Going Out to War Against the Evil Inclination

There are two parshiot in the holy Torah that speak of going out to war. In fact in the very first verse of this week’s parsha we read, “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the L-RD your G-d will deliver him into your hand” (Deuteronomy 21:10). In Parsha Beha’alotcha we also have, “When you go to wage war in your land against an enemy who oppresses you, you shall sound short blasts of the trumpets, and you shall be remembered…you shall be saved from your foes” (Numbers 10:9).

We need to understand why this week’s parsha promises us victory from the very outset, immediately upon going out to war (“the L-RD your G-d will deliver him into your hand”), whereas in Parsha Beha’alotcha victory is not promised to the Jewish people at first. It is only after we “sound short blasts of the trumpets,” only after we have prayed and cried out to Hashem, that we “shall be saved from [our] foes.” As we know, a war can unfold in two ways. When two countries are at war and one has breached the borders of the other and is in its territory, it is easier for it to gain victory. Because its soldiers are already in the land of its enemies, it is easier for the invading force to win. Conversely, from the vantage point of a country that has been invaded by enemy forces, the situation is ominous, and it needs help to defeat its enemy.

The kind of war being discussed in our parsha unfolds in the first way: “When you go out to war against your enemies.” That is, it describes a situation in which we have already entered our enemy’s land. Thus once there, victory is much easier. In fact “the L-RD your G-d will deliver him into your hand” immediately, and we will conquer them all at once. However in Parsha Beha’alotcha the second kind of war is being described, the one in which the enemy has invaded and penetrated our land: “When you go to wage war in your land.” This war is not taking place outside our borders, but within them. Therefore we need heavenly assistance in order to win. Victory is not assured, nor is it promised to us right from the outset. We must sound the trumpets and pray to Hashem in order to defeat our enemy and expel him from our land.

How does this subject relate to us? With regard to our parsha, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa said that since today there is no longer the concept of a mitzvah to go out to war, the enemy of our parsha is none other than the evil inclination. Simply put, it is our enemy. This means that everyone finds himself, 24 hours a day, in a state of perpetual warfare against the evil inclination. It is constantly trying to defeat us and make us fall into its trap, and we are obligated to fight it and win.

This war is a stubborn battle. The evil inclination will not allow a person to overcome it, and it never stops trying. As the Sages have said, “Man’s evil inclination gathers strength against him daily and seeks to slay him…and were the Holy One, blessed be He, not to help him, he would not be able to prevail against it” (Kiddushin 30b). Each day the evil inclination tries once again to subjugate a person, and each day there are victories as well as defeats. Yet what is the difference?

There is an enormous difference between a person going out to war against his evil inclination on its territory, and fighting it once it has already made its way onto his territory and is fighting him there.

If a person goes out to war against the evil inclination and fights it on its territory, managing to invade its domain, then it is obvious that it will be easier to defeat. Here the Torah promises us, “The L-RD your G-d will deliver him into your hand” (Deuteronomy 21:10). Furthermore, “You will capture its captivity” (ibid.), meaning that a person will be able to seize and retrieve from the evil inclination all the good things it has taken. However if the evil inclination has already managed to infiltrate itself among us, then the situation is far worse. We must work hard to repulse it, sounding trumpets, praying, and crying out to Hashem to save us from our great enemy.

This is why everyone who is Jew has the duty to do everything he can in order for this war to unfold exclusively on enemy territory. If we go out against the evil inclination and fight it within its borders, we will be victorious. How can we do this? How can a person facing such massive struggles manage to wage this war on enemy territory, not his own? We are offered some good advice on how to achieve this in our parsha, sound counsel that has constantly been put to use by the great figures of Israel, from the era of the Tannaim and Amoraim right up to the time of the previous generation, advice that can serve as a way of life for everyone. The Torah states: “If you build a new house, you shall make a guardrail for your roof so that you will not place blood in your house if anyone falls from it” (Deuteronomy 22:8).

This tells us what a person needs to do when he wants to renew himself, when he wants to take upon himself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, conquer his evil inclination, and cling solely to his good inclination. He must “make a guardrail for your roof.” A guardrail pertains to barriers and fences that we impose on ourselves. We all know that there are things that are forbidden and things that are permitted. However a person must always be augmenting his holiness, meaning that he must add protective barriers and fences even to things that are permitted to him, things that he should consider forbidden. As the Sages have said, “Sanctify yourself by that which is permitted to you” (Yebamot 20a). As such we will increasingly sanctify ourselves in our deeds and way of life.

If a person conducts himself in this way, his home will be tightly sealed against the evil inclination, which will not be able to make its way inside. It will have to remain outside, and therefore the war against it will also be waged outside, on the evil inclination’s territory. A person will therefore be assured of victory. This is also why the verse states, “You will not place blood in your house.” That is, when you close your home to the evil inclination, a bloody war will not take place on your territory, but on that of the evil inclination. You will therefore defeat it once and for all. In fact we are promised victory over the evil inclination if we act in this way, and therefore we will make tremendous progress in our Torah study, fear of Heaven, and character traits.


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Book ofDevarim Index
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