This Torah reading begins, “When you go out to war against your enemies….” What does a soldier feel when he enters combat? Maimonides writes: “Once a soldier enters the throes of battle, he should rely on the Hope of Israel and their Savior in times of need. He should realize that he is fighting for the sake of the oneness of G‑d’s Name. Therefore, he should place his soul in his hand and not show fright or fear.

“He should not worry about his wife or children. On the contrary, he should wipe their memory from his heart, removing all thoughts from his mind except the war.”

What motivates a soldier to rise above his personal self and risk his life in battle? He identifies with something higher. At the point he enters into battle, his personal identity becomes subsumed to the general whole. His “I” is no longer the individual “I” of his personal self, but the encompassing “I” of the Jewish people as a whole. Simply put, a soldier is not his own man. He is the representative of the Jewish people and that collective identity takes precedence over his own.

Here lies the issue: We see that, when called to serve in an army, ordinary individuals who are not spiritually oriented can rise above themselves and make the supreme and ultimate sacrifice. They subsume their individual identities. On the other hand, there are developed persons who spend their days in spiritual endeavors; they struggle and labor and yet, they have difficulty eclipsing their “I.” It’s true; their “I” is not an “I” of materialistic desires. Instead of seeking physical satisfaction, their wants are intellectual and spiritual, but there is still an “I” that wants.

The soldier, by contrast, is not concerned with his individual “I.” He is not laboring intellectually or spiritually and yet, he is prepared to give up everything, his life and all his concerns, for a purpose above himself.

What is the source for this dynamic? At the core of each of our beings lies a G‑dly soul that is not identified with our individual “I.” It is a part of G‑d, infinite and undefined as He is. Since this is the core of our being, we all have an innate tendency to self-transcendence. During our everyday lives, this inner potential does not surface. But when put to the test, when the person feels — either consciously or subconsciously — that this inner potential is being called on, it comes forth, almost effortlessly.

The Jewish people are called “the army of G‑d.” Implied is that each one of us is a soldier. In that vein, our Rabbis explain that the phrase “When you go out to war…” refers to the battle each person faces with his own individual nature and his struggle to bring spirituality into his everyday concerns.

This is where we must be soldiers. Instead of seeing these challenges as personal issues, we should see them as part of a general concern, as part of G‑d’s desire for a dwelling place among mortals, which is the purpose of creation as a whole. That sense of purpose will lift each one of us above our individual identities and prompt our essential core to seek expression.

Looking to the Horizon

War is an ongoing part of the human condition. Probably from the time when men first began to bond into nations, one nation sought to attack another. Why? They were greedy; they wanted the other nation’s land, grain, or animals. And life was cheap; the attackers did not understand the value of life, not the lives of their own citizens and certainly, not those of the nation which they were attacking.

In the era of Mashiach, this will change. “Nation will not lift up sword against nation, nor will they learn war any more.” Moreover, this will be the natural and accepted pattern of life, not the result of a particular treaty or pact.

Why? Because “good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d.” The scarcity mentality that plagues people at present will be replaced by feelings of satisfaction and content. There will be no need to take from anyone else, because everyone will have in abundance.

Moreover, no one will desire to pursue physical pleasures and delights. That is the intent of the phrase “The delights will be freely available as dust.” Just like dust is not desired, so, too, although material pleasures will be available and appreciated, we will no longer anxiously pursue them. As a result, they will appreciate the value of their own lives, understanding the opportunity to bond with G‑d that every moment of life grants. Moreover, they will appreciate the G‑dliness in another person and understand that his or her life is similarly precious.