From HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson shlita a grandson of Maran ztvk”l, head of the Yeshiva for Rabbanim Tiferet Rashbi
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
It is stated in the Parasha, “When you wage war against your enemies, Hashem will give you victory over them, so that you will take captives. If you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners and desire her, you may take her as a wife” (Devarim 21:10-11).
Last week we read Parashat Shoftim which concluded [with the Egla Arufa – Decapitated Calf] , “[This is what you must do] when a corpse is found fallen in the field in the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you to occupy, and it is not known who the murderer is. Your elders and judges must go out and measure the distance to the cities around the corpse. The elders of the city closest to the corpse must then bring a female calf, which has never been worked, and which has never drawn a load with a yoke. The elders of that city shall bring the calf to a swiftly flowing stream, [the land around which] must never be worked or sown. There at the stream, they shall decapitate the calf. The priests from the tribe of Levi shall then come forth. (It is these [priests] whom Hashem has chosen to serve Him and to pronounce blessings in Hashem’s Name, and who are entrusted to decide in cases of litigation and leprous signs.) All the elders of the city closest to the corpse shall wash their hands over the decapitated calf at the stream. [The elders] shall speak up and say, ‘Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes have not witnessed it’. [The priests shall then say,] ‘Forgive your people, whom you, Hashem have liberated. Do not allow [the guilt for] innocent blood to remain with your people Israel’. And so shall the blood be atoned for. You shall thus rid yourself of [the guilt of] innocent blood in your midst, since you will have done that which is morally right in Hashem’s eyes” (Devarim 20:1-9).
Chazal in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbat ch. 2) expounded the juxtaposition of the verses, this means to say the significance of the placing of our Parasha next to last week’s. And this is what Chazal said, before our forebears went to battle, the Heavenly court sat, judging the Jewish People to ascertain if they are free from the sin of murder, since only then will they be victorious in battle against their enemies. And if not, then the innocent blood will act as an adversary against them, and the enemy will prevail against them and kill them in battle.
We thus learn from Chazal that the sin of murder is the greatest cause of the Jewish People loosing - G-d-for-bid - in battle. Similarly, we find in the words of the Prophet in the book of Kings that Achav spoke to Navot as follows, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it as a herb garden, for it is close by my house; in its place I will give you a better vineyard, or, if you prefer, I will give you its price in money.” But Navot said to Achav, “Far be it from me before Hashem that I should give you my ancestors’ heritage!” Achav came home sullen and angry over the matter. “He lay on his bed, turned his face [to the wall] and would not eat any food (lit. bread)” (Kings I, 21:2-4).
Then Izevel his wife asked him, why he was sad. He answered her with everything that Navot the Yizraeli had spoken to him. His wife said to him, “You are the king, get up and eat bread and I will give you Navot’s field.” And what did she do? She hired two false witnesses, wicked people, who would testify against Navot the Yizraeli that he G-d-for-bid blessed Hashem [a euphemism for cursing]. The people brought him out [publicly] and stoned him. Then Achav took possession of Navot’s vineyard.
After some time, there was an opportunity to conquer land. The King of Aram ruled over Ramot-Gilad, Achav wished to recapture it and conquer it. He turned to Yehoshafat King of Judah and requested that he form a coalition against the King of Aram.
Yehoshafat replied, “I shall be like you, my people shall be like your people, my horses shall be like your horses,” he only requested that he seek permission from Hashem to ascertain if they would be victorious in battle.
Achav approached the [false] prophets of Ba’al, they all prophesied, “Go up against Ramot-Gilad and be successful!”
But then Hashem sent the Prophet Michyahu and he said to King Achav, “I have seen Hashem sitting on His throne, with all the host of Heaven standing by Him, on His right and on His left. And Hashem said, ‘Who will lure Achav to go up [to war] that he may fall in Ramot-Gilad?’ This one said, ‘Like this!’ and this one said, ‘Like this!’ Then the spirit came forward (this was the spirt of Navot the Yizraeli) and stood before Hashem and said, ‘I shall lure him!’ And Hashem said, ‘How?’ [The spirit] replied, ‘I will go out and be a spirit of falsehood in the mouths of all his prophets.’ And [Hashem] said, ‘You will lure him, and you will succeed! Go forth and do so.’ And now, behold! Hashem has put a spirit of falsehood in the mouths of all these prophets of yours, for Hashem has decreed evil upon you” (Kings I, 22:19-23).
Then King Achav commanded that they should imprison Michyahu and only feed him dry bread and stale water, until he will return in peace from battle. Michyahu said, “If you indeed return in peace, then Hashem did not speak through me!” (Divrei Ha’Yamim II 18:27).
