Judaism: A Reading that Begins and Ends With War
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
This Torah portion begins with war and ends with war.
The Torah portion begins with the words ;”When you go out to war on your enemies, HaShem your G-d shall deliver them into your hands (Deuteronomy 21:10) .The portion ends with the words ; “[Therefore,] it will be, when HaShem your G-d grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which HaShem your G-d, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. . ( Deuteronomy 25:19)
The Torah seems to be telling us that, then in the desert , and now in our upcoming struggles what is the focus and ingredient for survival and victory in the battles of a nation. The main focus seems to be centered around being constantly aware that it is “HaShem your G-d shall deliver them into your hands” and finally that “ it will be, when HaShem your G-d grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which HaShem your G-d, gives to you as an inheritance to possess.”
When Man himself becomes the focus then he easily gets seduced by the things that will steer him away from his true goals. Whenever mankind enters into war they easily get seduced by the beautiful captive of “"And you may say in your heart, 'My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth.'" (Deuteronomy 8:17). This helps explain the complex commandments of the “captive woman captured in battle “.
Our sages struggled to understand the subtext of this commandment. In the Talmud in Kiddushin,( 21b) they declare “Lo dibrah Torah ela kineged yetzer hara the Torah only spoke with an awareness of the evil inclination of man. That is to say that Torah is dealing with the failures or weakness of mortals rather than giving them permission. If a man falls prey to his yetzer harah and takes this woman captive, the Torah will give the directions and rules that will extricate him and the young maiden from their predicament.
On a deeper level the captive may refer to something more internal. Our sages have taught that the true enemy of all human beings lies within us, embedded in our hearts. Rabbainu Bechayeih offers the following insight. He teaches that he list of instructions described in the commandment are actually the prescription and tactics necessary for winning the battle against our own internal enemy.
The victorious soldier is told for example " You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow.”( ibid:12) All this to teach him that he must shave off the adornments that cover and hide the truth of which direction one is truly headed into.
Yet when G-d becomes the focus and architect of our successes then destiny is fulfilled. One must be filled with the awareness that it was G-d that brought us out of the ovens of Auschwitz and placed sinews and flesh on the skeletons and rebuilt a land ,as described in Ezekiel 37. It was G-d again that stood by the forces of israel as they reunited a city that was torn asunder in 1967 as described in the book of psalms “ Our feet are standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem; Jerusalem, that is built as a city united together"( psalm 122:2-3).
It is that same awareness that is so necessary for our day. For it is the same G-d that will stand with his people as they again confront a new descendant of Amalek in modern day Persia. Just as it was with Haman , another Amelekite ,so it shall be with his descendant. "So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared” ( Esther 7:10).
[Therefore,] it will be, when HaShem your G-d grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which HaShem your G-d, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget!( Deuteronomy 25:17)
What must we not forget?
That though we must act on our obligations to protect and defend our land and people..it is “HaShem your G-d shall deliver them into your hands”