“כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ וּנְתָנוֹ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ” “When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem, your God will deliver him into your hand…” (Devarim 21:10). Our parshah begins with a grammatically confusing pasuk. The pasuk begins with when the Bnei Yisrael will go out to war against their enemies, “אֹיְבֶיךָ”. From the fact that there are two letter “yuds” in this word, we know that the word is a plural. However, later in the pasuk, it says that Hashem will “deliver him into our hands”, in the singular tense. Why the change in tense? The medrash says on the later part of the pasuk that if you keep all the laws in the pesukim that follow, then Hashem will deliver your enemies into your hands. But those pesukim speak about the laws of a captive woman and if you are not successful in war then there will be no captives! So how can fulfilling the laws of a captive make you successful in war when the war is already over by the time the captives have been taken?
The Kli Yakar explains that the pasuk is referring to only one enemy: the Yetzer Hara (the Evil Inclination); the most dangerous, frightening, and personal enemy a person can have. We see from pesukim in last week’s parsha that wartime is when he is at his strongest (See commentaries to Devarim 20:1). The pasuk here is promising that Hashem will help you defeat the Yetzer Hara in your battle against him. But still the question arises; Rashi explains that the reason we allow a soldier to bring a woman captive home with him is because the Yetzer Hara will be too strong to resist so Hashem would rather he do it with permission. So how can Hashem tell us that He will help us defeat the Yetzer Hara and then allow us to do something only because our Yetzer is too strong? If it has already been defeated, what is there to worry about? Where is Hashem’s promise of victory?
In order to understand this better, let us go through the laws of a captive woman. When you first bring her home from battle, you must shave her head and have her grow out her fingernails. She must not wear fine clothes and she must mourn in your house for her family that she has left behind. All these measures are taken to insure that you will come to dislike her (as we did not want her to be taken back from the war in the first place). The juxtaposition of this topic with the next one, which is someone who loves one of his wives and hates the other, teaches us that if you do end up marrying this captive, you will grow to hate her.
The Kli Yakar explains that following these instructions will help you conquer your Yetzer Hara. Any feelings you might have had for her during the war will be wiped out by the time she is finished with her mourning, thereby removing your one remaining desire from your Yetzer Hara! Chazal tell us that when you battle your Yetzer Hara, if you cannot defeat him, the final attempt should be to remind yourself of your eventual death. When you contemplate the fact that one day you will have to answer for all your deeds in front of the Heavenly Court, you will surely be able to overcome your current desires and inclinations. When she is mourning for her family in your house, it becomes a shiva house, a place where you can be reminded of your mortality on a constant basis.
We can now explain the beginning of the pasuk as well. The multiple enemies written about at the beginning of the pasuk are both the external and internal enemies we face when we go to battle. The reason why the end of the pasuk mentions our defeating only one enemy is because that in order to defeat our external enemies, we must first defeat our internal one: the Yetzer Hara. While we are still mired in sin, we cannot hope to defeat our enemies around us. However, we do have a promise from Hashem to help us succeed. As long as we begin the battle, Hashem will finish it for us. In fact, by the physical battle we potentially do not have to do anything at all! Once we have defeated our Yetzer Hara, Hashem takes charge of our external enemies, and the war is over before it has even begun.
Currently, we are also in a battle, the battle of Elul. As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we must prepare ourselves for judgment. But as we try to get better, our Yetzer Hara tries even harder to make us slip up and fail. Let us internalize the lesson of this week’s parshah that as long as we follow the Torah and commit ourselves to becoming better, we have a guarantee from Hashem that we will succeed; He will battle for us. However, we must take the first step. If we show Hashem that we are committed to changing ourselves, only then will He help us defeat the Yetzer Hara. But if we do make that commitment, then we are guaranteed to succeed.
For any questions, comments, or to subscribe to our email list, please email us at AIMeMtorah@gmail.com.
Check out our other AIMeMTorah project, Nation's Wisdom!