Customarily, a speaker at a Bar Mitzvah celebration seeks to draw a message to the celebrant from the particular weekly Torah portion. That is not to say that the Biblical portion is necessarily addressing a Bar Mitzvah, but with some homiletic skill the speaker will create a message from a seemingly unrelated topic found in the parshah.

This week, Parshat Ki Teitzei, it could be said, is an exception. The opening pasuk is directly addressing a Bar Mitzvah.

It is known that within every Jew there are two rival powers. The Yeitzer Tov — Good Inclination — and the Yeitzer Hara — Evil Inclination. Throughout one’s lifetime there is a constant ongoing battle between them. Each has the objective of conquering the person and bringing him under his control. The goal of the Yeitzer Tov is to enhance a person’s attachment to Hashem, and the Yeitzer Hara seeks the reverse.

Upon birth a person has a Yeitzer Hara, and when he reaches the age of thirteen the Yeitzer Tov enters. (Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut, writes in his Shulchan Aruch (4:2) that the Yeitzer Tov actually starts his entry at the Brit — circumcision — and completes his entry at Bar Mitzvah.)

The parshah begins with the words “Ki teitzei lamilchamah al oyevecha” — “If you will go out to war against your enemy.” In simple terms this is discussing a war against a physical enemy. However, in Chassidic teaching the “enemy” we are waging war against is our spiritual enemy — the Yeitzer Hara. This is the life-long battle which commences at the age of Bar Mitzvah when one becomes thirteen years old.

To conduct a war it is necessary to have an army. In the army there is a hierarchy. It consists of ordinary infantry, men who are merely inductees, and at the top, five star generals who excelled in their study of way strategy, and a commander-in-chief.

In the war against the Yeitzer Hara, Hashem is the Commander-in-Chief, and we are the soldiers. In the battle, the goal is to destroy the enemy.

The Torah, which was given to us by our Commander-in-Chief — Hashem — is a plan book that conveys the best strategic tactics and drills for conducting the war and protecting oneself from pitfalls that may arise.

The first pasuk alludes to important lessons:

Firstly, instead of “Ki teitzei lamilchamah” — “When you will go out to war” — it should have said “Ki tilcham im oyevecha” — “When you will be at war with your enemy”?

There are two types of war, offensive and defensive. The Torah advises that the battle with the Yeitzer Hara should be of an offensive nature and not defensive. Instead of letting him take control of us and then needing to seek ways to escape his claws, go out against him full force — study Torah and perform mitzvot, thus, Hashem will help you succeed in convincing him you are not easy prey, and he will give up on trying to induce you to join his ranks.

The Torah is assuring us that “Ki teitzei lamilchamah” — if you will merely resolve to go out and wage war “al oyevecha” — “against the enemy” — i.e. the Yeitzer Hara — then you will see that “unetano Hashem Elokecha b’yadecha” — you will surely be victorious because Hashem will hand him over to you.

According to the Baal Shem Tov, the final two words of the pasuk convey another point of strategy. The expression “v’shavito shivyo” — “and you will conquer its captivity” — pose a grammatical difficulty.

It should have said “veshavita shivyecha” — you will capture your captives? The way to counter his attack is by using his methods (namely excitement and alacrity) in the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot, fulfilling Hashem’s will with dedication and zeal. Thus, “by capturing” — i.e. using for Hashem — the methods through which the Yeitzer Hara makes you “shivyo” — “his captive” — you will ultimately capture him and rule over him.

The message to you, my dear Bar Mitzvah, as a new member in the army of Hashem, is to follow the directives of our Commander-in-Chief concerning how to conquer your Yeitzer Hara, and you will quickly rise in rank from ordinary soldier to a five-star general. May the Commander-in-Chief, your parents, and all Klal Yisrael have much Yiddish and Chassidish nachas from you.


In this week’s parshah there is a section dedicated to the unique battle customs of the Jewish people. There was a special Kohen known as the Mashuach MilchamahKohen anointed for battle. The only official function of this designated Kohen was to speak to the army before battle and proclaim the commandment that they must not lose heart, but trust in the salvation of the One for Whom they are about to fight. Afterward, the Kohen left the scene and there were officers who would proclaim, “Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his brothers like his heart” (20:8).

