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Parshas Shoftim 5770

Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Parshat Shoftim

Aug 15, 2010

Parshas Shoftim 5770 

Ki sei’tze lamil’chama – When you go out to war. (1) There is a prescribed procedure. A Kohen, anointed especially for war, speaks to the people. He must speak to them in lashon kodesh – the holy tongue. (2) He calls out “Shema Yisroel”. He exhorts the people not to fear the clanging of the enemy’s shields, the blasting of the trumpets of war, the resounding sound of the horses’ hoof-beats on the ground, nor the shrieks of the enemies. (3) 

The words of the Shotrim  (enforcers) follow.  “He who has built a house and has yet to inaugurate it, he who has planted a vineyard and has yet to redeem the produce of the fourth year, he who has acquired a wife but has yet to bring her into his home in the final stage of matrimony, let them return from the battlefield, lest they perish in battle.”

 The Shotrim continue. “He who fears and is soft of heart, let him return to his home, lest his fear serve to melt the hearts of his fellow brothers in arms.” (4) Rabi Yosi HaGlili says, this refers to one who fears the “sins in his hand.” (5) 


 Why is it necessary to anoint a Kohen to deliver these words of encouragement?

 Why must he address the warriors in lashon kodesh?

What is the significance of spelling out the different sounds the enemy makes?

 Why is someone who fears the “sins in his hand” disqualified from serving in battle? Doesn’t everyone have sins? And only one who doesn’t fear his sins is qualified? Isn’t such a person in denial, or perhaps a wicked person? 

What is meant by the “sins in his hand”? Of what purpose is the use of the word “hand”? 

Background/Deeper Understanding

 Adam HaRishon and his mate Chava sinned. They partook from the forbidden fruit of the Eitz Hadaas. They heard the sound of Hashem’s presence passing through the Gan, li’ruach hayom (by the spirit of The Day), and they hid themselves. Hashem called out to Adam, “Where are you?” Adam responds, “I heard your sound and I feared for I am unclothed.” Hashem replied, “Who made known to you that you are unclothed?” (6) 

The Slonimer Rebbe, Rav Shalom Noach Berzovsky, z”l, in his sefer, Nesivos Shalom, explains;

 There are two types of fear, one that builds and one that destroys.

 A fear that breaks a person, taking away his last vestige of hope is a destructive fear. If one fears his enemy to the extent that he is paralyzed by his fear, he has lost all hope of victory. There is nothing left of the person. Totally decimated, why bother offering even a token resistance? The fight is over before it started.

 The fear that builds is not a crippling one. It is a fear that galvanizes a person to action.

 For example, if one is a beloved child, and his father places a difficult task upon him, he fears not the severance of the relationship between himself and his father should he fail. There is an unbreakable bond between a father and a child. Whatever a child does, he is still a child, and the relationship is irrevocable. The fear that takes hold of him is one of disappointing his father, letting him down, by his failure to perform. But the relationship will survive intact, and the failure will serve as a springboard to ensure that the son will not repeat his error. In the future, he will redouble his efforts. Yes, he fears, but his fear cannot break him, for it is not one of personal extinction. He, personally, is not part of the picture at all. 

 Thus, the Slonimer Rebbe explains, Hashem’s presence passed through Gan Eden, liruach hayom – in the spirit of The Day. It wasn’t just any day, it was “The Day” of Rosh Hashana. The period surrounding Rosh Hashana is referred to as Yamim HaNorayim – “the days of fear”.  Hashem reveals His presence during these days and we are filled with the fear of our iniquities and lost opportunities, and we are beholden to grasp that fear and utilize it to bond from afresh with our beloved Father in Heaven, who loves us and calls to his children to reconnect with Him. 

Hashem was querying Adam, “Where are you on this special day? Why are your sins causing you to fear and hide from Me?” Adam responded, “I feared … I am without clothing. My sin has broken me entirely. There is no hope. There is no relationship.”

 To this Hashem said, “Who told you that you are without clothes?” The bond between Hashem and his children is inviolate. The only thing that one has to fear is the fear of “not getting up” when one falls. The ultimate goal of the evil inclination is not to cause one to sin, it is to cause the sinner to give up. 


The Targum Yonason provides a rather unique interpretation behind the words of the Shotrim. He who has built a house and has delayed placing a mezuzah on the doorposts, planted a vineyard but failed to perform the mitzvah of chilul riva’i, performed kiddushin but put off the mitzvah of nisu’in, let him go back. He who fears the sins in his hand, let him go back. These are only “sins of the hand.”  They are sins of action, performed by the hand. They are external. One is going into battle, not for personal glory, but for the honor of Hashem, to enable His voice to be heard throughout the world. If the relationship between Hashem and his children is a strong one, let the fear of sins already committed be harnessed to forge a closer bond. “Sins of the hand” do not endanger the relationship. But if one mistakenly fears that they do, then that fear is one that breaks and destroys, it is an improper one, and can have no place in this army. 

The fearful sounds produced by the enemy can be grouped into four distinct categories;

 The sound that emanates from inanimate objects – shields, sound produced from pounding on the ground, the trumpet blasts – a sound produced by the wind of a man wedded with a vessel, and the actual sound of man himself.

Perhaps, the purpose of these sounds is to instill a paralyzing fear into the Jewish army. They may not rely on divine assistance. They have failed to perform Hashem’s will in regards to their inanimate houses, they fall short in the mitzvos connected to the ground, the voice of the husband failed to resonate within the vessel of his wife. And the wail emanates from the sinner himself, that he fears the sins of the hand. 

The Kohen, is the vanguard of the Holy Temple, where resides within, the Cherubim. The Cherubim, housed in a place inaccessible by mortal man, represent the unbreakable bond between Hashem and his children. He is anointed, with olive oil, which is produced by beating the olives to a pulp, forming a light producing substance. (7) He tells them, light can come from fear. Do not hearken to the fearful sounds produced by the enemy. They seek to fill the world with their voice, the voice of severing the world from Hashem. We listen to another voice, a higher voice, a holy voice – lashon hakodesh. It tells us, “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad.” We are one with Hashem and He is one with us.

 Parshas Shoftim, the parshah that deals with waging war with one’s enemies ushers in the month of Elul. The lesson contained within serves us well in our own personal battles. Hashem loves us, He extends His hand towards us and beseeches us to utilize our fear and return to his loving embrace.

If we do so, there will not be a single casualty among us.

 (1) Perek 20, Posuk 1

(2) Meseches Sotah 42a

(3) Rashi, Perek 20, Posuk 3

(4) Perek 20, Posuk 8

(5) Meseches Sotah 44a

(6) Breishis, Perek 3, Posuk 8

(7) Parshas Tetzave, Perek 27, Posuk 20

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