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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Deuteronomy/Dvarim - Ki Tetze
Fighting Wars

Posted 2007 - Contributed by Asher ben Shimon
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When it will come to pass that you will go out to war on top of your enemies, and G-d will give them into your hands and you will capture its captives.

Chances are that you have never encountered the first verse of this week's Torah portion translated in such a literal way. Most translators prefer a free interpretation.

There are many things in this verse that need clarification.

-"When it will come to pass"

The war this verse refers to is an optional war. Certain wars are mandatory such as the eradication of Amalak and the original war Yehoshua fought to conquer the promised land. Optional wars are the occasional offensive wars the Jewish people used to wage in the olden days. They were either to expand their existing borders or to increase the greatness and fame of the king at the time.

Such wars are no longer applicable in our days.

Why then is it part of the eternal torah?

- You will go out to war. Why those extra words go out?

-"On top of your enemies" Usually we say 'with' or 'against' the enemy.

- What are the two aspects of 'G-d will give them into your hands' and 'you will capture their captives'

-Why does it say 'you will capture its captives'? It should have said you will capture captives. They become our prisoners. The way it says now it appears that we capture their prisoners!

There are two ways in the service of G-d. Peace and war.

When one is involved in strictly holy matter such as prayer and torah study etc. this is considered peace.

But when one is engaged in trying to cope with the big world's temptations, we talk about war. A war with a very strong opponent. An opponent which was given the divine mission to challenge us. Just like G-d created heaven 'up there' with its holy atmosphere, so did He create the world 'down here' void of spirituality.

If the enemy is empowered by G-d, we can imagine what kind of tremendous powers are needed to fight it!

That is what it means to go 'out' to war. Our natural place is in a holy atmosphere. We are told to leave that bubble and fight a war.

At the same time we are notified that we are always 'on top' of our enemy. The soul is created to be higher than the world challenging it.

As mentioned before, there are two types of war.

There is the mandatory war. The war necessary to conquer our own G-d given land. As humans we have physical needs. Those needs not to be fulfilled in a kosher way. By doing so we transform the physical object used to fulfill our needs into a more spiritual one.

Then there is the optional war to expand our borders. One can live in a small hut off bread and water. That would be the mandatory dealing with the bare minimum of physicality. But there are many more parts of this world that can be utilized for higher purposes. Running a big business that generates a lot of money creates a possibility to give a lot of charity. And since a cow is a kosher animal there must be a way to transform a good steak into a connection with G-d. And being that Fiji's beauty was created by G-d too, that steak can be eaten there as part of the divine service.

On the very first verse of the Torah Rashi comments as follows.

Since the torah is a book of instructions and not a history book, it would have been more appropriate to start the Torah with the first Mitzvah. The reason why the entire history needs to be documented in the torah is for the following scenario.

When the nations of the world will accuse the Jewish people of having stolen their land they will be able to answer. "G-d created the world and at that time he already planned to give it to his future chosen nation. Since he wanted that nation to make him a dwelling in a physical world, He made sure they would feel that their holy land was very much part of the 'down below'. He therefore first gave the land to different nations and subsequently told the Jewish people to conquer it from them in order that there would be a transformation from darkness to light."

Now this applies only to the land of Israel. When it comes to an optional war to expand the borders, the neighboring countries have a valid argument. Don't steal our land! G-d never gave it to you so don't touch it!

Our Torah portion answers that argument. Although there is no obligation to conquer foreign territory, it is something mentioned in the Torah .

To a certain extent it brings out the transformation process even more than when we wage a mandatory war.

The land of Israel was meant to be ours from day one and therefore we had been given the power to conquer it. When we expand our borders, we add enemy territory -which was not predestined to be holy- to the holy land. Since we do this on our own initiative, there is also no automatic divine victory involved.

The same applies also to our optional 'war' with the world. When we stick to a diet of bread and water, we can expect guaranteed success in maintaining a high spiritual status. When we expand our territory and add more ingredients to our life we transform more darkness to light on one hand; but on the other hand we take a risk of falling into the trap of temptation.

Why does the Torah allow us to wage optional wars? There is always a risk of getting killed in physical or spiritual sense depending on the type of war we talk about. Either way it endangers the continuation of our mission on earth. Yet although there is no commandment to go out to war, the Torah talks about it, thereby giving it legitimacy and also a spiritual backup.

A mandatory war is needed when we stay within the limitations G-d set for this world. He differentiated between holy and unholy. Between the nations of the world and the chosen nation, and between the entire world and the land of Israel. And he wants us, the chosen nation, to conquer the holy land from unholy people.

But G-d is not limited by boundaries of any sort. He can combine contradictions.

When a Jew is connected to G-d on that level, he can wage an optional war.

G-d is the one who created the enemy. At the same time He wants us to decide on our own to fight this enemy disregarding all dangers it may involve. The way to do that is by realizing that since G-d stand above all limitations, we can also break out of the rules of nature. This is because we have a soul which stands 'on top' of our enemy.

So let's re-read the verse: And when it will come to pass that we on our own- decide to go to war in a way of on top of our enemy; then G-d will fight the war for us and give us the enemy in our hand. -Once something is in our hands we can do with it whatever we want. We can transform it to holiness. We can even capture its captives. The world, the enemy, constantly fights to add more to its territory. Since this is its divine mission, it can be very successful to the extent that we can talk about prisoners. There are many people out there -and many parts of ourselves - that do not see and feel G-dliness everywhere. These are the captives of the worldliness. When we wage the war in the 'on top of the enemy' by connecting to G-d who stands above all limitations, we are able to retrieve even those captives!

Since the entire world was created by G-d with the ultimate purpose of becoming a dwelling for Him, we should never be content with winning our mandatory war. Especially during the month of Elul when we all increase in prayer and Torah study and try to better our ways, it is easy to come to a conclusion that battles are being won .This may be true concerning the mandatory wars. But as long as Moshiach has not come and the entire world has been transformed to a place were G-dliness is revealed, the optional war can and must be fought. We must constantly look for new areas, physically and spiritually, where we can fight optional wars. And with G-d's help we will definitely win and merit the coming of Moshiach now!


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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