In the Gemara (Sotah 44a) there are different opinions regarding the meaning of “fearful and fainthearted.” According to Rabbi Akiva this is to be understood literally, a cowardly person who is terrified of battle.

According to Rabbi Yose HaGelili this refers to “hayarei mei’aveirot shebeyado” — “one who is fearful because of sins that are in his hand” — i.e. his transgressions. Rabbi Yose says it refers to a sinner who violated Biblical law, such as a Kohen Gadol who married a widow or an ordinary Kohen who married a divorcee. Since the latter two interpret “who is frightened and faint of heart” as discussing one who has sinned, the Gemara accordingly asks: What is at issue between R. Yose and R. Yose HaGelili? In what do they differ?

The Gemara answers: At issue between them is the case of one who committed a Rabbinic transgression. According to R. Yose HaGelili, he returns; according to R. Yose, he does not. The Gemara cites a Beraita that concurs with R. Yose. The law is that “sach bein tefillah l’tefillah — if one spoke between donning the arm tefillin and the head tefillin (and didn’t recite an additional berachah before donning the head tefillin) — aveirah hi b’yado — he committed a Rabbinic transgression and he returns on its account from the war.”

Now, there are many Rabbinic mitzvot. Why was the issue with the tefillin cited and not something else, such a one who did not read the Megillah on Purim or light candles on Chanukah?

(Superficially, this is cited since speaking after donning the tefillin on the hand fits the description of aveirot shebeyado — transgressions that are in his hand. This is, however, somewhat difficult, because the sin committed is the not reciting a second berachah before putting the head tefillin, which is not precisely an aveirah shebeyado — sin in his hand.)

Perhaps the Gemara’s example of “sach bein tefillah l’tefillah” is an allegoric expression which has a profound message.

The hand tefillin represent matters of bein adam lechaveiro — interhuman relationships — a person cannot help his friend with good thoughts and contemplation. It is necessary to physically extend a helping hand or physically visit the sick, etc. On the other hand, the head tefillin are an analogy to bein adam laMakom — the relationship between man and G‑d. The head is the seat of the human intellect and with the head’s faculties one studies Torah, meditates, and contemplates how to be tenaciously attached to Hashem. In short, the hand tefillin represents — ma’aseh — action and deed — and the head tefillin represents limud and machashavah — study and thought.

Among humans there are some who are heavily involved in matters of bein adam lachaveiro — but who are lacking in their relationship with Hashem. There are others who are the reverse. They excel in their Torah study and conscientious prayer, but much is to be desired when it comes to reaching out to a friend in need or helping a charitable cause.

Similarly, there are those who excel in ma’aseh — fulfillment of mitzvot — but who are lacking in dedicated Torah study. And there are also those who study diligently but who are lacking in their meticulous fulfillment of mitzvot.

The proper and full-fledged Jew is one who excels equally in all that is alluded to and represented by the hand and head tefillin.

Thus, our Sages with their great wisdom, through an allegory tell us that one should not be sach bein tefillah letefillah — make an interruption between the hand and head tefillin. When one does not consider both of equal importance, but rather, dedicates himself to what the head tefillin represent without regarding what the hand tefillin represents, or visa versa, this is a transgression which disqualifies him from being a soldier of Hashem.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, every Jew is a soldier in Hashem’s army and should act in a way befitting his status. Hopefully, throughout your life you will take to heart the lesson conveyed by the hand and head tefillin. You will give equal importance to your observance of all that is bein adam lachaveiro and all that is bein adam laMakom. You will thus be exceptional in both your ma’aseh hamitzvot and limud haTorah. May you rise to high ranks in Hashem’s army and valiantly bring glory to Hashem, His Torah, Klal Yisroel and your wonderful and lovely family.


In addition to the forbidden marriages enumerated in Chumash Vayikra, the Torah adds in this week’s parshah of Ki Teitzei limitations on converts from certain nations. The most stringent is that regarding an Ammonite or Moabite male who converts, “his descendants, even their tenth generation, shall not enter the congregation of Hashem [to marry a Jewess] to eternity.” One of the reasons for his harsh rejection is “because they hired against you Bilaam son of Beor . . . to curse you.” Parenthetically, the Torah tells us, “But Hashem, your G‑d, refused to listen to Bilaam and Hashem your G‑d reversed hakelalah — the curse — to a blessing for you, because Hashem your G‑d loved you” (23: 4-6).

