"When you go out to war against your enemies..."
We enter Elul, the eleventh and final month of the Hebrew year, even as Moshe rabbenu, in the closing chapters of the book of Deuteronomy continues to prepare the people of Israel for what lies ahead in the land of Israel. In this week's Torah reading of Shoftim, nine verses (Deuteronomy 20:1-9) are dedicated to preparing the nation for war. As we begin the month long approach to the upcoming Days of Awe, Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, upon which we will be standing in judgment before the Creator, King and Judge of all life, we too need to gear up for our own personal war, as we battle to improve our ways, repent for our misdeeds, and ready ourselves for our yearly reckoning. Can Torah's instructions for Israel as they prepare for war shed light on our battle for self improvement?
The month of Elul has been characterized as a month in which "the King is in the field." That is, G-d has emerged from His distant and seemingly inaccessible palace, and has renewed, as it were, His presence in this world. Actually, truth be told, it was we who grew distant over the passage of time, and it is G-d, out of His great love for His people, who seeks us out yet again. This "field" we call Elul is, in effect, the same battlefield upon which Israel was perched in this week's reading. And it is instructive to point out that the Hebrew word for a military engagement, krav, is from the word meaning to draw near. So in our battlefield of Elul, as we strive to draw nearer to G-d and nearer to our true selves, we are engaging in the battle of our lives. The battle for our lives.
"When you go out to war against your enemies... " (ibid) Torah tells us. World events of the last decade have made it painfully clear to all that if we do not properly identify our enemy we cannot successfully overcome him. So too with the adversary within ourselves. Simply wanting to make personal change isn't enough. We need to be able to take a clear, cold look at ourselves, identify our failings, and only then can we begin to draw up a plan of attack.
" ...and you see horse and chariot, a people more numerous than you... " (ibid) Torah continues. Our own weaknesses may seem too much to overcome, but we are told, " ...you shall not be afraid of them, for HaShem, your G-d is with you Who brought you up out of the land of Egypt."(ibid) Yes, just as G-d brought us to freedom from Egyptian bondage, He will see that we shall free ourselves of our own self-imposed shackles, if only we rally to His call.
The Torah next describes how the kohen, (priest), will speak words of encouragement to the troops. It is not the earthly king or temporal leader of Israel who is called upon to rally our hearts, but the priest whose work is in the Holy Temple, whose very presence here among the troops reminds us of G-d's desire to shed His Divine presence upon us as He makes His abode here on earth. What greater vote of confidence could there be than knowing that G-d, the General of our souls, will not be watching our battle from afar, on a plasma screen, but that He has extended His Divine presence and benevolence to this same field in which we strive against all odds and against implacable foes.
Finally the kohen raises the issue of our greatest fears: "What man is there who has built a new house and has not [yet] inaugurated it?... And what man is there who has planted a vineyard, and has not [yet] redeemed it?... And what man is there who has betrothed a woman and has not [yet] taken her?" (ibid 20:5-7) How many of us try to forestall the moment of truth, the moment in which we test our souls, the moment in which we make the fateful decision that we will no longer be content to be the same person we were yesterday, but that we will allow ourselves to grow, and to grow closer to G-d? Are we afraid of whom we might become? Are we afraid of the other man who might "inaugurate" our house, "redeem" our vineyard, or be the husband to our wife? We cannot, must not, be afraid of the person we are intended to be. Now in the month of Elul, while G-d is nearer than ever, we need seize the moment, the moment that G-d has afforded us, to make every effort for self-improvement, to be willing to risk it all to finally vanquish our inner foes. It won't be a stranger living in our house, enjoying the fruits of our labors, and being with our loved ones. It will still be us, but even more so, having emerged victorious in our battle to transforms ourselves.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK with Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven as they find themselves once again in the glorious field known as the month of Elul, where the King is making a surprise visit!<
This week of parshat Shoftim begins the month of Elul, special time of Divine Will and the "emergency room" of the entire year. Temple Talk focuses on the spiritually-charged potential for individual and national growth during this unique month, as Yitzchak Reuven and Rabbi Richman emphasize the personal aspects of the King's month-long surprise visit to the field, where He confronts each one of us and challenges us to measure up to who we really are... who we really could be.