Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin

Head, Heart, and Hashem

The Torah prescribes (mitzva 526 in the Sefer Hachinuch) that prior to going to war (milchemes r’shus – an “optional” war. For example, a war to expand the territory of the Jewish nation) a designated Kohian address the pool of potential soldiers ad announce three types of exemptions to taking part in the war: one who has built a home and has not yet begun to live in it, one who has planted a vineyard and has not yet redeemed its first crop, and one who has betrothed a woman and has not yet married her. Then a forth exemption is announced by the officers: is there any man among you who is afraid or faint-hearted? Let him go home rather than have his cowardliness demoralize the other soldiers.

The Talmud (Sotah 44a) has a dispute regarding the last exemption. Rabbi Akiva believes it is to be taken literally, and this is how the Rambam in the Laws of Kings (7:15) rules. Rav Yosi Haglili, however, understands the verse to be a fantastic cover-up. The fearful person is one who is afraid of sins he as committed. While the Torah earlier (Dvarim 20:4) assures the Jewish people, “for Hashem your god is the one who goes with you, to fight for you with your enemies, to save you”, the sinner is nervous that this refers only to those worthy of special divine protection. The Torah lists three circumstances so that when the solider leaves the battleground people will attribute his departure to one of the listed circumstances. The Torah is especially sensitive to the feelings and character of the sinner. Rather than leave to our imagination what type of sin would exempt the Jewish solider, the Talmud (Sotah 44b) informs us. The transgression is having spoken and interrupted between the hand and head T’filin.

The Talmud (Menachos 36a) teaches that one is forbidden to speak or interrupt between he donning of the hand and head T’filin. In the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 25:9,10) this is codified, and moreover, if one hears even a davar Shebikedusha (kadish, kedusha, borcho) between his hand and head T’filin he is to listen but not respond. AT first glance this seems most strange. This is the sin he is afraid of? It appears to be but a misdemeanor!

I’d like to suggest that the severity of his act can be understood if we examine the purpose of the the two T’filin. The Chinuch in mitzvah 421 and similarly this is reflected in the L’shaim yichud (declaration of intent) before putting on T’filin which states that the hand T’filin is to train the Jew to channel his actions to Hashem, while the head T’fillin reflects the intellect and beliefs of the Jew. Ideally there is no gap and separation between the two. If however one pauses between the hand and head T’filin believing that it his his actions that bring victory and success on the battlefield, such an individual is not to represent or fight on behalf of Klal Yisroel.

It is interesting to note that the Tur (Orach Chaim 51) cites a Yerushalmi that if one interrupts between Yishtabach (closing blessing of Pesukei D’zimra) and Yotser Ohr (the first blessing of the next section which is comprised of the Shema and its blessings), that individual returns from the battlefield. Perhaps this may be explained similarly in light of the following: the Menoras HaMeor suggests that the term “Pesukei D’zimra” might have an additional meaning other than “Verses of Song and Praise”. The Hebrew word ‘zmr’ can also be a verb which means to prune. Thus the introduction to the shacharis prayer is designated as “verses of pruning or cutting”. Just as a gardener prunes his vines, removing the unhealthy branches in order to improve the fruit-bearing ability of the superior ones, so too recitation of Pesukei D’zimra removes all spiritual and metaphysical obstructions and hindrances from our prayers, enabling our prayers to enter before the divine throne. Pesukei D’zimra may thus be seen as man’s struggle to break through the many layers of impurity in his environment and enable him to connect with the Holy. Here too, there cannot be success with ‘zmr’ without the shema yisroel. If one believes he can rid society of its immorality and problems without shema yisroel, he is “to return from the battlefield” or, more succinctly, cannot represent Klal Yisroel.

The strong connection between one’s military initiatives and a spiritual base may be demonstrated from the following two historical events. In parshash Matos. Moshe assembles a force to fight against Midyan. “A thousand from a tribe, a thousand from a tribe” (Bamidbar 31:4). The Midrash Tanchuma understands that the repetition in the pasuk indicates that each tribe provided a thousand warriors to fight as well as a thousand warriors to pray. Those who prayed were the real warriors, as explained in Rashi (Bamidbar 31:8), “Israel is victorious by virtue of its prayers”.

In addition, the Talmud (Berachos 54a) teaches that if one sees a place where a miracle occurred to the Jewish nation, he recites a blessing, “blessed is the one who performed miracles for our ancestors at this location”. The Talmud states that if one sees the stone upon which Moshe sat when the Jewish nation fought successfully against Amalek he is to recite the above blessing. The Maharsha (Berachos 54b) asks: did not the military victory take place in the valley, while Moshe sat high on the mountain? The Maharsha answers the question by explaining that the real miracle was the acceptance of Moshe’s prayer.

The Baal Hatanya explains the name Amalek to be a derivative of “m’lika”, which is a severing or separation. Amalek separated between recognizing and knowing God, which they did, and acting on that knowledge, which they did not.

We are living in most difficult times, Eretz Yisroel, and indeed the Jewish nation, is at war. The timely message of Parshas Shoftim is most critical: we need Tzahal – a Jewish army – but our success will only come when we recognize that victory comes from Hashem. We cannot interrupt between the hand and head T’filin, nor between Yishtabach and Birchas Krias Shema.

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