The Torah commands us to act
Ki Thetze: When
thou goest forward...
21, 10 - 25, 19
to desire, combat, conquer and succeed is the most important
- Overview: the battle of the Jews
- What war?
- Who is a Jewish soldier?
- The arms of a Jewish soldier
- The mitzvot of the parasha
- The themes of the parasha
- The method of study
- The peshat of the parasha leads us to the sod,
the hidden meaning
- The drash: desire that comes from the heart
- Desire that comes from instinct
- The highest level of interpretation
- Hannah and Hashem Tzevaot
- The meaning of the haftara
Method of study
For advanced students
Overview - the battle of the Jews
Those who have read the preceding
commentaries beginning Bereshit, which were all based on
Shnei Luhot Haberit by the Shla already know the structure
of the Torah:
--- Bereshit (the creation, the divine plan, partial failure,
reconstruction by one man - Avraham, then by a family who
take on the divine mission: this will be the mission of
the Jewish people).
--- Shemot (in order to accomplish this mission, the people
descend into Egypt where they absorb the best of cultures
and the worst, then leave to go to Jerusalem; again there
is partial failure, as only a part of the people leave for
Jerusalem and only a small part of the Egyptians, but they
all receive Hashem's protection and the light of the Torah;
they commit themselves to it for all generations and set
out to live by it in the land of Israel).
--- Vayikra (in order to bring the functioning of the world
into kedusha - holiness - which should be its normal state,
the people are given a social organization with the cohanim,
leviim and Israel, the Temple the rites of prayer, sacrifices,
festival, etc. ).
--- Bemidbar (the people learn how to live within this organization
and how to advance: they lament and we learn from their
errors; we also learn from those who remain faithful --
Moshe, Yehoshua, Caleb and all the women who are the real
strength of the people and were so from Egypt to the Jordan).
--- Devarim (the whole Torah is recounted, with the emphasis
this time on the individual, for reality lies with the individual,
not with theories, ideologies, or birthrights but with true
devotion put into daily practice and the point of retelling
the story is to ensure that each individual understands
it and hearkens to it. The preceding parasha Shoftim, gave
us the necessary intellectual and social tools, but this
is not enough; now we must act: this is the meaning of
Right away, the parasha tells
us that we must act, and go to war in order to carry out
the mission that was fulfilled by all generations - to release
the sparks (nitzovot) that are imprisoned in darkness and
in shells (klipot) and which are preventing fulfillment
and bring them back to life.
But this must be done according to the rules of the Torah:
we have seen wars recently (Iraq, Yugoslavia, where intentions
were good but because those on the side of morality lacked
clear judgment, as many of the victims were killed as aggressors.
This is where the Torah gives us an alternative. The wars
may be similar but the manner of waging them is different,
unlike the slogan: "all wars are dirty, and all of
them end with pop songs, until the next dirty war."
The Torah is realistic: life is a war (ki thetze la milhama,
when thou goest forth to war).
This parasha transmits to us mitzvot 532-605: 74 mitzvot
to be heard, studied and applied, it's a lot!
This is not usual war, it is a war of
will say: "we know all about wars of religion, and
horrors carried out in the name of God." It is not
" This war is waged by the "tzaddikim," not
by rough soldiers or conscripts;
" Their aim is shalom which is the last stage of the
process of personal and collective development, just like
the word shalom is put at the end of the 19 blessings of
the amida and in Vayikra 7, 37 and Bemidbar 2, 27 and 29,
39 (read them). This is not the non-Jewish concept of "peace
now" where everything can be solved by giving the adversary
all that he demands and becoming his active accomplice.
The realization of shalom is also to be desired today, but
it must be prepared thoughtfully and paid for with personal
sacrifices. Only the tzaddikim are worthy of combating in
this terrain, which is not one that pits opinion polls,
disinformation campaigns, demonstrations or national votes.
While seeming to be different, the mitzvot are linked to
Who is the Jewish soldier (refer
to the references)
Yes, we must be soldiers, says the Torah. But what kind?
Not a rosh katan (little head as we say in Hebrew, meaning
someone who just obeys orders without thinking). The Jewish
soldier, says Rashi on Bemidbar 31, 3, is "armed for
combat halutz tzava not only with courage but also with
tools (of the Torah)."
The arms of the Jewish soldier
are as follows (refer to Rashi's commentary on Bemidbar
1. man. The Jewish concept of
manliness is not of a macho, or of a man who believes he
can be a political leader simply because he commanded men
in battle, or of a man who despises women and minorities
and dares to say so in public.
