Parshat Ki Tetzei

The Inner Battle

By Yael Dworkin

The Zohar Hakadosh relates the following story:

A group of wise men were out walking when they happened to meet on the way a group of strong military men. The wise men asked the soldiers where they were coming back from. The soldiers answered: “From fighting in the great war!”. The wise men laughed, saying: “The real war you must fight has not yet begun! The real war awaits each of us at home, within our own selves…”

The parsha opens with the following instruction:

“If you go out to war over your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives; and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife.” (Devorim 21:10-11)

Concerning the beautiful woman, Rashi comments:

“… Scripture [in permitting this marriage] is speaking only against the evil inclination [ which drives him to desire her]. For if the Holy One, blessed is He, would not permit her to him, he would take her illicitly… “

From Rashi’s commentary, we come to understand, that “the going out to war” that the parsha is speaking about is the going out to the only real war that truly exists, namely- the war against one’s own egotism and selfish desires. This parsha comes out quite deliberately in the month of Elul- when the order of the day is to take stock of our year’s spiritual advancements and failings. It comes to fortify us with the proper wisdom and strength necessary to be able to overcome our evil inclination. Rabbi Ashlag ztz”l formulated an easy understanding of what the yetzer hara is. ‘Yetzer’ translates as ‘inclination’, and ‘Hara’ translates as ‘the bad one’. Rav Ashlag breaks it down for us even more by teaching that the word ‘ra’, meaning bad, is an acronym of 2 words: Ratzon Atzmi- the will to serve oneself, i.e.: egotism.

The parsha’s opening words: “If you go out to war against your enemies” is also hinting to us regarding the spiritual nature of reality. Scripture does not say here: “when fighting a war against your enemies”. This would imply a physical war in a physical plain. But the Torah here, with its deliberate choice of words of Ki Tetzeh (when you shall go out) seems to put an emphasis on the ‘going out’ part- implying that there is a war to fight as soon as we ‘go out’. That is, as soon as the neshama leaves its supernal source above to come into this world- it is forced into a battle. The lower-level self that is attached to the body wants comfort and ease, while the person’s neshama, a part of G-d above, is on a shlichus to do what is right in the eyes of HaShem, despite the cost to one’s itches and desires that want to be satisfied.

It is important to always keep in mind “from whence we have come and to where we are going” (Pirkei Avos 3). We are primarily holy neshamas that want to do what is right in the eyes of HaShem- just as a branch ought to resemble the roots from which it issued forth from. Just as a branch is meant to be an actualized potential that was latent within its roots- so too our G-dly self wants to be manifested more in the details of our lives.

“Ki Tezteh lmilchama al oyvecha”- “when you go out to war over your enemies”. Every choice we make is preceded by a kind of a battle- are we going to do that which is comfortable, from a place of self-serving interest and egotism, or are we going to choose to do that which is correct according to Torah, even though it may mean giving up something of a personal desire for it. Understanding reality from this vantage point and perspective will, Gd willing, give us the strength and the wisdom to know better what to want, going forward, as we approach Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for renewal of our commitment to HaShem- to crowning Him as King over all our desires. May we merit to ‘go out’ into the new year with the strength and resolve that will serve to establish the victories our neshama wants to see in all its spiritual aspirations- Amen!

Good Shabbos


“כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ“, הפותחות את הפרשה, בעצם מרמזות לנו על הטבע הרוחני של המציאות. הכתוב היה יכול לומר, ‘כי תלחם באויבך’, אלא שהדגש הוא על היציאה. חז”ל אמרו, מדובר על יציאת הנשמה אל העולם הזה. הנשמה יוצאת ממקורה העליון אל העולם הזה כדי לבצע את השליחות שהטיל עליה בורא עולם. חשוב להבין מאין אנחנו יוצאים ולאן אנחנו באים, “דע מאיין באת, ולאיין אתה הולך” (אבות ג’), כדי להבין באיזה שדה קרב מדובר, מהו מקום המלחמה ומה טבעה.


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