Parashat Ki Teitzei

In parashat Teitzei, Moses continues his review of the legal portions of the previous three books of the Torah, adding new material that will only become relevant once the Jewish people begin the conquest of the Land of Israel and settle it.

As we have noted previously, God commanded our ancestors to conquer the Land of Israel from its pagan inhabitants in order that the Jewish nation could have a land that it could make into a home for Him. Ultimately, of course, God’s intention is for the whole world to become His home; this is the essence of our sages’ statement that “in the messianic future, the Land of Israel will expand to encompass the entire world.”1 The first stage in this process was for the Jewish people to demonstrate to the nations of the world that this goal is achievable; this necessitated us having our own sovereign state in which we could pursue this goal unhindered. In this land, special laws would apply and unique commandments would be observed that would not apply or be observed anywhere else in the world.

Thus, the Land of Israel vis-à-vis the rest of the world would be the geographic equivalent of the Jewish people vis-à-vis the rest of humanity. God had set the Jewish people apart from the rest of humanity as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The priestly caste is required to observe special laws and fulfill special duties that set it apart from the rest of the Jewish people in order for it to serve as an idealization of the intense relationship with God to which every Jew should aspire in his or her daily life. Similarly, the Jewish people as a whole are to serve as an idealization and inspiration for humanity at large. Analogously, God set the Land of Israel apart from the rest of the world—by virtue of its special status in Jewish law and observance—in order that it serve as the example of what the rest of the world should aspire to become.

This, however, is only the first stage in the process of transforming the world into God’s home. The beginning of this parashah addresses the second stage in this process, assuming that the obligatory wars of conquest have already been fought and won and that the Holy Land has come entirely under Jewish jurisdiction. The next, second phase in the process is for the Jewish people to undertake voluntarily to expand the borders of their state, thereby increasing the territory in which the special laws of the Land of Israel apply. In this way, they gradually increase the proportion of the world that exemplifies the ideal of being a true home for God.

Now, as we know, the rationalization for displacing the Canaanite nations is that they themselves were foreigners who had wrested the land from its original inhabitants, the offspring of Shem, from whom the Jewish people descended.2 By reoccupying the land, the Jewish people were merely restoring it to its rightful and intended owners, in that the Land of Israel was created to be the holy land lived in by the holy people. However, there can be no such rationalization for conquering land outside the borders of the Land of Israel. It is clear from the Book of Genesis that the various geographical divisions of the world were assigned to the nations suited to inhabit and develop them, each according to its unique cultural disposition. By what right, then, can the Jewish people appropriate territory apparently not intended for them?

Furthermore, waging war is dangerous, and the Torah forbids us to endanger ourselves unnecessarily.3 When the Torah specifically directs us to wage war, as when conquering the Promised Land or in self-defense, it is clear that this directive overrides the prohibition against endangering our lives. But an optional war is not such a case; how, then is it permitted to undertake such a war?

As it happens, these two questions are actually each other’s answers. The very fact that waging war against another nation is a dangerous affair indicates that that nation has not recognized that its true fulfillment lies in its submission to the Divinely-inspired guidance of God’s representatives on earth, the Jewish people. It has therefore defined itself as an enemy of holiness. Let us recall that voluntary wars are to be initiated only after the obligatory wars (and their corresponding inner, spiritual wars) have all been fought and won—that is, after the Jewish people have successfully inherited the land and transformed it into a utopian model of holy living. If a neighboring nation, witnessing this model of what a Divine home on earth could be, chooses not to participate in this vision (by accepting the Torah’s rules of life for non-Jews), it has forfeited its right to steward its own land and citizenry.

The reason the Torah does not explicitly command us to conquer such a country, leaving the initiative to our discretion, is because only in this way can it be truly demonstrated that we fully identify with the Divine imperative. If we have internalized God’s perspective on life to the extent that we are willing to risk our lives to promulgate Divine consciousness even when not specifically commanded to do so, this readiness is itself our mandate to do so.


As we know, the spiritual analogue of conquering the Land of Israel is conquering the diverse forms of evil embodied by its earthly inhabitants. This struggle is obligatory and, if carried out successfully, it will effect the changes in our personalities necessary for us to achieve and sustain ongoing Divine consciousness. The means used to wage this war against evil is the commandments of the Torah, both the prohibitive and the active.

However, once this goal has been achieved, we have two avenues of further spiritual endeavor open to us: focusing on our own spiritual growth, ascending into more intense and enhanced states of Divine knowledge, and focusing on spreading Divine knowledge outward, encompassing more aspects of our lives and the lives of those around us.

We might be tempted to shy away from the latter option, thinking that any foray into aspects of life not explicitly mandated by the Torah is a dangerous proposition, or that we perhaps have no right to impose Divine awareness on a world happy to do without it. If we have truly internalized the Divine imperative, however, we will fear neither facing spiritual dangers nor asserting our own mission.

In other words, obligatory wars against evil are waged on the first level of consciousness, where there is a difference between the Land of Israel and the world at large, i.e., between those parts of reality that the Torah has specifically and explicitly commanded us to take over and those that it has not. In contrast, voluntary wars against evil are waged on the second, messianic level of consciousness, in which there is potentially no difference between the Land of Israel and the rest of the world, in which “the Land of Israel expands to encompass the entire world.” At this level of consciousness, awareness of God must spread to encompass all of reality, and we, ourselves filled with Divine consciousness, can reveal the Divinity within all facets of reality without fear of being affected detrimentally by engaging them.4