2. tzaddikim, the righteous,
according to Rashi. Before the combat with Amalek, Shemot
17, 8 says that this is who we must choose -- true men of
dignity (behar lanu anashim).
3. men who are Torah Sages and
who are recognized as such, Devarim 1, 15 (anashim hakhamim
veyeduim). Only they will be able to confront the terrors
of the night says Job 4, 13, which means the most awesome
battles of human existence both on an individual and a collective
level. This is the teaching of Midrash Tanhuma on the parasha
and this is Rashi's source.
Let us hope these times return for the people of Israel!
And that our leaders will no
no longer choose to combat our enemies in was that are alien
4. Rashi adds: such fighters
are dear to all Israel and come from all the tribes (on
Devarim 31, 5).
5. A sign of the high quality
of these men was that they practiced all the laws of purity
in their relations with their spouses (Kiddushin 76a). Keddusha
in marriage is the most important human quality. They were
so righteous that they even granted a get (act of divorce)
in case they were lost at war (Shabbat 56a and Ketuvot 9b).
6. David was the prototype of
these men; he knew how to organize his army and how to go
to war, but he also constantly studied the Torah. He always
had a Torah scroll at his side, wore a talit (prayer shawl)
and consulted the Sages when he was in doubt.
The arms of these soldiers are the Torah, the Ark of the
Covenant, the breastplate of the High Priest, the talit
which covers the divine presence, the tefilin which frighten
the enemy for they are a sign that these soldiers follow
the path of God and are protected.
7. In this way David led his
army and his troops: David reigned over all of Israel, he
ensured justice and benevolence (ose mishpat u tzedaka)
for all his people and Yoav ben Tzeruya led the army (II
Shmuel 8, 15). These soldiers who know that war is a part
of the battle for righteousness and goodness, which is Hashem,
ensure the salvation of the people: vayaavot yisrael et
Hashem kol yeme Yehoshua, all Israel served Hashem during
all the days of Yehoshua (Yehoshua 24, 31), an exceptional
period in history.
We must be modest, we have not
yet re-gained this level. Many young Jews who want to live
according to the Torah and their people, believe it is impossible
to serve in the Israeli army because it does not allow them
to live a life of Torah. The idea of establishing religious
units in the army is a white elephant. This is all mixed
up with the debate over the recognition of Torah study as
a vital contribution to the nation; not to mention the misunderstandings
and hatred between religious and secular, the difficulty
reconciling the two pillars of the state "Judaism and
Democracy," and the numbers of young people who are
not prepared to make sacrifices and participate in the national
8. But no one should criticize
young Israelis of any sector, if they themselves have not
participated in the struggle, for it is written in the Torah
that the soldiers came from all the tribes, thus even from
the tribe of Levi (Rashi on Devarim 31, 4).
It is important to know this
in order to fully understand the meaning of this parasha.
The mitzvot in the parasha
The parasha teaches us mitzvot
532 to 605 in order to wage this war well: 74 mitzvot which
we must study and apply! Despite their apparent disparity
the mitzvot are in fact interconnected.
The main factor they have in
common in this war and in how to "set out" for
war is noted by Ribbi Yaakov Abuhatzera and by Sages: the
mitzvot are all placed in the same framework - the presence
of Hashem in the world. The first verse (Devarim 21, 10)
in fact begins and ends with the letters khaf and vav whose
numerical value is 26, the same as the Name of Hashem, and
the following verses (21, 11-14) all begin and end with
the last two letters of God's 4-letter name vav he, all
of which points to the task that must be accomplished in
order to make the holy name complete.
(letter khaf) ki thetze lamilhama al oyevekha
unetano Hashem elohekha beyadekha veshavita shivio (letter
(letter vav) veraita bashivya eshet yefat toar
vehashakta vahvelkahta lekha leisha (letter he)
"When thou goest forth to battle against thine enemies,
and Hashem thy God delivereth them into thy hands, and thou
carriest them away captive;
and seest among the captives a woman of goodly form,
and thou hast a desire unto her and wouldest take her to
thee to wife.." (Devarim 21, 10-11).
