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Ki Seitzei - Dealing with the Enemy

Ki  saitzai  la’milchamah  al  oy’veh’cha  u’n’sah’no  Hashem  Elokecha  b’ya’deh’cha  v’sha’vee’sah  sheev’yo v When you will go out to war against your enemies and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand and you will capture his captivity. [Deuteronomy 21:10]

The following divrei Torah are from the Artscroll Torah Treasury edited Rabbi Moshe M. Lieber (with several emendations) unless otherwise noted:

Metaphorically speaking, this verse refers to man’s unabating battle against his primary foe – the evil inclination (the yetzer hara). We often feel that overcoming this enemy is simply beyond our abilities. Our Sages themselves teach that one’s yetzer hara attacks a person incessantly and, were it not for Divine assistance [s’yata d’shamaya], it would indeed overcome us [Kiddushin 30b]. How can a person muster the courage to engage so formidable a foe?

The Torah answers that we need only begin the battle and that G-d will grant us the ultimate victory. As the verse states, “When you will go out to war against your enemies…” i.e. if you will only take the first steps towards engaging him in battle, then “Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand”.

The Nesivos Shalom expands upon this theme. The Torah here offers a two-part strategy for this life-and-death confrontation:  The first part is expressed by the adage, “the best defense is a good offense” – do not wait for the yetzer hara to attack and attempt to seduce you to sin! Rather, you take the initiative and “go out to war against your enemies” – go out and engage the invader and drive him out of your life. The second part of the strategy in the internalization of the knowledge that G-d will certainly aid you in attaining a victory against your foe, as the verse states, “Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand”. 

Tiferes Shlomo sees in our verse a bittersweet lesson about the realities of life:  We frequently make herculean efforts to do what is right and moral rather than what is appealing, attractive or convenient – and, indeed, G-d does help us to rise above our earthly inclination and to win the battle. However, this is not the end of the war; shortly thereafter we find ourselves facing our foe once again – if not back to square one, then also certainly not in the victor’s circle across the finish line! We must once again fight the same enemy we thought we had defeated and we wonder, will this relentless war ever end?

Our verse confirms our fear:  “When you go out…” into this world, know that you are entering a battlefield where you will be forced to wage incessant “…war against your enemies”. Even if you win a battle, know that you will be attacked anew. Do not give up hope for the final victory; but keep in mind that life is a constant series of battles against a tireless enemy with whom you can never make peace.

According to R’ Menachem Mendel of Kotzk zt”l, this is the message of the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos [2:5]: “Do not say, ‘When I am free I will study,’ for perhaps you will not become free”. Some lives afford no quiet moments for study and introspection – if one waits passively for serenity, he will wait forever, for it will not come! A person must struggle to overcome the tumult of their lives and find ways to bring out their inherent greatness.

This brings to mind my son, R’ Moshe Binyamin Cohen, who lives with his growing family, ba”h, in Har Nof in Yerushalayim. B”H he is on the staff of Machon Yaakov (one of R’ Gershenfeld’s yeshivos) and also gives a daily daf yomi shiur while working together in the Kollel Iyun Hadaf (R’ Mordechai Kornblitt, R”Y). I have seen the following scenario many times with my own eyes, and I am always amazed by it: When it comes time for him to prepare one of his many shiurim, he retires to his ‘private office’ which is located at the end of the long dining room table, which is located in the large, single dining-room/living-room area. This room is the center of activity in the house, filled with the noise and activities of many young children (mostly boys)!

When it comes time to prepare a shiur, he simply announces to the room, “Tatty is going to prepare a shiur now and I need everyone to keep the noise down.” Right. The sounds of playing, laughing, crying, fighting, etc. continue practically unabated – but my son is already immersed into his learning and has created a mental barrier between the tumultuous external environment and his ‘dalet-amos’ of Torah thought. Sometimes the noise level becomes practically unbearable, and he will briefly emerge from his protective cocoon and gently remind everyone the Tatty is preparing a shiur…  he never resorts to yelling; never loses control. And for the kids’ part, by and large they will not approach him to satisfy the needs of the moment or to arbitrate a dispute; to that extent, they understand their responsibilities and show their father respect. It is a valuable lesson.

My son does not have the luxury of saying, “When I am free (of external disturbances), then I will study” – and really, neither do we. This is one of life’s battles, and we must gird our strength to deal with it.

