כִּֽי־תֵצֵ֥א לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עַל־אֹיְבֶ֑יךָ וּנְתָנ֞וֹ יְקֹוָ֧ק אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ בְּיָדֶ֖ךָ וְשָׁבִ֥יתָ שִׁבְיֽוֹ
“If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives (Devorim 21:10).”
War is an unfortunate reality. We must fight for our survival, we must fight for our land and we must fight for our ideals and beliefs. But wars are not always fought with swords and bows. The seforim explain that this verse alludes to the most acute battle we each must wage. This is a battle waged internally; a battle we must fight within ourselves. The battle, to which we refer, is the battle against the yetzer hara (evil inclination), the negative and harmful desires and proclivities we each possess.
Ki Teitzei La’milchama al Oyvecha, when you will go out to war against your enemies, refers not only to the external enemy but to the enemy within as well. We each have our inner battles to wage. For some it has been the same battle, trying to overcome the same weaknesses for many years, for others it may be different challenges in different stages of life. But one thing is clear – we all fight, we all struggle, we all wage the inner battle.
The Eish Kodesh, Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (1889-1943), the rebbe of Piacezna explains this dynamic in a different way.
Ki Teitzei La’milchama – when you will go out to war – life is a battle. If you want to accomplish things you must go out and engage in the struggle. Your dreams and aspirations will not simply materialize without effort. If you want something in life you have be willing to fight and fight hard.
Al Oyvecha, against your enemies – you will encounter many “enemies” in the pursuit or your dreams and aspirations. There are enemies like apathy and complacency. There may be people who will try to tell you that you “can’t.” There may be people who are not supportive or kind to you. There are all kinds of “enemies” which try to prevent us from being successful in our life battles.
If despite the enemies which lurk in all corners, if despite the hurdles, I still choose to continue down the path of person accomplishment and actualization; U’nisano Hashem Elokecha B’Yadecha, God will deliver your enemies in your hands – God will give you the strength to overcome the adversity and accomplish your life objectives.
We must learn to accept the premise that life is not easy. There is an ongoing war, a battle which unfolds in front of each of us, each and every day. But if we commit ourselves to the “fight,” if we commit ourselves to engaging in the battle, God promises us that we will succeed.
In this month of Elul we contemplate how we have spent this past year and what we want to accomplish in the year ahead. Too often we don’t cross the finish lines we had hoped to, simply because we stopped fighting. The path to my dreams was fraught with challenge and difficulty and so I gave up. If we have made this mistake in the past, let’s promise ourselves to do things differently these last remaining days and in the year ahead.
May we find the courage to gird ourselves with the necessary strength to wage the battles of life. May we receive the blessing the providence of God and merit to see the actualization of our dreams.
Rabbi Silber shares some thoughts on the parsha from the Nesivos Shalom (Slunimer Rebbe). If we are proactive instead of only responding once we have been attacked we can overcome the challenges presented by our Yetzer Harah. Instead of a reactive response, our best posture in this constant battle is to take on offensive approach.