Parshas Ki Seitzei
Battling Our Inner Enemy
Jewish homiletical tradition has dealt with the “enemy,” who is being warred
against in the opening verse of the parsha, as being the evil instinct of
the “warrior” itself. In the immortal words of the famous cartoon character
Pogo, “we have met the enemy and they are us!” This is in consonance with
the words of the Talmud that the opening topic of the parsha – marriage to
the attractive woman, a non-Jewish captive – has specific reference to one’s
own struggle with the basic desires and evil instincts that bedevil us all.
The true struggle in life is therefore not really against others who may not
wish us well as much as it is against our own conflict-torn nature.
Temptations, both physical and monetary, and power-driven ambitions abound
in our everyday existence. Falsehoods, lame excuses, or the feeling that
“everyone does it” and that one will never get caught up and publicly
exposed in the scam or scandal are the weapons of the enemy that lurk within
us, preying on our built-in weaknesses.
Unless one truly realizes how vulnerable each and every one of us is
regarding our internal enemy, there is little hope of creating effective
defensive strategies to combat it. The haughty arrogance of unwarranted
self-righteousness is one of the most serious moral and personal defects
that a person may possess.
This is the message that the Talmud delivers to us when it states that one
who sins and yet remains confident that one will later be able to repent and
cancel the sin, is never able to truly repent of that sin. One should not
underestimate the enemy that lies within us.
The month of Elul traditionally was set aside as a particular time when that
internal enemy was to be identified and confronted. In our busy and crowded
world, our schedules allow precious little time to think about our true
selves - our goals and the purpose of our existence. Our enemy confounds and
confuses us with all of the myriad details, pettinesses and distractions
that our super busy world inflicts upon us.
Rabbi Yisrael of Salant was once asked if one has only ten minutes a day to
study Torah, should one study Talmud or Mussar (the ethical teachings of
Judaism.) He answered that one should study Mussar for then he would come to
realize that he has much more time than just ten minutes in the day to study
Torah. By that Rabbi Yisrael outlined his method of confronting the inner
enemy that convinces us that we are unable to improve, that we are too weak
or habit-stricken or that we are simply too busy and preoccupied with other
issues to think about ourselves.
Ignoring the enemy is the surest way of being defeated by it. I think that
tradition placed such an emphasis on the month of Elul, for it is the
self-confrontation that this month indicates to us that is the strongest
weapon in our spiritual arsenal. In preparation for the days of awe and
judgment that are soon upon us, let us use this time wisely and efficiently.
Rabbi Berel Wein