Among the many battles described in the Torah is the war of the Israelites against the nation of Midian. In the 31st chapter of the Book of Numbers, we read how G‑d told Moses that he should attack the Midianites. The Torah goes on to describe the way Moses mustered people for an army and gives many details about the battle and its aftermath.

There are two ways of looking at this.

The first is the literal historical fact. In order to survive, the Jewish people has had to battle against a variety of forces. The Midianites sought the destruction of the Jews, hence action had to be taken against them. The Torah tells us this because in different ways in different times we are faced with similar battles. Sometimes they are military battles, sometimes cultural.

The second way of understanding this event is on an internal level. The hostile nations whom the Jewish people encounter in the pages of the Bible signify negative forces within oneself. The constant battles of the Jewish people represent the constant struggle of the individual against internal negative qualities.

Midian, the Sages tell us, relates to the word madon meaning "strife." This negative trait is expressed in hostile antipathy to others. One feels the other person is taking up one's own territory. His very existence is irritating. This is the quality of "causeless hatred" which, says the Talmud, brought about the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Shalom Dovber, the Fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe (1860-1920) discusses the battle against Midian as an internal struggle against one's own selfishness and rejection of others.1

A key aspect of the battle is the fact that G‑d tells Moses himself that he should be personally involved. Each of us has the quality of "Moses" within us. This inner Moses represents the power of selflessness: the very opposite of the selfishness and self-centeredness which causes us to reject others.

Each of us has an inner potential to go beyond our own self. It is expressed in acts of heroism, and also in times of intense dedication. A group of people staying up late planning a charity event; a lone individual selflessly caring for an elderly relative—there are countless ways in which our inner, pure "Moses" might be expressed in our lives.

This inner Moses helps us break down the inner force of Midian. Rather than resent and despise other people, we accept them, and even come to love them as is demanded by the Torah command, "Love your neighbor as yourself."2 The battle against Midian described in the Torah is therefore a crucial struggle which continues in our own time.