Proactive, Peaceful and Positive

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

Parshat Ki Seitzei begins with laws pertaining to war and to the possibility of a Jewish soldier being captivated by and desiring one of the captive women. Although chronologically, these laws appear as Bnei Yisroel is about to enter Eretz Yisroel and wage war against the alien nations residing there, for these laws to be included in the Torah, they must have relevance today. Since this parshah is always read in the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah, we can reasonably assume that the laws are relevant for Rosh Hashanah preparations. The war must be a constant war, and the allure must be other than for a captive woman.

The text itself raises some questions to help us in our study. First, we have a similar introduction to war in the previous Parshah, Shoftim. In both chapters, the Torah begins, "When you go out to war against your enemies..." It is here that anyone in service may encounter a temptation, symbolized by the beautiful woman. It is here that safeguards must be put in place to keep the "soldier" from spiraling out of proper Jewish behavior "when you go out to war against your enemies." The question intensifies as the verse continues, "...and Hashem will deliver him (singular enemy) into your hand, and you will capture its captivity." It is on this point that Rabbi Gifter notes that we battle the same yetzer horo on a daily basis, although it may appear to us in many guises.

The Netivot Shalom precisely uses the terminology of the verse to give a homiletic interpretation of the war the Torah is here concerned with. "When you go out, when your neshamah leaves its celestial abode," and enters the lower, physical world, your purpose is to find your enemy, conquer it, and thereby fulfill your mission. Every challenge we face has been orchestrated by Hashem Yisborach for our growth. That is what Yosef Hatzadik Hatzadik understood when he comforted his brothers who had sold him into slavery to Egypt, "It was not you who sent me here, but Hashem," for I had a mission to fulfill in Egypt.

Our lives must be filled with purpose. We were created to struggle to fulfill our mission. The Slonimer Rebbe goes as far as to say that any day that one does not confront his yetzer horo in that struggle is a wasted, purposeless day.

While we face many challenges and struggles, we each have a specific, overriding challenge that is our unique mission to overcome. Yes, we need to learn how to shoot at enemies in general, but we must recognize our “enemy” and learn to aim directly at him. How do we recognize the enemy that is coming specifically for us? It is that challenge that I keep encountering, whether in anger, stinginess, haughtiness, or any other stumbling block to spiritual growth.

Rabbi Scheinerman, citing Rabbi Dessler, makes an interesting observation. As verbal human beings, we verbalize our thoughts. After the sin in Gan Eden, we often talk in the first person. This monologue is usually, "I want..., I'd like.... etc." This is usually our yetzer horo talking. We identify ourselves with it, usually with physicality In contrast, when we talk to ourselves in second person, someone outside us telling us what to do. "You should..., you shouldn't..., you need..." it is usually our yetzer hatov talking. The yetzer hatov seems to be outside us, imposing its will upon us. If we recognize this strategy, we can change how we talk to ourselves. We can say, "I need to get up..., I want to keep Shabbos..." [Self talk is a well known psychological strategy to build self esteem. CKS]

All month long we recite Psalm 27, leDovid Hashem Ori. There, we also recognize that we may be at war, "Though war would arise against me, in this I trust...:" What is "this" in which I trust? Citing the Sefas Emes, Rabbi Scheinerman notes that if I recognize that this is war, I will overcome, for Hashem is with me. Our purpose is to overcome both the general and the specific enemy.

The "Yetzer Horo War" is different from other wars, explains Rabbi Eisenberger in Mesillot Bilvovom. Wars generally have a specific objective, usually winning more land or extending a nation's power and resources. When that goal is achieved and the enemy is defeated, the war ends. Not so with our battle against the yetzer horo. The yetzer horo has no specific goal; it just wants to keep fighting and exhausting us, his enemy. Even when we lose a skirmish, we are meant to pick ourselves up and continue fighting the next battle, for the yetzer horo is never satisfied. We never have the right to concede total defeat.

And the yetzer horo has the same mission. It too will never cease to fight, even when it is defeated, writes the Chovos HaLevavos. The yetzer horo will begin fighting again, using a new strategy. So what chance do we have against it? The Manchester Rav urges us to be spiritual warriors, to be proactive, to "go out in war against our enemies." When one actively work on overcoming his negative desires and character traits, he will earn Hashem's assistance in the battle.

The best defense is an offense, go out and attack the yetzer horo, urges the Netivot Shalom. It was at Refidim, not just the place name, but the emotional state of Bnei Yisroel, in weakness, that Amalek came to attack. We must be on constant alert. Although the yetzer horo comes disguised in many forms, writes Rabbi Gifter, we must recognize that what appears as multiple enemies is, in fact, only one yetzer horo. This is why the shofar blasts begin at Rosh Chodesh Elul, to wake us up to be always alert to the yetzer horo’s tactics.

