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Parshat Ki Teitzei (5760)

This week’s section begins with war. “When you go out to war on your enemies”
Rashi explains that it refers here to an ‘optional’ war i.e. one that the king declares for almost any reason, such as increasing national boundaries or even fattening the state treasuries.

This is not so understood. It is well known that the Torah places prime importance on life. One is allowed to transgress almost the entire Torah (except idolatry, murder and adultery) to save a life. If so how can the Torah allow the King to declare war and risk human lives for such a thing as land or money!?

Also we have to understand; why do we need war at all?

For example, why did the Jews have to conquer the land of Israel through war? Why didn’t G-d just make the inhabitants surrender, or leave on their own, or not move there in the first place?

I want to answer this with some very strange stories about another war. The one between first Rebbe of Chabad, Rebbe Shneur Zalman (called the ‘Baal Ha Tanya’, or the ‘Alter Rebbe’) and... Napoleon.

First, it is important to note that Napoleon wanted to conquer the world in the name of ‘Liberty, Equality and brotherhood’, freeing it from the cruelties and injustices of the various Monarchies and the Church and thereby relieving the Jewish people of untold suffering. So it was no wonder that almost all the Torah leaders of the time supported his war efforts. That is, all except for the Alter Rebbe.

The Rebbe publicly announced that if Napoleon would succeed, although it would certainly raise the glory of the Jewish people materially (Napoleon even had a plan to make a Jewish secular state in Israel) nevertheless it would bring disaster; assimilation, intermarriage and loss of Jewish identity spiritually.

So the Rebbe declared war on Napoleon, and even sent one of his most talented Chassidim, Rav Moshe Mizlish, to spy on him, passing all the information to the Russian High command. Several battles were won thanks to this information and the Czar even gave the Rebbe the high honor of “Privileged Citizen for All Generations”

The way Rav Mizlish did it was that he got a job as a translator in the French war headquarters and managed to hear and remember other vital top-secret facts while doing his work, of course everything at great personal risk.

The story is told that one afternoon, Napoleon himself startled everyone by suddenly bursting into the headquarters in a surprise visit. He stood for a moment in the middle of the room everyone standing in fear, rigidly at attention around him. Abruptly he turned sharply to Rav Moshe, stared viciously into his eyes, and screamed, “YOU ARE A SPY!!!” while pressing his hand against Rav Moshe’s heart to see if it were beating as that of a doomed man. Several very tense seconds of pregnant silence passed. But Napoleon did not detect anything. He removed his hand, saluted sharply to the Jew and told him to leave the room and never to return.


Afterwards, when the Rebbe asked Rav Moshe how he did it he answered, “Chassidus teaches that the mind should control the heart. I just figured that if I can control my heart against something so powerful as my own selfish urges, I can certainly control it against that puny human being”.

The next story is even stranger. All the great Tzadikim (Totally Holy Jews) of the time knew that Napoleon’s success was hanging on a thread; if the Alter Rebbe would blow the Shofar first on Rosh HaShanna Napoleon would lose, and if they were first he would win. [It seems that the Shofar on Rosh HaShanna is much more potent than we can imagine, especially in the hands of a Tzadik].

Now, the Shofar is blown close to the end of the morning prayers, after the reading of the Torah. So the other Tzadikim began their prayers at the earliest possible moment and prayed with the greatest possible speed only to discover that after all this, the Baal HaTanya preceded them, he blew the Shofar first!! [The Rebbe later explained that his secret was not that he prayed faster than the others, but rather that he simply blew the Shofar immediately and then prayed afterwards.]

[Incidentally, when Napoleon later attacked and conquered the city ofLiozne where the Rebb lived, the first thing he did was send soldiers to the home of the Rebbe, (who had already fled before the oncoming troops) in order to bring back even one of the Rebbe possessions (Napoleon had great spiritual powers of evil and sorcery, and through this he hoped to harm the Rebbe) but the Rebbe had earlier ordered that his house be burned down totally (!) to leave Napoleon empty handed.]

The point of these stories is that war has a spiritual source, especially
for the nation of Israel whose entire identity is spiritual.


War means to carry out the work that G-d assigned to the first man (1:28) “Be fruitful and multiply rule the earth and conquer it.” Who was the enemy that Adam had to conquer? He was alone in the world!? But the answer is that he had to conquer himself and the entire creation in order to reveal Gdliness. And the only way was through SELF-SACRIFICE. (That is why it was so difficult for him not to eat from the forbidden fruit)

When he failed, this job was passed down to anyone who desired it, and no one did until the arrival of Avraham, some 2000 years later. He accepted upon himself the job of revealing the Oneness of G-d everywhere, even at the greatest risks; he renewed the battle to take the world out of its ‘naturalness’ and make everything in the world holy. He even succeeded in passing this goal down from generation to generation (therefore he is called ‘our father’) until his offspring had multiplied into a vast nation. Moshe, the first real Jewish leader, continued the job of educating and directing them until his successor, Yhoshua, began its final stage; building a permanent dwelling for G-d’s revelation in the holy LAND; even the EARTH was to be permeated with holiness. But here too, just like Avraham, the Jewish people needed self-sacrifice to succeed, in this case actual war.

But the height of this war was reached by King Dovid (and those kings after him).

A Jewish king is supposed to be the ultimate Jew, totally devoted to only one thing; revealing HaShem everywhere; educating the Jewish nation, and through them the entire world, that, as we say in the prayers of Rosh HaShanna: ’HaShem the Gd of Israel is King and all that exists is part of His kingdom.”

So now we can understand why the king can risk Jewish lives for even the most simple and mundane matters, because the essence of the Jewish King is unifying the entire creation, even its most mundane details (such as money and land) under the reign of The Creator. And his main ‘weapon’ in this ‘war’ is the one revealed by Avraham; self-sacrifice

This also explains why the Rambam writes that the Moshiach will be a king (Melech Ha Moshiach) and one of his jobs will be to fight the battles of Gd. Because the job of Moshiach is to finalize the work begun by Avraham and that can only be done through ‘war’ and self-sacrifice.

But, as the Lubavitch Rebbe stressed many times, this war need not be one of
bloodshed.

And the perfect example is the Rebbe himself. He began an all out total war against ignorance and encouraged his Chassidim to endanger themselves spiritually (and often physically) by leaving the security of their ‘ultra-orthodox’ environments and their Torah learning and go from door to door, out into the streets or even to far corners of the earth, to search for non-observant Jews and encourage them to do even one commandment.

This is the war of the Moshiach. And the Rebbe assures us that all we need to win is simply to go out and try.

And that is the deeper meaning of the first sentence of our Parsha: “When you go out to war” if you cast fear to the winds and just GO OUT and try to spread Judaism, then you are guaranteed that you will be “ON (victorious over) your enemies”.

May we all rejoice with the revelation of Moshiach NOW!!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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