Parshas Ki Seitze: The War Within
We read parshas Ki Seitze in the month of Elul, when we engage in introspection in preparation for Rosh Hashana. While the parsha discusses practical and not-so-practical laws that apply to the Jewish society as a whole once they settle in Eretz Yisrael, these same ideas can be applied on the individual level, to our own personal and spiritual growth in this special month.
The parsha begins with instructions on the proper conduct in war: “When you go out to war against your enemy…” The Nesivos Shalom explains that there are three mentions of war in the parshiyos we read in the month of Elul: towards the end of last week’s parsha, Shoftim, and twice in this week’s parsha, Ki Seitzeh. As we prepare for Rosh Hashana we can apply the lessons of these parshiyos to the greatest war we wage in our own lives – the war against our sworn enemy, the yetzer hara, our own evil inclination.
In fact, we were born precisely for this purpose, to wage this war. Each soul comes down to this world with its own specific task and its own war to wage. Our enemy takes various shapes and forms, depending on our particular task, but the battle against the yetzer hara is universal.
How do we recognize our own enemy? The Nesivos Shalom advises us to look for areas in our lives where we encounter resistance from the yetzer hara. And once we determine the enemy’s nature, we must invest ourselves fully into the battle, in the same way that soldiers are ready to lay down their lives on a battlefield when fighting a human enemy.
It is not enough for us to simply restrain from the forbidden and engage in mitzvos and Torah learning. It can happen, says the Nesivos Shalom, that after 120 years, a Jew will be summoned to the Heavenly court and asked what he accomplished in life. The person might have a lifetime of Torah and mitzvos to show for himself, but if he did not fulfill his specific purpose, for which his soul was sent down to this world, that Jew missed the whole point of his existence. Therefore, it is important to go beyond the letter of the law when going out to war against the yetzer hara.
Rashi says that the war that this parsha speaks about is milchemes reshus – a permissible war, which was not commanded by Hashem, but which Hashem allows us to fight for the benefit of the Jewish nation. In the same way, the war we fight against the yetzer hara involves areas of life that are not regulated by prohibitions in halacha, but that are permissible and left to our own discretion.
Let’s elaborate on this point. Hashem created a beautiful world, for us to enjoy. There are many physical pleasures out there that one may avail themselves of. However, these pleasures carry with them an inherent danger. We might get so caught up in chasing the next pleasure that we lose track of our mission in life. And that is precisely what the yetzer hara wants to accomplish – to throw us off track, so that our particular mission for which our neshama came down to this world never gets fulfilled. This would lead to the sad scenario described above, where after 120 years, the Heavenly court determines that the person missed the point of his or her life.
How do we prevent this from happening? By maintaining focus on our goal and investing ourselves fully into our mission. Elul and Rosh Hashana are a special opportunity to refocus, to remind ourselves of our values and goals.
The Nesivos Shalom points out that the parsha begins with “ki seitze lamilchama” – “when you go out to war.” The first step in battling the yetzer hara is to go out – out of our comfort zone and out of our habits. We must be brave enough to venture out of our complacency into the unknown territory.
Just as in a war against a physical enemy, we must put our trust in Hashem and know that He is with us in our battle against the yetzer hara. The passuk continues, “When you go out to war against your enemy, and Hashem, your G-d, will give them into your hand.” Once we take the first step and enter the battle, Hashem will be with us and help us achieve victory.
The passuk continues, “When you go out to war against your enemy, and Hashem, your G-d, will give them into your hand, and you will capture captives.” This is a warning – even once we win the war and capture the yetzer hara, the battle is not yet over. We must remain vigilant, because after one test and one victory comes another. The tests of life never end, and our fight must go on. It is crucial not to lose sight of our purpose in life, for which our souls came to this world.
Sometimes we succeed, and other times we fail. The Nesivos Shalom says that we must not despair. In Egypt, the Jewish people reached the 49th gate of impurity, and yet Hashem took them out of Egypt and brought them to be His chosen people. We must know and believe that a Jew is stronger than his or her enemy. Even when the yetzer hara seems to overpower us we must believe that it will not win the war because we will receive help from Above. In a war, a specially appointed kohen spoke to the Jewish soldiers and encouraged them not to be afraid “because Hashem, your G-d, goes with you to fight your enemies, to save you.” In the same way, Hashem goes with us to save us in our war against the yetzer hara. This trust in our eventual victory is essential to fulfilling our mission in life.
As we read these parshiyos in Elul, we are reminded of our specific mission. We finish one year and enter the next, and with Rosh Hashana comes renewal. In the new year, we once again go out to war and attempt to make lasting changes within ourselves. May Hashem help all of us succeed!