Rebbetzin Smiles provided a very apt, modern metaphor to help visualize the yetzer horo's tactics. If you play (or observe children playing) today's video games, the obstacles and challenges that need to be overcome attack from all sides in very quick succession. You win when you have developed the skill to anticipate the enemy in all its forms and to shoot it down. As Meirosh Tzurim says, citing the Ramchal, our job is to be constantly aware so that we can use the wisdom, the skill Hashem has given us to fight.

Very often we are unaware of the challenges. We walk around as if in a dream. In a kind of virtual reality, we see ourselves as the center of the world, believing we are in charge and that everything belongs to us. The shofar is sounded to wake us up, to rouse us from that dream, writes Rabbi Bernstein in Teshuva. This is the sound that inaugurates the Yovel/Jubilee year, the year that reminds us that the world belongs to Hashem, and we are placed here to serve Him. As the Netivot Shalom says, to enter into this battle, you must step out of yourself, ki seitzei, you must leave your baggage behind.

We each have baggage that weighs us down, But Hashem has also given us wings to help us fly, to soar above the mesmerizing temptations of this world. Our problem, like the bird who is paralyzed by the sight of the snake and forgets he has wings to escape, we too often forget that we have the choice and the power to escape the clutches of the yetzer horo, teaches us Rabbi Shaya Ostrov in The Menucha Principle. We are being recreated each moment. As we face each new challenge, whether it is anger rising at a perceived slight, or impatience at a traffic delay, we must take a moment to pause, to leave the scattered, fragmented state of mind and enter a more tranquil state. The trigger will not go away, but we have the choice to relate to that trigger with equanimity, to rise above it, to remember that Hashem is in charge, and He is orchestrating the events in our lives.

Interestingly, Elul, the name for the month preparatory to Rosh Hashanah, translates in Aramaic to latur, to scout out. Before you go out to battle, you must scout the enemy. Your eyes may see a beautiful object. What your eyes see can easily become the focus of your desire and mesmerize you. You need to scout out a battle plan as well as an escape route.

Our verse introduces the danger with veroeesa/and you will see. The yetzer horo tempts us first through our eye, the letter ayin/ע which translates as eye. But numerically ע equals 70. Rabbi Brazile, in a profound essay, explores both these interpretations in depth. He begins with the power of the eye to lead us astray. He begins with the Gemorro that tells us that tzadikim view the evil inclination as a mountain, difficult to climb, and therefore they either avoid it or expend tremendous energy conquering it. They separate the הר/mountain from the ע/ עין/eye in the word הרע.

From the beginning of creation, it was the eye that was the downfall of Man through the serpent, the sliest of all creatures. He was ערום/ עין רם. He had a haughty eye. He saw Adam and Chava engaged in intimacy, and he desired Chava. Thus began the serpent's seduction of Chava to eat the forbidden fruit. It all began with the evil eye.

Rabbi Brazile continues to Yosef Hatzadik who was able to conquer his passions, both from the women looking up at him fawningly and from the desirous clutches of Potiphar's wife. Yosef Hatzadik is blessed by his father as one who is ‘alei ayin’ above the eye. It was in his merit that Bnei Yisroel remained chaste in the depraved society of Egypt. It is also why Bnei Yisroel descended to Egypt with seventy souls, to counter the effects of the evil "seventy mountain" in Egypt.

The Torah tells us we should choose/life, and during the Yomim Noraim we pray that Hashem remember us for chaim/life. בחיים is also numerically equal to seventy. We pray that Hashem will help us overcome what the yetzer horo wants our eye to see so that we will merit life.

Sefer Mishleh discusses two contrasting women, writes Rabbi Reissman. We have both the Aishet Chayil/the Woman of Valor, and also the lesser-known Isha zara vnochria/the strange, foreign woman. While we are familiar with the outstanding qualities of the Aishet Chayil, what are the characteristics of the strange, foreign woman? Citing the Ralbag, Rabbi Reissman explains that this strange woman represents everything external, everything physical, everything empties of spiritual value. These women represent human paradigms. Do we value the mitzvoth, enjoy the radiance of Shabbat and Yom Tov, or do we watch the clock, waiting for Shabbat to be over so we can turn on the various tech devices? Do we search for a beautiful etrog, or complain about spending the money on a glorified lemon? We need to focus our eyes on the beautiful aishet chayil, not on the strange woman who we think we have captured but is capturing us.

An ayin tovah/good eye and ayin ra'ah/evil eye are not necessarily inborn traits. As Rabbi Eliezer tells us in Pirkei Avot, these are traits we can train ourselves to cling to. These are pathways for approaching life. Rabbi Levi Liebowitz, citing Rav Yerucham Levovitz explains, the "good eye" is a choice to see the positive, even when it may be difficult to discern. When we look at others with a negative eye, we write them off, we deem them unworthy of our help, we ignore them, or worse. When we view others with a positive eye, we appreciate their value. It is then easy to give a compliment and make their day. We can help others who need our help. We can see a silver lining around a cloud. With an ayin tovah, we bring goodness and joy into the world.

When, with our positive, good eye we bring goodness, joy, and tranquility into the world, Hashem too will focus on the positive within us, focus on our good, and bless the coming year for us IY"H.