A cursory look back in the parshah of Balak will show that Bilaam unsuccessfully endeavored at three different intervals to cast a curse on the Jewish people. If so, why does it speak here of his effort to curse in the singular — hakelalah (the curse) — and not in plural hakelalot (the curses).

Before going home, Bilaam delivered to Balak a series of prophecies regarding the Jewish people and advice as to the only way he could hope to prevail against them. In self-aggrandizement, he referred to himself as “yodei’a da’at Elyon” — “one who knows the mind of the Supreme One” (Bamidbar 24:16). Rashi quotes a Gemara that he was insinuating that he knows how to determine precisely the time when Hashem is angry, so that if he cursed someone at that precise moment it would be effective. The Gemara (Avodah Zara 4b) asks and answers: “And how long does His anger last? Rega — a moment. And how long is a moment? Ameimar said, ‘Rega ke’memra — a moment is equal to the time it takes to say the word [rega — a two syllable word].’”

Tosafot wonders: What curse could Bilaam have uttered in a moment? Tosafot answers: He could have pronounced a one-word curse — “kaleim” (כַלֵם) — “destroy them.” Hashem reversed the letters of this word resulting in the word “Melech” — מלך — “king.” This switch was the source of Bilaam’s blessing “U’teruat melech bo” — “And the friendship of the King is in him” (Bamidbar 23:21).

(Tosafot gives an alternative answer in the name of Rabbi Eliyahu: As long as the curse would begin at that moment, it would be effective even if the pronouncement extended beyond the moment.)

Thus, when the pasuk relates that “G‑d reversed hakelalah — the curse” — in singular, “l’berachah — to a blessing” — in singular, it refers to reversing Bilaam’s curse of “kaleim” — “destroy” — into a blessing of “Melech” — bringing “kingship” into each and every Jew.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, I would like to share with you now a beautiful thought from the Chassidic Master, Reb David of Talna (1806-1882). He explains that at issue here was not just a curse or a blessing, but an ideological difference concerning how a Jew needs to conduct himself and how, l’havdil, a non-Jew conducts himself.

The Zohar (Shemot 153a) states, “There are three rulers in a person, the מוח — brain — the לב — heart — and the כבד — liver.” The acronym for these three spells the word melech. The brain is the seat of the intellect. The heart is the source of human emotion and desires and the liver is the commanding power of the digestive system.

The mo’ach — brain — is on the upper part of a person. The lev — heart — is in the middle and the kaveid — liver — is in the lower extremities of the body. Torah and Chassidic teaching requires of man that “Mo’ach shalit al haleiv” — “The brain controls the desires of the heart.” While the brain and heart are more spiritual and refined, the liver represents the material and physical sensations of the body.

A Jew should strive to achieve the lifestyle of “melech.” Of the primary importance is his brain — studying Torah and Chassidut. One should ensure that his intellect controls and refines his emotions and desires. Once that is accomplished, his material indulgence is in a purer manner — not coarse or gross, but rather, even the pursuit of the necessary physical sustenance will be in accordance with Torah teachings and directives.

Bilaam emphasized the reverse order (kaveid (כבד) — liver, lev (לב) — heart, mo’ach (מוח) — brain), forming the acronym that spells (כלם) “kaleim.” His theory was that gashmiyus — materialism — is primary. This ultimately makes the person fargrebt — gross and unrefined. One should pursue the desires of the heart without any restraint, and of least importance is the mo’ach — brain. One should pay little attention to enhancing one’s intellect with Torah.

In short, Bilaam wanted the Jewish people to follow the kaleim philosophy, be fargrebt — coarse, unrefined and vulgar. Hashem reversed this and imbued us with the power to pursue the melech approach, which will make us majestic and refined.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, the Gemara (Shabbat 67a) says that all Jews are “b’nei melachim — “sons of kings.” The Rebbe cites other sources that “all Jews are melachim — kings” (see Likkutei Sichot, Vol. 14, p. 120).

The Bar Mitzvah day is the day of your coronation. You are crowned and become a מלך — king — in Klal Yisrael. It is our prayer that throughout your life you give pre-eminence to your mo’ach through dedicating your intellectual faculties to Torah study. Your Torah intellect should govern over the desires and emotions of your heart, and thus, even your material and physical wellbeing will be befitting to that of a melech — king — of Klal Yisrael.

