Engaging in war is surely a daunting task. The very prospect of losing one’s life can understandably interfere with the focus one needs to maintain during battle in order to survive. The first four Pesukim in Chapter 20 of Devarim tell us how to conduct ourselves when called upon to assume the responsibility of this job. We are told that as we approach the time of the war itself, a Kohen will approach the nation and tell them not to be afraid, as Hashem will be with us and will fight the enemy with us so that we will be saved. The Torah then continues to enumerate several categories of people that are exempt from battle for various reasons. However, the overwhelming majority of people are going to suit up and put their lives on the line. No matter how much the Kohen reminds the people about Hashem’s involvement in our battle, there is going to be a tendency to be scared of the enemy, especially when facing the threat of horse and chariot, as the Pasuk describes. Perhaps examining our fears will reveal the best ways to deal with them.
The Ibn Ezra on Pasuk 3 explains three effects that fear can have on a person. This Pasuk uses three terms for fear that seem to explain what “Al Yerach Levav,” “Do not be faint-hearted,” means. The Kohen tells the troops, “Al Tir’u,” not to be afraid, “Al Tachp’zu,” not to panic; and “Al Ta’artzu,” not to break down. The Ibn Ezra explains that being afraid relates to the heart, the very core of one’s emotions. We then proceed to panic which is the physical manifestation of this fear, leading one to actually leave the battlefield. If someone has managed to remain in combat, then we turn to the Kohen’s final exhortation, to not break down and compromise the quality of our actual defense and attack. We see from Ibn Ezra that fear emanates from within and can then eliminate or severely curtail the efficacy of our actions. This overall fear can smother our desires and can, in the long run, destroy our faith.
Fear seems to weave its way into our hearts when we perceive ourselves as being alone. This loneliness is not born out of a lack of human companionship but rather out of a lack of divine companionship. When one feels abandoned by Hashem, he can be in a crowded elevator and still feel alone. This loneliness can then rob us of the strength we have and need in order to go on with our lives! Our hearts go out to those around the world, both inside and outside of our country who, at this time feel alone due to disaster knocking at their doorstep. We join them and certainly attempt to relate to them by feeling some of their anguish, even if only on some remote level. What can be done so that this pain can be somewhat relieved? Perhaps the key is in the first Rashi in our Perek. Rashi points out that the issue of war is discussed directly after the Torah discusses an issue regarding honesty among witnesses. If we are honest among ourselves and render just decisions in our courts, then we are assured that we will emerge victorious and unscathed from battle.
If we maintain loyalty to truth and justice – Emet and Mishpat – when dealing with each other in times of peace, then when war strikes, Hashem will preserve us so that we may continue to display this loyalty. This loyalty can then be the key to removing that sense of loneliness, eventually causing all our fear to dissipate.
The Torah directs its comments to the scenario of war. Perhaps we can broaden the concept to that of world suffering. May it be Hashem’s will that if we demonstrate compassion and sincere kindness to those suffering and to each other, Hashem will assist in their relief and thereby remove their sense of loneliness, enabling them to carry on and lead productive lives.
by Jeremy Jaffe
In Parshat Shoftim, the Torah (17:16) says that a king “shall not acquire many horses for himself.” This statement, however, only applies to horses that are acquired for the sole purpose of glorifying and honoring the king. Horses that are necessary for the king’s army or for his traveling caravan, however, may be acquired. This leniency is found a number of sources, including the Gemara (Sanhedrin 21b), which deduces from the words “for himself” that only extraneous horses are prohibited. The Rambam in Hilchot Melachim (3:3) also states that a king may acquire horses for his army. Similarly, the Sefer Hachinuch writes, “Zulati HaTzrichim LeMerkavto, VeInyan HaMitzvah Shelo Yihyeh Lo Susim SheYarutzu Lefanav LeKavod BeAlma,” “[He may not acquire horses] excluding those that are needed for his chariot, and the issue of this mitzvah is that he should not own horses that run in front of him for general honor.” Obviously, the army is not considered “general honor” and is therefore not included in this prohibition.
The importance of allowing horses to be acquired for the army is evident from the commentary of Rav Shimson Rafael Hirsh, who points out that the horse was considered a war animal (and a necessary one), which is why we must allow the king to have them in his army. He than proves his point with examples from Tanach of horses being used in battle. Note, however, that in Chapter 11 of Sefer Yehoshua, Yehoshua hamstrings the horses and burns the chariots the kings in Israel whom he conquered (also see Shmuel II 8:4).
Despite the need for horses in battle, one might think it is good to limit these horses as well to prevent haughtiness from the king. This is especially true given that the Torah tells us in 20:13, “Untanam Hashem Elokecha BeYadecha,” “Hashem your God will deliver [your enemies] into your hands.” If Hashem will cause us to be victorious anyway, what is the purpose of risking a haughty king for a stronger army? This is why the Gemara and commentaries had to tell us that battle-horses were allowed: to teach us that even though Hashem controls everything in the end, we may, and in fact must, do our best to prepare for every situation.
