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P' Shoftim - The Prerequisite of War

08/24/2017 09:55:52 PM


Rabbi Todd Sullivan

In Parshas Shoftim (Devarim 20:1-8), the Torah addresses the fear we have when we go into battle. The Torah instructs us that first the Cohen comes and says to the troops, “Hear O Israel! Today you approach battle with your enemies. Do not lose courage. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them. It is Hashem your God who goes with you to fight against your enemy in order to save you from them.” On “Hear O Israel!”, Rashi quotes the Gemara in Sotah 42a that Hashem says, “Even if the only merit you have is the merit of saying Kriyas Sh’ma, it is appropriate for Me to save you.”


After the Cohen’s address, the officers appointed address the troops and give categories of people who are exempt, such as the man who betrothed a wife or a man who planted an orchard. They then conclude with a blanket exemption to “whoever is fearful and weak of heart, let him go back home so that he doesn’t weaken the courage of his comrades.” R’ Yosi HaGalili explains in Sotah 44a that this is to exempt from war all of those who have done aveiros, even minor ones, who are afraid that because of their aveiros they will die in the war.


Given the above Gemara, wouldn’t it be more appropriate for the Cohen to tell the troops to repent just before they risk their lives? In fact, the Rambam in hilchos Taaniyos says that whenever we see troubles, we have to cry out to Hashem, and in fact, if we don’t cry out to Hashem, then Hashem increases the troubles that we see. Here we have a situation where the army is gathered for war, and yet the Cohen seemingly doesn’t tell the people to cry out. What is it specifically about Kriyas Sh’ma that Hashem decides that in this merit the Jews will be saved from their enemies?


As part of Kriyas Sh’ma, we state the requirement to serve Hashem with all our heart and with all our soul. Chazal say that b’chol nafsh’chem - with all our souls - means even if HaKadosh Baruch Hu requires us to give our lives in his service. We also know that when we say the first two pesukim of Kriyas Sh’ma, we are supposed to accept God’s malchus upon ourselves.


This is what is special about Kriyas Sh’ma and why the Cohen addresses the people in this manner. Those who accept the yoke of heaven with a whole heart will immediately be returned to Hashem in t’shuva; for through accepting God’s kingship, any aveiros that they have are determined to be fleeting and are forgiven. However, those among the nation who cannot or do not accept God’s kingship over man completely are unable to be forgiven and thus must leave the army, especially since they are not willing to risk their lives in God’s service.


In a few short weeks, the Yomim Noraim will be upon us. At the end of Yom Kippur, we will collectively say, “Sh’ma Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad!” In light of the above, I hope we can all recognize how important this statement is, accept the ol malchus shamayim and through that return to HaKadosh Baruch Hu in complete t’shuva.


Sat, July 13 2024 7 Tammuz 5784