"When you shall go out to wage war against your enemy, and Hashem your
should give him into your hand..." [21:10]
Note how the action switches in the middle of the verse: when you go out,
and HaShem gives you... Who goes out? You do. But who gives success? G-d.
Our Sages explain that the most important war in a person's life is that
against his own inclinations and desires. More precisely, a person is
regarded as having two internal forces, good and bad inclinations. The
of a person is to battle his bad inclinations and follow the good, and
become a more perfect and G-dly individual.
The K'sav Sofer, Rabbi Abraham Sofer [the Rabbi of Pressburg during the
1800's], applies the above passage to this most important war, and in so
doing explains the cryptic saying of Hillel in the Chapters of the Fathers
[1:14], "If I am not for me, who will be for me? And if I am for myself,
what am I? And if not now, when?"
In the Talmud, Masechta Sukkah 52b, Reish Lakish says that a person's evil
inclinations attempt to overpower him or her every day, and if HaShem
not help each person, it would be impossible to beat those inclinations
back. If so, says the K'sav Sofer, one might believe that it is better not
to fight, or to make any effort at all to bring his or her desires under
control. Rather, he should trust that G-d will help him, and fight the
great war on his behalf.
The truth is just the opposite. One who believes this, says the K'sav
Sofer, will never control his or her desires. It is necessary for a person
to constantly battle his desires to the full extent of his capabilities -
and then Heaven will help. "One who comes to purify himself, [Heaven]
him," say our Sages. The person must begin to purify himself first.
This, according to the K'sav Sofer, is what Hillel said: "If I am not for
me, who will be for me?" If a person does nothing on his own behalf, and
does not stand up to fight his inclinations, then who is going to help
him? "And if I am for myself, what am I?" Even after making the effort,
what is it? Because alone it is insufficient - one cannot control his
desires without further help, combined with his own efforts. "And if not
now, when?" Let no one think that he can set aside the battle until he
ages, and loses many of his desires for the pleasures of the physical
world, and then return to HaShem, who will accept him with mercy. Our
have already said: happy is the one who fears HaShem while he still has
physical strength, for then he will be able to completely return to G-d
abandon his misbehavior.
So the verse from our Parsha, this Torah reading, can be easily applied to
this war: "When you go out to do battle against your enemy" - this is the
evil inclination, and only if you go out to battle against him,
then "Hashem your G-d should give him into your hand," for "One who comes
to purify himself, [Heaven] helps him." This, concludes the K'sav Sofer,
easy to understand.