We’re All Human
by Yitzchak Richmond
One of the Isurim taught in Shoftim is that a judge cannot take bribes. The Torah gives the reason (16:19): “Ki HaShochad Ye’aveir Einei Chachamim,” “Bribery will blind the eyes of the Chachamim.” R’ Leibush Charif points out a related Gemara in Sanhedrin (21):
Rav Yitzchak asks: Why were the reasons for the Mitzvot not given? Because the two times that the Torah gave a reason, great people of the world stumbled. The Pasuk says (17:17), “VeLo Yarbeh Lo Nashim, VeLo Yasur Levavo,” “[The king] should not have too many wives, and his heart will not be led astray.” Shlomo said, “I will have many, but I will not do anything wrong.”
However, Sefer Melachim I (11:4) records that Shlomo’s wives changed his heart at the end of his life. Another law of the king is that he cannot buy too many horses, lest he send the Jews back to Mitzrayim. Again Shlomo said, “I will not send the people back to Mitzrayim,” and yet he did end up stationing troops there.
The Torah also presents the reason for the Mitzvah by bribery. Accordingly, why did Shlomo not say, “I will allow people to bribe me, and I will not corrupt judgment?” The reason is that for the wives and the horses, Shlomo assumed that those Mitzvot were for average people, and that since he was Chacham he would not fall through the trap. However, the Torah says that bribery corrupts the eyes of the Chachamim, so it was clear to Shlomo that he was still included in the Mitzvah.
Shlomo HaMelech’s unfortunate mistake is quite evident, and we often do the same. We occasionally say to ourselves, “I can do this Aveirah and nothing wrong will happen, because I am above that.” “This Isur MiDeRabanan is something I do not have to do because I would never violate the Deoraita (Torah law).” We should learn from Shlomo and not make his mistake, never think we are too big for any Mitzvot, because even a small transgression leads to a huge one.
by Jesse Nowlin
Hashem presents Bnei Yisrael three national commandments to perform when they settled the Land: they were to request a king, eliminate the offspring of Amalek, and set up a Beit HaMikdash. As Parshat Shoftim (17:14-20) indicates, it was very important that Bnei Yisrael appoint a king. Indeed, the horrible events recorded in Sefer Shoftim of Pesel Michah, a public idol, and the concubine of Giv’ah, whose rape resulted in civil war prove the necessity for a king. If there was a king at that time neither would have happened as indicated in the Pesukim (Shofetim 18:1, 19:1, and21:25). Additionally, all the prophecies about the times of Mashiach include a description of a king from the descendants of David HaMelech (see, for example, Yeshaya 11:1-5). Thus, a king is clearly a very necessary institution.
When Bnei Yisrael actually asked for a king, however, they were not motivated by the need to fulfill the word of God, but rather to mimic the surrounding nations. The Navi Shmuel responded to the people with anger and disappointment, because the people demanded a king for the wrong reasons. Since the intent of the people was wrong, their first king, Shaul, could not rule permanently. The Torah in a way foreshadows this error, because the Pasuk describing the people’s request says it says that they shall as for a king “like all the nations that surround me” (see Ramban’s comments). These are the exact words that were asked to Shmuel. Afterwards, however, the Torah makes a point of describing how the king should be different from all the other nations, which unfortunately the people in Shmuel’s time did not understand.
by Dani Yaros
In Parshat Shoftim in Perek 17, the Torah describes how a king should not take for himself too many wives and he should not own too many horses. The reason given for a king not having too many horses is in order that Klal Yisrael not return to Mitzrayim; a king should not have too many wives so that the king does not lead Klal Yisrael astray.
When Shlomo Hamelech was king he took 1,000 wives, much more than the eighteen-wife maximum allowed by the Torah. Shlomo also received as presents and bought many more horses than the Torah permits. The question is: how could a great Tzadik like Shlomo Hamelech violate this Aveirah? HaRav Leibush Charif answers as follows: Shlomo Hamelech knew the Halachah and the reason why HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave this as a Mitzvah to the king. Shlomo figured that this mitzvah did not apply to him; the reason given for a king not to have too many wives was in order that they not lead him and his nation astray. Shlomo decided he would be very careful not to lead Klal Yisrael astray. The reason given for a king not to have too many horses was in order not to lead Klal Yisrael back to Mitzrayim. Shlomo again decided that he would be careful not to lead Klal Yisrael to Mitzrayim. Therefore, the negative commandments of not taking too many wives and not having too many horses did not apply to him. In fact, Shlomo was wrong and was later punished very severely for these Aveirot. In fact, students of Sefer Melachim understand that Shlomo’s mistakes constituuted the first step towards the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash.
We are now in the month of Elul, a time of repentance and introspection. Many of us tend to think that the act of Teshuvah does not apply to us; someone may think he is generally a “good guy” and does not do too many Aveirot, so he does not have to do Teshuvah. This outlook is wrong. Every single person, from the greatest Tzadik to someone who is not exactly the greatest Tzadik, must do Teshuvah. We should all learn from Shlomo’s mistake and not consider ourselves above Teshuvah. With this Teshuvah, may we be Zocheh to the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash BiMeheirah ViYameinu.
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