Mazal Tov and much success in your efforts to attain malchut — living an exalted kingly and majestic Torah lifestyle.


At the end of this week’s parshah we are instructed, “Zachor — remember — et asher asah lecha Amalek — what Amalek did to you.” It is a mitzvat aseih — a positive commandment — to erase the memory of Amalek.

This parshah is so important that during the year the Shabbat before Purim is known as the Shabbat Parshat Zachor because we read this parshah of zachor. The reading is a Biblical mitzvah. All men and also women make an effort to come to shul to hear the Torah reading.

A question that comes to mind is the Torah wording. In lieu of “Zachor et asher asah lecha Amalek” — “Remember what Amalek did to you” — it should have said “Remember what Amalek did la’avoteichem — to your forefathers.” Moreover, the nation of Amalek no longer exists. Why is it important for us to remember them?

In the final pasuk of this parshah it says “Timchah et zeicher Amalek mitachat hashamayim” — “You shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven” (25:19).

Instead of “mitachat hashamayim” — “from under the heaven” — should the pasuk not have said “mei’al ha’aretz” — “from above the earth”?

Shamayim and aretz — heaven and earth — represent the spiritual and material. Amalek, the arch enemy of the Jewish people, declared war by endeavoring to detach the Jewish people from Hashem. The word Amalek (עמלק) has the numerical value of two hundred and forty, which is the same numerical value as the word “safeik” (ספק) — “doubt.” When the Jews came out of Egypt permeated with awe and amazement of the miracles Hashem performed, Amalek attempted to instill a doubt in them that perhaps it was not so miraculous.

The Torah describes the effort of Amalek “Asher karecha baderech” — “How he met you on the way.” The word “karecha” (קרך) — “met you" — comes from the same root as the word “kerirut” (קרירות) — “chill” — meaning, that Amalek endeavored to chill your excitement and enthusiasm about Hashem.

Throughout the generations, whenever someone begins to have doubts about G‑dliness or suddenly feels a “chilling” in his dedication to Hashem, this is the work of Amalek.

Hence, Amalek represents a blockage between Heaven — spirituality — and the Jew in the mundane world. Therefore, the Torah commanded us to never forget “to wipe out the memory of Amalek mitachat hashamayim — “under the heaven” — i.e. to remove any obstruction blocking your access to spirituality.

The Rebbe once related that for many years the Jews of Russia wore a “kasket” — a cap with a very small brim. Once the government issued a decree that the brim on the caps be extended. Chassidim interpreted this as an attempt by the government to make it difficult for Jews to fulfill the words of the prophet, “Raise your eyes on High and see Who created these [things]!” (Isaiah 40:26). The Chassidim were clever, so they decided to follow the government directive to make the caps with longer brims, but they turned the caps around so that they could still continuously look up to heaven.

My dear Bar Mitzvah — as we just explained, the actual original nation of Amalek no longer exists. But his heirs are around in abundant measure. One of the powerful ones is the Yeitzer Hara, who works feverishly to “chill” your enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvot and in his cunning way surreptitiously casts doubt into your mind about the importance and relevance of Torah and mitzvot.

Thus, Torah says to everyone, including you and me, Zachor — remember — what Amalek did lecha — to you! Do everything humanly possible to eradicate and annihilate him entirely.

The Torah concludes with two words “lo tishkach” — “you shall not forget.”

Why only in connection with the mitzvah to wipe out the memory of Amalek is it necessary for the Torah to also instruct, “You shall not forget”?

The words “lo tishkach” — “you shall not forget” — are not a command, but a promise. The Torah is promising us that when you will make every effort to wipe out the memory of Amalek, both the one who wants to destroy the Jewish people as a whole physically, and the Amalek within every one of us who wants to do spiritual harm, then you will always remain attached to Hashem and “lo tishkach” — you will not forget His greatness for one moment.

Our berachah to you, dear Bar Mitzvah, is that you be successful in distancing yourself from Amalek. Study Torah diligently and perform mitzvot meticulously. By remembering what Amalek did to you, Hashem will reciprocate by remembering you to receive His blessing begashmiyut uberuchniyut — materially and spiritually — in abundant measure.