Although, thanks to the likes of “Call of Duty” and “Fortnite,” most children are trained in the art of mortal combat from the age of seven, nevertheless, we tend to view our lives as “war-free.” However, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, in his acclaimed ethical masterpiece, Mesillas Yesharim, views life somewhat differently. Referring to our soul’s presence in this world, he writes that, “Man has truly been placed in the middle of the most intense battle.” We exist on the frontline of a bitter war between our spiritual inclination—our Yetzer HaTov—and our physical inclination—our Yetzer HaRah. A formidable adversary, the Yetzer HaRah shows no mercy and will not relent until it completely vanquishes the Yetzer HaTov.
However, thankfully Hashem does not expect us to fight this war alone. In addition to placing at our disposal a vast array of spiritual artillery, namely, Torah and Mitzvos, He also takes a more than active part on the front lines. Incredibly, we learn from this week’s Parsha, that although we are the ones who seem to be waging the war, the ultimate warrior in this battle is Hashem Himself.
The opening verse of the Parsha says, “When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver them into your hand, and you will capture its captivity.” The Chidah—Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1806)—explains that although this verse refers to a war waged against another nation it also alludes to the war that we wage against our Yetzer HaRah.
The Talmud says in tractate Kiddushin (30b) that, “If Hashem were not to help a person [overcome his Yetzer HaRah], he could not succeed [in overcoming his Yetzer HaRah.]” Simply put, a human being does not possess the spiritual aptitude to subjugate his evil inclination and will not triumph without Hashem’s intervention. However, this does not mean we are free to rest on our laurels, sipping a Pina Colada, while Hashem valiantly annihilates our opponent. Without a sincere desire on our part to abandon our erroneous ways and realign ourselves with our Creator’s bidding, Hashem will not step in and fight on our behalf.
With this principle in mind, the Chidah explains the opening verse of our Parsha: “When you will go out to war against your enemies”—when you launch an all-out attack on your Yetzer HaRah and thereby demonstrate your sincere desire to prevail, then immediately, “Hashem, your G-d, will deliver them into your hand”—Hashem will eradicate your enemy, enabling you to accomplish your ultimate objective, “and you will capture its captivity.” Amazingly, even though Hashem is the One Who delivers the knock-out blow, He will attribute the victory to you.
Knowing that the sole onus of battle does not fall upon us makes our spiritual mission a whole lot easier. If we go out with guns blazing, doing everything in our power to improve ourselves and make a genuine change, Hashem will ensure that such a change takes place. This is especially true during this month of Elul—a time in the Jewish calendar devoted to introspection and change. The Hebrew word Elul forms an acronym for the verse, “Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li” – ‘I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me.’ If “I am to my Beloved,” i.e. if I take the initiative and genuinely focus all my energy towards improving my ways and fulfilling Hashem’s command, then “my Beloved is to me,” i.e. Hashem will reciprocate in kind, clearing all the obstacles in my way and forging with me an everlasting bond.
In memory of the Neshama of Reb Asher ben Tzvi Haynoch
L’iluy Nishmas Aidel bas Avraham
L’iluy Nishmas Chaim ben David