Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parshas Ki Seitzei
The Enemy Within
"When you go out to war against your enemies and Hashem your G-d will deliver him into your hands" (Devarim 21)
Rabbi Mordechai Gifter zt'l, the late Telzer Rosh Yeshiva notes that the parsha begins with "When you go out to war against your enemies", implying many enemies. However the passuk continues "and Hashem your G-d will deliver him into your hands". The conclusion of the verse refers to just one enemy. Rabbi Gifter explains that our parsha is alluding to another war - our constant struggle with the yetzer hara, our evil inclination. The yetzer hara attacks us in many different ways, using various tactics, giving the impression that we are battling many soldiers. However when one defeats his yetzer, he realises that he was fighting the same single enemy all along. Often we are unaware that it is our yetzer hara attacking us for he appears as a friend who apparently has our best interests in mind. The first step in overcoming him is to realise that it is indeed our yetzer hara that is confronting us.
We learn a few strategies for fighting our evil inclination from the beginning of this week's parsha. One tactic of the yetzer hara is that he tells us the mitzvos are too difficult for us to observe. We may try to convince ourselves that in our personal predicament, it is impractical to observe the Torah for the time being! The parsha of yefas toar (beautiful woman) reveals that this not so. The Torah teaches that if a soldier in wartime has an uncontrollable urge for a woman captive, it is permissible for him to have relations with her provided the conditions set forth in the parsha are met. Although relations with a gentile woman are forbidden - "lo dibra Torah eleh k'neged yetzer hara", the Torah only permitted this in recognition of the strength of the yetzer hara (Kiddushin 21b). Hashem created the evil inclination so He truly understands its strengths. In this instance, the beautiful female captives, especially adorned to seduce the enemy, represented too strong a test for the soldiers. Therefore the Torah permitted the female prisoners, recognising that many soldiers would otherwise have succumbed to temptation and transgressed this abhorrent sin. So how does this concession to the yetzer hara give us strength to battle again him?
Hashem as it were, 'examined' the mitzvos to determine whether or not it was possible to fulfil them. His 'search' revealed only one situation where man could not control himself - the yefas toar. But in all other situations, man really does have the strength to overcome the formidable yetzer hara. "HaKadosh Boruch Hu (The Holy One blessed be He) tells us 'I created the yetzer hara and I created Torah to be its antidote. If you toil in Torah, you will not be delivered into his hand.'" (Kiddushin 30b). Likewise, Hashem says that if we make the effort to conquer our desires, then He will assist us in our struggle (ibid; see Maharsha there).
This parsha also addresses another trick of the yetzer hara. After years of successfully conquering our desires, we might think that we defeated the yetzer hara. Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian writes that the Torah reveals this to be untrue. Who are the brave soldiers of the Jewish nation's army? It is written that a fearful man should return to his home (above 20:8). Chazal (the Sages) say that the passuk is referring to one who is fearful of being punished because of his sins (Sota 44a). The Gemara teaches that one who sinned by talking between donning the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh (necessitating reciting an otherwise unnecessary bracha) could not represent the nation in war. From this example, we can infer that only the most righteous were sent to the front. These tzaddikim are the men the Torah had in mind when it permitted the yefas toar. Even they could fall prey to the yetzer hara. Therefore, no man can ever say he has slain his yetzer hara as we are taught in Pirkei Avos: "Do not trust in yourself until the day that you die (2:5)". Rabbi Lopian writes that one must constantly be on guard and seek Divine assistance, even in the final moments of life (Lev Eliyahu vol.3 p.16).
The Talmud Yerushalmi relates that there was a very pious old man. Since he was very saintly and he had already reached old age, he felt that he was totally removed from the pleasures of this world. He therefore amended the Mishna in Avos to read "Do not trust in yourself until you have reached old age". The Heavens were angered by this and granted the Satan permission to lure this tzaddik to sin. The Satan disguised himself as a woman of unparalleled beauty and appeared before him. When the saint raised his eyes and saw this beautiful woman in front of him, he began to speak to her. The words that he uttered were totally inappropriate for such a righteous person and he immediately regretted it.
He was so distressed by this momentary lapse that his life became endangered, for he truly was a saintly man. The Heavens had mercy on the tzaddik and ordered the Satan to reveal himself. The Satan told him that he was sent to teach him that he should learn the Mishna as it was originally taught, "Do not trust in yourself until the day that you die".
Finally, "there is no man so righteous on earth that always does good and never sins (Koheles 7:20)." There will be times when the yetzer hara is winning the battle. Human nature is such that when we fall, we become discouraged and we despair of ever defeating our evil inclination. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner zt"l wrote to a student in such a predicament. He said that we must remember that we are in a continuous war with the yetzer hara, and war consists of many battles. Any seasoned soldier knows that even though they may lose a battle, the objective is still to win the war. Shlomo Hamelech said "For though the righteous one may fall seven times he will arise" (Mishlei 24:16). This does not simply mean that he will rise again despite the fall, rather it is because he has fallen, through his battles and struggles, that he grows and rises to greatness. May we also grow from our battles with the yetzer hara, from both our victories and our setbacks. Then we too will rise and win the war.
To comment on this article e-mail the author at email@example.com
Back to This Week's Parsha
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org