Since we know that all existence depends on the 4-letter
name of God, we can see that the first two letters of His
name (yud, he), which symbolize the divine plan, chacterize
the first verse, which tells us that we have a war to wage
in this world and in our short existence. This is God's
Then, in the following verses
it is man's role: he must make the holy name complete by
carrying out what is described in these verses (seek a wife
and the sparks of the neshama, deliverance). Then the two
letters of the divine name which encompass these verses
(vav, he) will be fulfilled and Hashem will be unified and
his 4-letter name will be complete,
as it is said: yiye Hashem ehad u shemo ehad, on this day
his Name will be One (Zachariah 14, 9).
In light of these mitzvot, Judaism
excludes the idea of a savior who has already come to this
world and the lamentable state of the world is enough to
prove this. This idea anyway is contrary to the word of
God and His Torah.
We are slowly but surely on the path to discovering the
meaning of this parasha: the question now is what is this
war that we must wage?
The themes of the parasha
Some of the themes associated with the mitzvot in this parasha
desire for union with a female prisoner, the care to be
extended to the remains of condemned, objects that must
be returned to their owners, the help that must be given
to animals who collapse under their burdens, the prohibition
against wearing clothes of the other sex, the injunction
to set free a mother bird when taking her chicks from her
nest, the construction of railings to prevent falls, the
prohibition against mixing certain textiles in clothes,
the rules towards a woman who has been raped, the rules
governing a mamzer born from illegitimate sexual relations,
the bill of divorcement certifying and completing a divorce,
Levirate marriage, the injunction to remember Amalek and
what he did to the Israelites.
The method of study
The Modia Beit Midrash does not transmit ideologies about
the Torah. It transmits solely the teachings of our Sages.
Let us examine again, stage by stage how the Sages proceed
in order to understand the Torah. Their method is to ask
many, detailed questions before formulating the smallest
"idea." As an example, let us look at the caution
with which Ribbi ben Attar proceeds in his study. We will
learn from this the vocabulary used to formulate questions
(in respect of the first verse of the parasha).
---"When thou goest forth to battle against thine enemies,"
one must know tzarikh ladaat why the Torah feels obliged
to say all of this lama ustrakh lomar kol ze.
--- furthermore od, after it has said ahar she amar "when
thou goest forth to battle" it was not necessary to
say lo hava tzarikh lomar "against thine enemies."
--- but maybe the text felt it had to say this hach hakhatuv
--- and from this you have learn that mi ze ata lamed she
Try to do this exercise yourselves
on the first verse. You will then be doing the true method
of study that has always been the tradition of the beit
midrash and the yeshivot.
Ribbi ben Attar goes on to note that the text does not say
"seest among the captives a woman isha of goodly form"
but "seest among the captives a woman eshet (wife)
of goodly form." What is the significance of this term?
In Hebrew a woman is isha and the wife of someone is eshet.
As in the song sung every Friday night Eshet Hayil: this
does not mean a "strong woman" but "the wife
of a strong man" which is a clear reference to Hashem.
Thus the real meaning is lost if one does not know Hebrew
So the woman taken prisoner and desired by the Jewish soldier
is seen by him as his future wife. The commentaries stress
the fact that the text does not say "and you will desire
her" but uses the imperative "thou will desire
her." Some go even further, dding "even if she
is a married woman." What does this mean?
The peshat (literal meaning)
leads us to the sod (hidden meaning)
Ribbi ben Attar explains it
thus: because of Adam's sin, important parts of the souls
(neshamot) were lost under the influence of negative forces
(sitra ahara) and these are the souls of converts (gerim).
Refer to the Modia page on Conversion. Ribbi ben Attar adds:
"go out of yourself and understand (tze u lemad) how
very many great figures [Jews] in the world come from foreign
nations, you will find Ruth and Shemaya and Avtalion, and
Onkelos, and many others
.and I will reveal to you
a secret, these pure but imprisoned souls are not capable
of freeing themselves before the time set for their liberation"
(Sanhedrin 96 b).
This is the sensitive issue involving conversion, and it
is identical to the question of what makes Israel different
to other nations. The Pesah Haggada gives us the answer:
our ancestors were also gerim, converts as they tried to
set liberate themselves from the shells that imprisoned
Tradition also tells that this
problem has not been resolved among the Jewish people and
Jews of long standing, because:
- during the exodus from Egypt, a rough group of people
infiltrated themselves among the Israelites, not out of
solidarity or belief in their God, but for material interest
and they were the ones who instigated the golden calf and
many catastrophes in our history;
- the exodus from Egypt did not resolve the problem of the
reunion of man and woman since the time when there was just
- and, finally, each individual has to face the challenge
of liberation and he may fail: has to make constant choices
in regard to the values he has received, devotion to the
mitzvot, control of his instincts, as we shall see.
