[They would have thought:] How can one [of us] pursue a thousand [of Israel],

And two put ten thousand to flight,

Unless their Rock has sold them out,

And G‑d has delivered them [into our hands]?

-- Devarim 32:30

Classic Questions

Is the ratio of one member of the enemy chasing one thousand of Israel a fair punishment? (v. 30)

Tosfos: When speaking of G‑d's "measure of retribution" [the enemy chasing away the Jewish people], there is a ratio of 1:1,000: "How can one [of us] pursue a thousand [of Israel]." Yet, when speaking of G‑d's corresponding "measure of benevolence," the Torah states (in Parshas Bechukosai), "Five of you will be able to chase away a hundred" (Vayikra 26:8), a ratio of just 1:20. How is this to be reconciled with the principle that "G‑d's measure of benevo­lence always exceeds His measure of retribution"?

In truth, however, one cannot compare these two cases. For the verse in Parshas Bechukosai is referring to the annihilation of the enemy, "Five of you will be able to chase away a hundred... They will fall by the sword before you" (ibid.), whereas the verse here is speaking only of chasing away the enemy. Thus, it would be unreasonable to compare the two cases (Sotah 11a).

Maskil leDavid: Alternatively, one could argue that the verse in Parshas Bechukosai is referring to five of the weakest members of the Jewish army chasing away a hundred members of the enemy, as Rashi writes there explicitly, whereas here the verse is speaking of one of the strongest members of the enemy army.

The Rebbe's Teachings

One Versus A Thousand (v. 30)

Tosfos notes that verse 30 appears to contradict the principle, "G‑d's measure of benevolence always exceeds His measure of retribution." For here, when the Jewish people are being punished, we see that they are defeated by the enemy in a ratio of 1:1,000, whereas in Parshas Bechukosai, where "G‑d's measure of benevolence" is described, the ratio is just 1:20.

While the concept that "G‑d's measure of benevolence always exceeds His measure of retribution" is not mentioned by Rashi in his commentary on the Torah, it is nevertheless an easily understood principle, which even a child might arrive at unaided. Why, then, did Rashi not address Tosfos' question, seeing that Rashi's wrote his commentary to address every difficulty that arises at the literal level?

Tosfos answers that it is not fair to compare the two verses since the verse here is speaking of one army chasing another, while the one in Parshas Bechukosai discusses one army destroying another.

However, this still does not appear to fully clarify the matter at the literal level, for it only leaves us with a further question: Is it a greater accomplishment to kill a few soldiers, or to chase away a larger number? Since Rashi does not attempt to clarify this matter, we can assume that he did not accept the solution of Tosfos.

Another solution, offered by Maskil leDavid, is that the differing ratios arise from the fact that our verse speaks of strong soldiers, while the verse in Parshas Bechukosai speaks of weak soldiers. However, this again leaves us with a similar unresolved question: Is it a greater accomplishment for weak soldiers to defeat a small army, or for strong soldiers to defeat a larger army?

The Explanation

Rashi did not address this issue as he deemed it to be self-evident from the verse itself. The verse states, "[They would have thought:] How can one [of us] pursue a thousand [of Israel], and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock has sold them out, and G‑d has delivered them [into our hands]?" I.e., we are not speaking here about a simple war between Israel and its enemies, but rather, a case where the enemy was attacking Israel as a result of G‑d's direct intervention.

At the literal level, the principle that "G‑d's measure of benevolence always exceeds His measure of retribution" only applies in a case where Israel is fighting its enemies without the direct intervention of G‑d. Then we would argue that the Jewish people do not deserve to be punished at war for their sins (1:1,000) to a greater degree than they are rewarded at war for their merits (1:20).

However, in an exceptional case where "their Rock has sold them out, and G‑d has delivered them," the above logic clearly does not apply.

In fact, when G‑d intervenes, not even one soldier is required to secure a defeat of even a thousand soldiers, as we find in the case of the Egyptian army, which numbered many thousands and yet drowned at sea, without the need for any fighting.

Thus, the fact that even one soldier is required here is an expression of G‑d's kindness, because in truth, not even that one is required.

However, in Parshas Bechukosai, the Torah is speaking of the usual scenario, where G‑d does not make any direct intervention. And in such a case we are promised, "If you pursue [the study of] My laws [in order to] guard My commands and observe them... Five of you will be able to chase away a hundred... They will fall by the sword before you."

(Based on Sichas Shabbos Parshas Ha'azinu 5733)