheder Chabad of Monsey wish you and yours a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year. May this year be the year of the full and complete redemption with the coming of our righteous Moshiach - Nnow!

"When you go out to war on your enemies and G-d will place him in your hands..." No, that's not a typo. The sentence you just read is a direct translation of Deuteronomy 21:10, the opening verse of this week's Torah reading of Ki Teitzei (Devorim [Deuteronomy] 21:10-25:19).

The wording of the Written Torah is extremely precise. When a grammatical anomaly appears--such as plural "enemies" who turn mid-sentence into a singular "him"- the Midrashim and commentaries will immediately step in to unearth the story behind the story and reveal the hidden lesson.

The Egyptians, the Amalekites, the Babylonians, the Romans, the Church, the Almohades, the Nazis, the Soviets...and now, the militant Islamists, who just want us dead;  we've had no shortage of enemies in our 4,000-year history. Generally speaking, they can be divided into two groups: spiritual enemies and physical enemies.

Yet these two enemies of Israel are intrinsically one. Time and again, Jewish history tells the story of how the weakening of our spiritual identity invariably leads to physical decline. An enemy of the Jewish soul is an enemy of the Jewish body, just as an enemy of the Jewish body is obviously an enemy of the Jewish soul.

This is the lesson implicit in the opening verse of our parshah: Our first line of defense in the war for Jewish survival is the realization that our plural "enemies" are, in truth, a singular "him." That the physical and spiritual fate of our people are inexorably intertwined. We must regard each physical attack against a Jew as an attack against the eternal spirit of Israel, and treat every spiritual danger as a threat to our physical survival.

What must we do to win the war? How is the battle to be waged so that "G-d will place him in your hands"? The answer lies enfolded in another grammatical curio in Ki Teitzei's opening verse:

"When you go to war on your enemies..."

We focus now on the word "on" in this line -- al in the Hebrew. The Hebrew word al, like its English equivalent, can mean, in this context, "against." In the simple meaning of the verse, going to war "on your enemies" means going to war against your enemies. But the word can also be understood in the sense of "above": don't go to war against them, go to war above them.

We have seen this so often in our experience as a people that we really shouldn't need a grammatical twist of a Torah verse to inform us of it. When we went to war above our enemies, confident of our moral and spiritual superiority and unapologetic of the righteousness of our cause, we always triumphed in the end, no matter how outnumbered we might have been in quantity of men and arms. But when we begin to doubt our own goodness, when we begin to regard decadent murderers as our moral equals, we are doomed to lose ground, even when, on the physical plane, we hold the military and strategic advantage.

A lesson as simple as it is profound: When you go out to war on your enemies, G-d will place him in your hands.

(From Chabad.org - Rabbi Yanki Tauber)

May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!

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