The War for Your Soul

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During these days of Elul, we find ourselves in a state of war. Elul is a season of war, but not one of base physical means. Rather, it is a month of spiritual war – a month when we are empowered to launch an attack on the yetzer hara.

We open this week’s parsha with the pasuk, “when you will go out to war against your enemies and hashem shall deliver them into your hands.” This war is fundamentally different than other battles, such as described in Beha’alosecha. From a surface level, one may think this is referring to physical wars. In fact, Rishonim agree with this approach.

Rashi says this war is an optional war. Sifrei comments this is any war other than conquest of Canaan and destruction of Amalek, since those are not optional. And since it says when you go to war, not when you wage war, it is clear from Rashi that this is war initiated by Israel. 

The issue at hand is this – it’s clear this pasuk is special. It’s calling out to something unique. What is it? For that, we have to look to the chassidishe masters to get a better understanding of the situation in front of us. 

When you go further to war against your enemies, and HaShem your G-d has delivered them into your hands, and you have taken them captive.

Devarim 21:10

The Tosher Rebbe brings a grammatical point. This pasuk is in the plural form, which indicates a national war. If klal yisroel act together then they won’t need to call out for mercy because HaShem is already on their side. If they act divided then they must rely on the mercy of HaShem and call out for it to gain favor in battle. So here’s a slight difference between the two, but there’s still an allusion to something greater. 

Because Israel’s hand neglected the words of Torah, therefore the enemy came upon them.

Here we see Chazal make a comment regarding the war of Amalek. In the end, we see the battle victorious, but the key factor seemed to be Moshe’s hands. Perhaps…

And it came to pass, when Moshe held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.

Shemos 17:11

Rashi comments on the Mishnah’s question on this pasuk – “Moshe was in the condition that he hands were in faithfulness — spread forth to heaven in a confident and firm prayer.

And here’s the key to understanding the connection between Elul and this war. During the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we have an additional kapitel (24) that we recite from Tehillim, one that talks about clean hands and a pure heart. It is to drive us to strengthen our avodah of honesty and aversion to theft of any form to strengthen our prayer and have our tefillos be received by HaShem.

The Shela HaKadosh teaches on the theme of honesty, and to avoid stealing, even questionable theft. To him, theft is the source of every aveira, and one who steals will return as a gilgul to repay his theft. Theft prevents our tefillos from being accepted. So we daven to have clean hands. 

The Alshich HaKadosh asserts that pure honesty is required in order for tzedakah to be wholesome. One can’t give in one hand and steal with another.

The Divrei Chaim points to Elul as a season of battle – one with the yetzer hara, which is why we have the parshios of this month focused on war. The war spans from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Hoshana Rabba. From what we’ve seen by the other masters, it’s clear a key part of this battle is to be free of dishonesty and theft. Only then can we lift our own hands in faithfulness that our tefillos will be heard and be victorious. 

The war with Amalek is a war of davening.

R’ Mottele of Hornsteipol, Pele Yoetz

The Zohar HaKadosh calls davening a time of war.

Amalek is not only a physical enemy, but also an allusion to our yetzer hara.

Rebbe Benzion Twerski on his teachings of Tanya has commented before that when the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah davened to remove the urge of Avodah Zara from the yid, that energy couldn’t disappear – it had to go somewhere. It went into financial matters. When we steal or are dishonest, it relates to a financial gain of some sort, and is a foothold for the yetzer hara in the battle for our soul. 

The Bobover Rov brings us to this: Moshe lifted his hands to show the battle could only be won by honesty and freedom of theft. And that is the key to our victory. 

When you go forth to war against your enemies, and HaShem your G-d has delivered them into your hands, and you have taken them captive.

The very next pasuk in the text is the answer and key to it all. The Ropshitzer Ruv, in Zera Kodesh, brings that the next pasuk is an acronym, that the words אשת יפת refer to the pasuk of Tehillim we receive before each Shemoneh Esrei. This connection is a further proof the enemy here is not one that others have argued, being of physical means, but rather a spiritual one – the nature of Amalek, our yetzer hara. The foe is one who wishes to defeat our tefillos, and our victory can be found in fiscal honesty. 

Amusingly enough, despite Rashi’s simple statement on it being a voluntary war, the Bobover Ruv quotes Rashi’s statement to truly mean the assertion made here. The voluntary war, where they are given reishus to act, the word רשות has a Gematria the same as the pasuk, “accept our prayer and hear our cry, Who knows hidden thoughts.

Our victory thus in this voluntary war against the Amalek within us is dependent on clean hands and a pure heart, as we daven for each day during these days of introspection and awe.