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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Tzvi Abrahams

Ki Teitzei: War – What is it good for? ~ Tzvi Abrahams


Parshas כִּי תֵצֵא

War — What Is It Good For?

לֶחֶם: bread

מִלְחָמָה: war

כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל אֹיְבֶיךָ וּנְתָנוֹ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיוֹ And it will be when you go to the war upon your enemies and Hashem will give him into your hand and you will seize his captive.[1]

The commentaries explain that the specific “war” that the verse is referring to in the phrase כִּי תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה is with our good old friend and enemy, the yetzer hara.

After spending forty years in the midbar under the wings of the Shechinah, the children of Israel were on the verge of leaving the safe confines of their nest to venture out into the world. Their mission: to go to war, a holy war, to conquer the land and divest the land of its immoral inhabitants.

מִלְחֶמֶת הַתּוֹרָה/The War of the Torah

Besides the physical war of conquering the land, there was also an underlying spiritual war that was waging within every Jew. The Bnei Yisrael were, so to speak, leaving the safe confines of Hashem’s beis midrash and would now have to do battle with their yetzer hara. After many years of growing up, after many years of school, cheder, and yeshivah, there comes a time in everyone’s life where one has to face the real challenges of life and earning a living.

In the pasuk referring to the manna, it says: וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה הִנְנִי מַמְטִיר לָכֶם לֶחֶם מִן הַשָּׁמָיִם וְיָצָא הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ דְּבַר יוֹם בְּיוֹמוֹ לְמַעַן אֲנַסֶּנּוּ הֲיֵלֵךְ בְּתוֹרָתִי אִם לֹא And Hashem said to Moshe, “Behold, I am raining down on you bread from Heaven, and the people will go out and collect it each and every day, in order that I will test them if they will go in my Torah or not.”[2]

The test was whether they were going to take more then they needed and whether they were going to collect it on Shabbos. The more manna that we cause to rain down on our lives, the more gashmi/physical we become.

The test of the manna was not only in the desert, but a test for all time. How much time are we going to invest in pursuing a livelihood, and how much time are we going to invest in learning the Torah? The battle for the Torah is a war between worlds, a fight between the alluring pleasures of this world as opposed to the unknown pleasures of the next world.

So what is the connection between לֶחֶם/bread and מִלְחָמָה/war?

The obvious connection is that a lack of bread is one of the main reasons for going to war. In the Gemara, the wise men of Israel came to King David and informed him that there was not enough food to feed all the people of Israel. King David instructed them to go and seek council from the general Achitofel, the Sanhedrin, and the Urim v’Tumim for approval in going to war.[3]

Bread is first mentioned in the Torah in connection to Adam’s punishment: אֲרוּרָה הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּרֶךָ בְּעִצָּבוֹן תֹּאכֲלֶנָּה כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ/Cursed is the earth because of you, with suffering you will eat all the days of your life… בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם עַד שׁוּבְךָ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה /with the sweat of your brow you will eat bread until your return to the earth.[4] Now man has to eat bread through the sweat of his brow.

Beforehand, Adam did not have to worry about his food; he could eat from any fruit of the garden. Now, though, he has to plow, sow, harvest, winnow, sift, and bake in order to eat bread. Beforehand, everything was handed to him on a plate. Now he has to toil for a living in order to eat.

Accursed is he, because now he is distracted from his ikkar/main purpose in life, i.e., to serve Hashem and be involved in learning His Torah through which he attaches himself to his Creator. Instead, he must now involve himself in the much more mundane things of this world, where being involved in gashmiyus naturally weakens his connection to the ruchniyus/spiritual.

Bread is the outcome of toiling the earth for a living — bread to eat in order to survive. So too, all forms of making a living are in order to make money to buy food so that we can eat. In England, bread is also slang for money — “got any dough?”

(There is an opinion that the Tree of Knowledge was a wheat tree and that Adam ate bread.[5] Bread literally grew on trees!)

In Devarim, the Torah says regarding the manna that not on bread alone will man live;[6] however, the mishnah in Pirkei Avos seems to suggest that the way of the Torah is to eat only bread and survive[7] — seemingly contradictory statements. In truth, the pasuk is coming to teach us that Hashem is the one who sustains us, not the bread.

לֶחֶם is also referred to as a man’s wife, as in the case of Potiphar’s wife.[8]

לֶחֶם satisfies more than any food. So too relations with one’s wife is more satisfying than any promiscuous relationship. זְנוּת/promiscuity does not leave one satisfied; on the contrary, it always leaves one searching for more. Therefore, a man who does not have bread, i.e., who does not have a wife, is never truly satisfied.[9]

מַיִם גְּנוּבִים יִמְתָּקוּ וְלֶחֶם סְתָרִים יִנְעָם/Stolen waters taste sweet and bread that is hidden is pleasant.[10] This means that the yetzer hara only runs after what is forbidden to a person.

It is only the yetzer hara that desires זְנוּת/promiscuity, because it is an empty thing. The yetzer hara does not want to be satisfied, because if it were to be satisfied, it would be out of a job. Its job is to keep man busy chasing empty things, leaving him still hungry for more, as it says in the Talmud that if one has one hundred, he then wants two hundred, and when he has two hundred, he then wants four hundred.

All this hunger and chasing after empty things is to distract man from his ikkar/primary avodah of serving Hashem and connecting with ruchniyus. This can only be achieved by someone who is truly satisfied with his lot. Only when one is unshackled from the chains of sweating for a living is one free to do his הִשְׁתַּדְלוּת/hishtadlus and devote his primary time to be involved in connecting to Hashem.

Above, we brought a mashal/parable for the yetzer hara: Hashem has a beautiful princess whom He sends out of the palace in order to tempt man. The princess does not want to overcome man; her purpose is only to give man the opportunity to be victorious by not being swayed by her allure. If you were to pass a beautiful woman in the street wearing a red dress and you were truly aware of her stately role as Hashem’s princess, would you take a second look? Know that it’s all a test. The director has just placed her in the movie for our benefit.

As the days of Elul start to roll by, we approach the Big Day when our test results will be examined. In these very days of shofar blasts, we prepare ourselves by saying Tehillim 27,לְדָוִד ה’ אוֹרִי/Hashem is my light, in which we say: אִם תָּקוּם עָלַי מִלְחָמָה בְּזֹאת אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ/if there will come upon me a war, in this I do trust…אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת ה’ אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית ה’ כָּל יְמֵי חַיַּי לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם ה’ וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ/One thing I will ask from Hashem, I will request to sit in the house of Hashem all the days of my life, to see the pleasantness of Hashem and to go to His sanctuary.

So what is the connection to “war — what is it good for?”

The war is with the yetzer hara. He is our enemy, Hashem’s princess dressed up as our enemy, which we have to go out to war against. The lashon מִלְחָמָה means מִי לֶחֶם/from bread. The war is because of לֶחֶם/lechem; לֶחֶם in not desiring another man’s wife, לֶחֶם in not running after money, לֶחֶם in not devoting all of our time sweating in order to make a living when our real תַּכְלִית/purpose is to be satisfied with our lot and connect to Hashem.

This is the war. What is it good for? Absolutely everything!


[1] Ibid., 21:10.

[2]Shemos 16:4.

[3]Brachos 3b.

[4]Bereishis 3:17, 19.

[5]Brachos 40a.

[6]Devarim 8:3.

[7]Avos 6:4.

[8]Bereishis 39:6.

[9] See Kli Yakar to Bereishis ibid.

[10]Mishlei 9:17.


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