The drash: desire that comes
from the heart
The Torah shows us that the main source of this morality
comes from desire. Through desire, we turn our hearts and
feelings towards those who are weakest.
The Torah places great value
on the desires of the heart and directs them towards Hashem: adonut negdekha kol taavati, "adonut, all my desire
is before thee" (Psalm 38, 10). Rabbenu Bahya uses
this verse as an epigraph to his commentary on this parasha.
Contrary to superficial opinion
which holds that prayer or sacrifices only have an instructional
role, tradition teaches us that God seeks the heart of man
(ramana liba bae, Sanhedrin 106b and Rashi's commentary
on it). Rav Nahmanides puts great emphasis on this in order
to counter the errors of the rationalists.
The Shla also stresses this
theme in all his works with the phrase avoda tzorekh gavoa,
"the prayers of our heart are needed by the Almighty."
The text of the shema commands us not to be led astray by
our heart and by our eyes (Bemidbar 15, 39). And because
our eyes are the gate to our hearts and awake our desires,
we are told to constantly control our eyes and re-orient
them, if they err. Isaiah 11, 3 says that the Messiah will
be "in fear of Hashem and shall not judge after the
sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of
his ears" (vahariho beyireat Hashem velo lemare einavyishpot
velo lemishma oznav yokhiah).
Thus the Torah tells us that
the condition for the coming of the Messiah is the ability
to control what we see and what we hear, and to be sufficiently
perceptive and strong not to take things at face value and
judge others. At a time when the media seek to influence
through the press and TV and when we become their accomplices
by looking through their eyes, it is important to remember
this injunction of the Torah. Without it there would be
no Rahamim, mercy or salvation in the world.
This links to the passage in
Ketuvot page 110 which says that he who lives outside of
Israel is like someone who does not have a God (hadar behutz
laaretz dome kemi she ein lo Eloha), for inevitably this
person will see and hear what is reflected in his environment,
the values of this environment and its "gods,"
and will not integrate the Torah, Hashem and the values
of the land of Israel.
Desire that comes from instinct
Tradition calls desire that comes from instinct yetzer hara.
It does not see in it something negative, for without instinct
there can be no reproduction and continuity of life. What
is important is to channel the instincts, the yetzer hara
towards God and the Torah.
The prohibition against wearing
garments of the other sex is linked to the need to control
the yetzer hara, (yetzer hara derekh taava ufitui, the evil
instinct comes from desire and excitation). The Sages say
that the entire Torah is devoted to educating the yetzer
hara, (lo dibera Torah ella keneged yetzer hara, Kiddushin
21 b). This is the level of symbolic interpretation.
The higher level of interpretation
- the sod
The level of the sod, the secret meaning, takes us to a
higher level of interpretation.
It is demonstrated by Rabbenu Bahya regarding the 544th
mitzva (Devarim 22, 6) which commands us to set free a mother
bird when taking her chicks.
Let us now use the method we
have learnt of discovering the meaning of the Torah text
through its linguistic features. The fact that the text
says "the mother" and not "the father"
shows us that it relates to the higher levels that are called
"mother," as in Proverbs 2,3: ki em la bina tikra,
"you will say to wisdom, mother."
Rabbenu Bahya gives us another
interpretation at this level which is inspired by Zohar
Ruth on va yehi bime
: this mitzva creates the superior
level of Rahamim (mercy: the word mercy comes from rehem,
womb) for a mother bird that is set free fears her nest
will be destroyed and is anxious to the point of suicide
at being separated from her young. Then the power above
asks God for mercy, as is written: verhamav al kol maasav,
"his tender mercies are over all his works," (Psalm
145, 9) and then the level Rahamim spreads goodness across
So when a person changes his
route in order to carry out this mitzva of not taking the
mother (this is not an obligatory mitzva, eina mitzva mehuyevet
shemo shear mitzvot), he helps to better the world. This
is why the text says that this mitzva prolongs the days
of one's life, for only Rahamim can do this.
Rabbenu Bahya notes that this
is one of the mitzvot that can only be truly understood
through the level of kabbala (mitzva zo min hamitzvot hamekubalot).
Hannah and Hashem Tzevaot
It is from this point of suffering that Hannah implored
Hashem ("And she was in bitterness of soul and prayed
unto Hashem, and wept sore; and she vowed a vow and said:
" I Samuel 1, 10-11).
