In parshat Matot, G‑d commands Moses to go to war against Midian. "And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying, 'Take revenge for the Children of Israel against the Midianites, afterwards, you will [die and] be gathered to your people.' Moses spoke to the people, saying, 'Arm [Heichaltzu] from among you men for the army, that they can do battle against Midian, and carry out the revenge of G‑d [Havaya] against Midian. You shall send a thousand from every tribe, from all the tribes of Israel.' "1

There are some difficulties in these verses.

Why is the war against Midian connected to Moses's passing? It seems from the verse, "afterwards, you will be gathered to your people," that for some reason, this war had to be done specifically through Moses, and that it was necessary for him to do this for the completion of his soul's mission in this world. Why is the war against Midian connected to Moses?

What was the nature of this war? It was not to acquire their land, since Midian was not part of the Land of Israel, as it was not one of the seven nations of Canaan. So what was the purpose of the war?

When G‑d commanded Moses, He said that it is "revenge for the people of Israel against Midian." However, when Moses instructed the people, he said that it is "the revenge of G‑d [Havaya] against Midian." Is it the people of Israel's revenge or G‑d's? Why would it be G‑d's revenge? What the Midianites did wasn't against G‑d—it was against the Jewish people. He even said that the reason for the war was, "because they were hostile to you [the people of Israel]."2 Rashi3 says that it is the same, that if you go against the Jewish people, you are going against G‑d. This is true, but from Moses's words, "the revenge of G‑d [Havaya] against Midian," it seems that it is personal to G‑d, and specifically to His name Havaya. How is this so?

Moses's words—"Arm [Heichaltzu] from among you,"—are grammatically incorrect. The word heichaltzu indicates that it is referring to everybody, that everyone should arm themselves. But the verse continues, "from among you," and the following verse says, "a thousand from every tribe," meaning that it was a specific few, not everyone. It would make more sense to say, yeichaltzu (“they shall arm themselves”), which would be referring to some and not all." Why does it say heichaltzu?

Another question: On the words, "from all the tribes of Israel," Rashi4 says, "To include the tribe of Levi." The tribe of Levi was usually exempt from going to war, because they were in the service of G‑d. Why did they go out to this war?

The Essence of Hate

The word Midian comes from the root madon,5 which means “strife” or “argument.” Midian is the essence of separation and divisiveness. Their hate is for no reason. They just can't stand the other, and their mere existence is an affront to Midian. As we see from the story itself, Israel had no intention to conquer Midian, and Midian knew it. But they tried, again and again, to start with the Jewish people. First, through Balaam and then they sent their own daughters to defile themselves, bringing the Jewish men to sin.

While the seven nations of Canaan represent the seven negative emotions6 that we must conquer, Midian is not a part of them. Because the seven negative emotions are conquerable, like someone who has a reason for disliking another. If the reason is removed, so is the hatred. However, with Midian there is no reason—it is blatant hatred. They are not one of the seven, but rather the essence and the core of all evil, hatred and divisiveness, from which the seven negative emotions emanate. Therefore, it is not to be conquered but destroyed.

The name Havaya represents the diametric opposite of Midian. It is all about inclusion and unity. It is what creates the world and allows it to exist, seemingly as an entity of its own. Although it is much higher than existence and would make sense to be separate, the opposite is true. It is what unifies all of existence.

The same is true about everything holy: It unifies, and if it doesn't, it is not holy. The opposite is true for the unholy: It serves as a divider, creating strife and argument wherever it goes. It is an agent of hatred and divisiveness.

So Midian is not just bad, it is the antithesis to the name Havaya. It is the antithesis to His Torah, His purpose of creation. And because we, the Jewish people, were put here on earth to fulfill His purpose, it is the antithesis to the Jewish people as well.

The Moses Factor

How do we oppose this great evil? It is specifically through Moses. About Moses it says, "And the man Moses was the humblest from any person on the face of the earth."7 Humility and self-nullification makes room for another and unifies. Therefore, Moses had to wage this war, the completion of his soul's mission, because this is the essence of Moses, to unify through humility and self-nullification.

This is true for all of us. We each have to be unifiers through humility and self-nullification, to allow for the other to exist and thrive. We can do it because we each have a little bit of Moses inside of us, which gives us the ability to be humble, strengthening us to follow through and unify ourselves and G‑d's world.

Now we can understand why the tribe of Levi went to war as well. Because this war was not for capturing land or to gain the spoils of the battle. The reason for this war was for G‑d. Since the tribe of Levi was dedicated to serving G‑d, they went to war. Perhaps we could even say that they were the most important tribe in the war. Sent by Moses, a Levite, and lead by Pinchas, also from the tribe of Levi.

Big Ego = Big Trouble

It is possible for someone to harbor blatant hatred for no reason. The source of this hatred is the person's big ego. It is not that the other person did anything to him or to anybody else. His ego is so big that there is no room for anyone else, and therefore he is filled with hatred. He might have a reason for disliking the other, but it is not real since the reason came after the hatred. He manufactured the reason to justify his blatant hatred.

This is especially bad when the hater is a Torah scholar because if his ego is in the way, he is not able to get to the truth of the Torah. In order to come to the truth of Torah, one must be humble, so that he can listen to another's opinion, and even consider that he might be wrong in his initial approach. Even worse, with his big ego, self-righteousness, and holier-than-thou attitude, he could lead others astray, and he could influence others to hate as well. This is the opposite of what G‑d wants and the opposite of holiness.

There is another problem with having a big ego. A person has to be able to hear what his friend is telling him, and he has to be able to confide in another, because how else would he know that he is on the right path? If his ego is inflated, he will be too full of himself to listen to and confide in another, thinking, "What does he know?" and "why would I listen to him?"

Now we can understand why Moses said "Heichaltzu," speaking to everyone. Because, on a deeper level, this is a war that we all must wage. We all must destroy our egos, the Midian inside of us.

Matot is always read during the Three Weeks, when both of our Temples were destroyed. Our sages8 tell us that the First Temple was destroyed because of idolatry, adultery and murder. The Second Temple was destroyed because of causeless hatred. The first exile, following the destruction of the First Temple, lasted 70 years. The present exile, which followed the destruction of the Second Temple, has gone on for almost 2,000 years. We must conclude that what put us into this exile is worse than what put us in the first exile. In other words, to G‑d, hatred for no reason is worse than the Big Three, idolatry, adultery and murder.

What is the remedy for this exile? What is the key to bringing Moshiach? It is humility and self nullification that will make you into a unifier and it will bring you to love another for no reason. This is what G‑d wants most, and this is the key to bringing Moshiach. May he come soon.9