OU Torah Insights Project
A verse in Parshat Matot refers to the Israelite soldiers returning from war against the Midyanites as those who were coming to the war. The Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, points out that the text should read, those who were coming from the war. After all, the war was over at that point.
peculiar phrasing brings to mind a story related in the ethical work, Orchot
Tzaddikim, The Ways of the
Righteous, about a pious man who saw soldiers returning victorious
from war, bearing much booty. You have returned from the minor
war, he warned them. But you have yet to fight the greater war.
What war is that? they asked.
war of ones nature and its legions, he answered.
struggle that one has with his own yetzer
hara, his inclination to do evil, is considered a great battle, an ongoing
war that is waged within ones self.
is significant that this story
is about people coming from war. This advice could just as easily be given
to warriors on their way to battle. They could be advised that the coming
war is not the real war. That there is a much greater battle to fear and
to facethe battle one fights against his untamed passions and nature.
Nevertheless, they are told of this even greater challenge only after
the physical war.
greatest battle one has with his yetzer
hara occurs after an initial success. When
somebody is victorious in some endeavor, he finds himself immediately
challenged to keep that success in perspective. He must subdue his
arrogance, which arises as a result of his success. In this way, one war
follows directly on the heels of another.
therefore makes sense that the Torah refers to the Israelites as those
who were coming to the war. Consequently, one of the mitzvot
they are given at this time is to immerse the utensils of the
Midyanites, whom they conquered, in the waters of a mikveh
to purify them.
I once heard, in the name
of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ztl,
that the letters of the Hebrew word, taval,
to immerse, can be re-arranged to spell batal,
to nullify. One who immerses his body in the waters of a mikveh
nullifies his ego. Immersion in a mikveh
becomes an expression of humility, a particularly appropriate gesture from
the soldier coming home to go to war with his yetzer
If we become aware that our successes must be carefully evaluated and placed in perspective, we will avoid many of the problems we encounter in their aftermath. Success is important, but it can be dangerous if not viewed in the proper light.
Rabbi Binus is rabbi of Congregation House of
Israel in Calgary, Alberta.