Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Ki Tetze
To dedicate this lesson

The Secret to Israel's Victory in War

We may feel no legitimacy for those who fight HaShem's people – or else we can lose.


Rabbi Ariel Farajun

Elul 13 5782
Translated by Hillel Fendel

The Torah portion that we will read this week, Ki Tetze, starts off with one interesting law that seems to branch off into another one:

"When you go out to war against your enemy, and HaShem delivers him into your hands and you take captives, and you see in captivity a beautiful woman…" (Deut. 21,10-11).

The law that the Torah introduces here is actually not directly related to war, but rather how and when one may marry a beautiful POW. The Torah sets the stage for this situation by stating that it happens when we go out to war – but why does it also have to say that HaShem has delivered the enemy into our hands? Can't there ever be a situation in which we take captives even without actually wining the war?

It appears, then, that the Torah is stating a form of a guarantee that "when you go out to war against your enemy," then, "HaShem will deliver him into your hands." [See Midrash Sifri 211, which explains slightly differently: the verse promises that if we do what we are supposed to, we are guaranteed to win the war.]

But we know that there are plenty of times that, most unfortunately, we have not won wars! Certainly this cannot be an unconditional promise!

Correct. The verse itself definitely includes a condition that we do not notice on first glance, and only when it is fulfilled are we guaranteed victory. In what word can we find a hint of a condition that we must fulfill?

The word would seem to be "your enemy." Against whom would we be going out to war, other than our enemy? The side against which we are warring is obviously our enemy; why must the Torah specify this? This must then be the word that is the condition: We must treat the enemy as our enemy!

To understand this, let us note in brief the following profound point: Nothing can exist in the world unless it has a linkage to, and is sourced from, "sanctity." (See Zohar to Yitro, 69a)

The source of the revelation of holiness in this world is the Nation of Israel – the nation about which HaShem said: "I will dwell in their midst" (Ex. 25,8). As such, no nation can exist in the world without some measure of connection with and legitimacy from the Nation of Israel. The Torah states clearly: "He set up the borders of nations to parallel the number of Israel's descendants" (D'varim 32,8, and see Zohar, Terumah 152b).

Therefore, in order to destroy Amalek, HaShem's arch-enemy, we are commanded to have pure hatred for him imbued in our heart forever; without this, he still retains some legitimacy, enabling him to continue to exist in the world.

Similarly, in any war that we fight, it is not sufficient that we have the most state-of-the-art planes and tanks. In order to emerge victorious, we must remove from our hearts and minds any feeling of legitimacy for our enemy. We must recognize and internalize that any entity that fights against the holy nation is our enemy and the enemy of HaShem. It is both wrong and dangerous to seek to win a war whilst feeling that the other side has a strong case. There can be no legitimacy at all for those who fight HaShem and His people!

When we look at it in this light, the enemy will no longer have any spiritual legitimacy from us, and certainly no material legitimacy. As the Midrash Tanchuma says (Shoftim 15): "What is meant in the verse by the words "against your enemy?" HaShem is saying that we must treat them as pure enemies: Just like they will have no pity on you, so too you must not have compassion for them."

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