What happened in the end? Achav stood in his chariot and Naaman shot an arrow at him, and King Achav died; his blood spilled into his chariot. When they returned his chariot, they washed it down, and the dogs came and licked Achav’s blood, in the very place that he had murdered Navot the Yizraeli.
And so, it transpired that because Achav spilled innocent blood, this blood was an adversary against him that he should lose in battle.
With this we may now understand why at the end of last week’s Parasha it concludes with the passage of the Egla Arufah – Decapitated Calf, to emphasise that the Jewish People must be free from the sin of murder and through this they will be victorious in battle, for if not they will certainly lose. As it says, “You shall thus rid yourself of [the guilt of] innocent blood in your midst, since you will have done that which is morally right in Hashem’s eyes”. With the merit of being morally right in Hashem’s eyes they will be victorious in battle.
Indeed, included within the sin of murder is the need to be careful not to cause another embarrassment, which Chazal described as akin to murder, since the red [blood] drains [from the face] and becomes white, and one must be extremely vigilant with this [Bava Metzia 58b].
This may be understood on a deeper level, that in all wars of the Jewish People in earlier times, they did not succeed due to military strategies and complex plans, for even though that had to plan their battle plan and the Torah required them to have an army etc, nevertheless, “It is not with valour and not with strength but with My Spirit, said Hashem of Hosts” [Zechariah 4:6]. For all of the battles are only through Hashem’s hands. As Moshe Rabbeinu said to the Jewish People by the sea, “Stand and you shall see Hashem’s salvation” [Shemot 14:13]. They had no weapons with which to fight against Egypt, they just stood in their place with a strong trust in Hashem and with this merit they were victorious. As it says, “As Pharaoh came close, the Children of Israel looked up and behold Egypt were marching behind them. They were extremely frightened and the Children of Israel cried out to Hashem (in prayer)” (Shemot 14:10).
They grabbed the faith of their forefathers and prayed to Hashem and made complete teshuva, and with this merit, they were saved.
Every thinking person should understand that all of our military victories, and the essence of our ability to stand here alive today, is only through a miracle, that Hashem is a “Man of War”, He stood for us at the time of distress and continues to do so.
It is for this reason that when King David said to King Saul that he will fight Goliath, he did not say to Saul, your servant will go and fight this Philistine, but rather he said your servant will go and “we” will fight with this Philistine. Because, battle for a Jew, happens on its own via Hashem.
All this may surprise us. Is it really the case that all military victory is only through Hashem? Surely we see expensive tanks and fighter jets etc. But the truth is that this is indeed true.
It is best illustrated when we consider that the manna fell in the wilderness through a miracle, and indeed if we were to have seen the manna fall, we would be truly inspired. The Jewish People in the wilderness were used to seeing the manna fall and especially those who were born in the wilderness. And when they came to Eretz Yisrael they saw it was possible to sow seeds and they would rot and produce wheat. This would have inspired them phenomenally! How is such a miracle possible? That a person sows seed and it produces wheat!
But we are the reverse of this, for that which we are accustomed to, we do not necessarily see so clearly Hashem’s hand. And so, we must pay careful attention and examine things carefully and observe the power of Hashem’s actions in everything, especially when it is dressed in natural phenomena (nature).
We are currently in the month of Ellul, the month of mercy and selichot, the foundation of foundations of our faith, that with the power of the Torah and through the holiness of the Torah and mitzvot, we merit to all successes in this world. For the Jewish People is not the same as the other nations regarding this. For regarding the nations, Hashem gave them a portion in this world governed simply by the laws of nature. But the Jewish People are holy, their whole essence is holiness and purity, in such a way that we do not necessarily detect on a daily basis. But it is incumbent upon us to realise that the Jewish People are one division that is all holy and as such, nothing happens to our people by chance but rather everything is specific Divine attention from Hashem from Heaven.
I will mention an earlier memory, when Maran our Teacher my grandfather ztvk”l would see the soldiers praying in his Beit Ha’Midrash – since they would occasionally come – he would request that afterwards they be brought to him. He would ask after their welfare and what is the religious situation at their army base. For he loved all Jews with all his heart. He valued the holiness of every Jew and he knew the unique importance in observing the religion in the army’s bases, for only through the merit of the Torah and the mitzvot do the Jewish People merit to be victorious in battle.
He would say that when we see a soldier, we must kiss him, for he sacrifices himself for the people. But for sure, all is still dependant in belief and keeping the mitzvot, as previously stated. And this is what is written, “Let the devout exult in glory…The lofty praises of Hashem are in their throats, and a double-edged sword is in their hand” (Tehillim 149:5-6). Even though they have a sword in their hand, nevertheless, the song and praise is to Hashem.