R’ Yitzchak Hutner, wrote to a struggling student that “the root of your soul is not in the tranquility of your yetzer hatov, but rather in its war against the yetzer hara. In English the saying goes, ‘lose a battle and win the war’. I assure you that after the losses of the battles, you will emerge from the war with the crown of victory upon your head.” R’ Hutner continued, writing that “when you feel the yetzer hara storming within you, then you are at that moment much more akin to our great tzaddikim than when you find yourself amid the perfect tranquility that you desire. The wisest of men said ‘The righteous will fall seven times, but will arise’ [Proverbs 24:16]. The unwise think that this means that the tzaddik will rise despite his fall; the wise understand that King Solomon’s intent is that the tzaddik will become great because of his repeated downfalls” [Pachad Yitzchak, Igros u’Kesavim, p 127].

The battle is constant; the war is lifelong; with effort, the victory is assured b’s’yata d’shamaya.

The Captive from Battle

…  v’sha’vee’sah  sheev’yo v … you will capture his captivity. [Deuteronomy 21:10]

What is meant by “his” captive?

The Baal Shem Tov zt”l explains that this refers to the enemy’s tactics; we must ‘capture’ them and use them against him. Thus, a person must be as obstinate in defeating the enemy, the yetzer hara – as the enemy is in his efforts to defeat him! One must be as diligent and dedicated in defense as the yetzer hara is in his offense. The yetzer hara tries constantly to entrap our soul; and if he fails today, then he just returns tomorrow to try again. So, we too must adopt these tactics: If we fail to meet our spiritual goals today and slip backwards, then tomorrow we should pick ourselves up and begin our spiritual climb once again, undaunted by the efforts of our foe.

According to the Minchas Yehudah, this teaches us that we must take the fight to those areas normally controlled by the enemy:  The yetzer hara attacks us usually while we are engaged in mundane pursuits, but also while we are praying or studying Torah. We must counterattack by capturing his territory: namely, by taking life’s mundane pursuits and imbuing them with holiness, thereby infusing the worldly with the service of Hashem.


Rabbi Yaacov Haber [www.torahlab.org] writes regarding the Torah’s reference to a Jewish man who may go to war and “will see among its captives a woman who is beautiful of form (eishes y’fas to’ar) and will desire her” [Deuteronomy 21:11]. The Torah says that he may take her home– but first he must cut off her hair and “do” her nails. R’ Haber continues:

It’s interesting that the two ectodermic appendages, hair and nails are singled out for adjustment on this captive woman. Kabbalistically, The hair of a person represents the k’lipa (the extraneous aspect) of one’s thoughts, while the nails represent the k’lipa of one’s actions. Since thoughts and actions are the two major arenas for personal growth, this portion of the Torah refers to the battle one fights daily within themselves; we are constantly torn between what seems externally beautiful and that which is wholesome and real [Zohar].

What does ‘do’ her nails mean? There is a Talmudic argument: Rabbi Eliezer interprets ‘do’ to mean that she should cut her nails very short; however, Rabbi Akiva disagrees and interprets ‘do’ to mean that she should let he nails grow long [Yevamos 48]. On the surface the dispute seems cosmetic, but it is really very deep.

In our battle for personal growth, we strive to conquer our animal nature and emotions and bring the yetzer hara under control. We search for new beginnings and a fresh start – but everyone comes with ‘baggage’ from the past. What should we do with this unsavory baggage?

This is the crux of the Talmudic argument:  Rabbi Eliezer taught that the growth that comes from negativity is negative; one should cut it off and get rid of it. However, Rabbi Akiva took a different approach, reasoning that teshuvah (in its ideal form) can turn sins into good deeds. Thus, if you have arrived at Judaism with a varied past and questionable baggage, don’t cut it off; rather, make it holy! The beauty of Judaism is its ability to take even the most mundane (and even negative) aspects of life, bring it home and make them holy.

Hilchos Rosh HaShana - Kadish

In every Kaddish said from Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur,  the word ''above'' is repeated,  that is, one should say ''above, above..''  (and not with (the letter) 'vav', as in ''and above'').  Since the Kaddish must contain twenty-eight words,  and during the rest of the year one says, ''He is beyond any blessing'',  now we say ''He is beyond any blessing''.1 (KSA 129:1)
1) We have added the extra word ''le'eilah'' and so we change from ''min kol birchatah'' to ''mi'kol birchatah'' which has the same meaning but is one word less.