Tradition teaches us that when all the gates of prayer are
shut, the gate of tears allow the prayer to ascend, to be
received and granted (Zohar I 132 b, 228 b; II 12b, 145b,
165 b). It should be stressed that the term Rahamim belongs
to the highest level, together with ratzon (will), of God's
names and corresponds to the name Ehiye which was revealed
to Moshe and remains incomprehensive to man, as is noted
by Ribbi Yosef Gikatilia in Shaare Ora and accepted by all
The teaching of the Haftara
The above enables us understand the choice of the haftara
(Isaiah 54, 1-10) and the meaning of the first mitzva of
the parasha, that of the woman prisoner of war.
The term Hashem Tzevaot links
the haftara to the parasha
Read this again: ki voalaikh
osaikh Hashem Tzevaot
"For thy maker is thy husband, Hashem Tzevaot is his
The haftara depicts Jerusalem
as a sterile woman (cf. Hannah) and as a widow. Both these
conditions are tragic and unalterable. And it is written
that Jerusalem will spread (Rahamim will lead to the dissemination
of the flux of benediction) in space and numbers, that its
humiliation will end and that love will return; (thy maker
Hashem Tzevaot will be thy husband).
We have seen that Hannah uses
the same term for God, for she knew the meaning of these
holy names and their function in prayer. The name Hashem
signifies that the goodness of Rahamim descends
to become concretized in the goals of creation; this is
the intermediary level between Rahamim (the source) and
El Shaddai (fruition), as Yaakov says when he finds his
sons again: El Shaddai give you Rahamim (Bereshit 43, 14).
All is taught in Shaare Ora by Rav Yosef Gikatilia.
The link between Rahamim and
Hashem Tzevaot in the Torah
Our Sages show us how this concept
is present in different contexts in which the expression
Hashem Tzevaot appears. Here are a few examples:
1. "The inhabitants of
Jerusalem shall be my strength in Hashem Tzevaot" (Zachariah
2. "Let them now make intercession to Hashem Tzevaot
that the vessels which are left in the house of Hashem
not to Babylon" (Jeremiah 27, 18).
3. "For Israel hath not been forsaken, nor Judah of
his God, of Hashem Tzevaot" (Jeremiah 51, 5).
4. "Our redeemer, Hashem Tzevaot, the Holy One of Israel"
(Isaiah 47, 4).
5. "His bread will not fail for I am Hashem they God,
that divideth the sea, whose waves roared: Hashem Tzevaot
is his name" (Isaiah 51, 14-15).
6. "Their redeemer is strong, Hashem Tzevaot is his
name, he shall thoroughly plead their cause, that he may
give rest to the land" (Jeremiah 50, 34).
7. "For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant and
they that escape out of Mount Zion: the zeal of Hashem Tzevaot
shall do this" (II Kings 19, 31).
8. "So David waxed greater and greater, for Hashem
Tzevaot was with him" (I Chronicles 11, 9).
These roles can be seen clearly
in Psalm 84, which is read before the Minha service in Sephardi
congregations: one can see how this name ensures benediction.
At an hour of fatigue and stress, which is that of Minha,
conceived by Yitzhak our father who knew so much suffering,
the process of benediction is inalterable. This is what
I wanted to express in the verses of Isaiah which are placed
around the image of the moon, for the moon is a symbol of
something weak which needs to be illuminated by the light
So happy is he who knows this
and finds strength in it, as is written in the psalm ashere
which follows the Minha service.
We have learnt something new
the haftara often elaborates on the message of the parasha
which may be dimly perceived amidst the mass of injunctions
or hidden behind the literal story. It begins with the word
Roni, rejoice. It tells of a woman who finds happiness,
freedom and fulfillment through the grace of Hashem.
Exercises: Personal Development
1. Re-read the entire parasha in this perspective.
2. Reflect on the meaning the parasha has in your own life.
3. Discuss your ideas with those close to you.
Method of study:
Note down the numerous rules of study described above and
1. adonut negdekha kol taavati
"adoshem, all my desire is before thee" (Psalm
2. Rahamana liba bae
God seeks the heart of man (Sanhedrin 106 b)
3. avoda tzorekh gavoa
The Almighty needs our prayer
4. lo dibera Torah ella keneged yetzer hara
The Torah speaks only in order to control the yetzer hara
For advanced students
Read chapters 3-4 of Shaarei
Ora by Ribbi Yosef Gikatillia (in Hebrew) for a detailed
analysis of the expression Hashem Tzevaot in prayer.
Refer and study the sources