1. This week’s portion begins, “When you go out to war upon your enemies.” Although the Torah is intended to be eternally relevant, on the surface, it is difficult to understand the lesson which can be derived from this portion which describes the conduct of the Jews in war (and in particular, a war which is not directly commanded by G‑d, a milchemas reshus, which is not at all applicable in the present era).

The lesson we can learn from this portion involves the dimension of our service that is involved with material things and matters of this world, refining and elevating its physical substance, making it a vessel for holiness and thus, transforming the world into a dwelling for G‑d.

This service is of a different nature than the service in the realm of holiness itself, the study of Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvos. The latter service is characterized by peace, drawing G‑dliness into the world. No “enemy” is involved. In contrast, when one is involved in refining the world at large, then one must “go out to war upon your enemy.” The nature of the material world opposes G‑dliness and stands in contradiction to the establishment of a dwelling for Him. To create a dwelling for G‑d, a place where His essence is revealed, within this world, it is necessary to “wage war” against this dimension of worldliness and conquer it.

The aspect of concealment within this world — and its tendency to oppose the establishment of a dwelling for G‑d — was created by G‑d, Himself. Thus, the power which opposes holiness does not stem from the world’s material substance alone, but rather, from the nature with which it was endowed by G‑d. Accordingly, it is understandable that a Jew must summon up very powerful energies to wage war against such power.

For this reason, the Torah uses the expression, “When you go out to war upon your enemy.” A Jew “goes out to war,” i.e., he must leave his own realm, the involvement with holy matters, and involve himself with material affairs.

When involved in this service, he must know that he has the potential to succeed. Therefore, he is told that he must wage war, “upon your enemies.” Grammatically, it would have been proper to state “against you enemies,” or “with your enemies.” Nevertheless, the Torah used a somewhat awkward construction to teach us that, before the war begins, a Jew has to know that he stands above his enemies.

In microcosm, this conception of war is relevant within our own lives as well. A Jew possesses a G‑dly soul and, on a lower level, an animal soul and a body. He must fight a war, the conflict with the yetzer hora, to overcome the natural drives of the body and the animal soul with the intent of conquering them and thus, preventing them from disturbing his service of G‑d. Furthermore, ultimately, he should reach the point where he serves G‑d, בכל לבבך, interpreted by our Sages to mean, “with both your desires,” i.e., the yetzer hora will also become transformed. The potential for this service stems from the fact that, in essence, a Jew is “above your enemies.”

The Torah teaches us about two types of war: milchemas mitzvah — wars which G‑d commanded us to wage, e.g., the wars necessary to conquer Eretz Yisrael and annihilate the Canaanites who lived there previously, the war against Amalek, and a war to defend the Jewish people against attackers; and milchemas reshus — those wars waged by a king “with other nations to extend the boundary of [Eretz] Yisrael] and magnify its greatness and reputation.”

The war with the seven Canaanite nations — and similarly, in the Messianic age, the war to conquer the lands of the ten nations — has as its purpose, the conquest of their land and its transformation into Eretz Yisrael, the holy land. In contrast, a milchemas reshus is not a mitzvah and is intended merely to “extend the boundaries of Israel” in a place which, by nature, belongs to gentiles.

In the personal sphere, a milchemas mitzvah involves waging a war against the material dimensions of the world according to the Torah’s commands with the intent of conquering them for Torah, making them like Eretz Yisrael. It involves, however, only those aspects of the world which are necessities for life. In contrast, a milchemas reshus involves “extending the boundaries” of holiness beyond our minimum necessities. A person goes beyond the limits of the minimum which Torah allows him and elevates other aspects of the world, transforming them into holiness.

To express this concept in regard to eating: Rather than eat bread and water, one eats succulent meats and drinks aged wines, but does so for the sake of holiness. Similarly, in regard to the world at large, a person goes beyond the limits of his own environment and seeks new areas to refine by establishing a synagogue, a house of study, or a place where mitzvos are performed.

A milchemas reshus does more than involve a wider sphere of activity than a milchemas mitzvah, it requires a different type and quality of service. To understand this concept, we must probe into the very nature of a milchemas reshus: On the surface, the concept of a milchemas reshus is problematic. In regard to a milchemas mitzvah, the reason the Jews go to war is because G‑d commanded them to. He told them to conquer Eretz Yisrael and make it their land. Thus, what the Jews are taking rightfully belongs to them. Although — as Rashi quotes in the beginning of his commentary on the Torah — the gentiles may claim: “You are thieves,” the Jews can answer, “The land belongs to G‑d... and He gave it to us.”

In contrast, when it comes to conquering other lands, this rationale does not apply. On the contrary, these lands were given to the gentiles, not to the Jews. If so, how can the Jews go out and conquer these lands. Seemingly, it would be appropriate to call them thieves for doing so.

A similar, and perhaps even deeper question applies regarding the parallels to this concept in our service of G‑d. A Jew has the power to transform the material substance of this world into holiness, because of the potential granted to him by the Torah. Indeed, in an ultimate sense, these entities were brought into being with the intent that they be transformed into holiness.

Although a war is necessary to bring about that process of transformation, that is because G‑d desired a dwelling in the lower worlds. Hence, even these entities were created in a manner in which they “belong” to the lower worlds and appear as an “enemy” to the service of holiness. Despite this tendency, however, they were also intended to be transformed into holiness.

We see this concept in regard to Eretz Yisrael. Although G‑d had promised Avraham that He would give Eretz Yisrael to his descendants,1 when the Jews re-entered Eretz Yisrael, they had to assert their control over the land through war. Indeed, before the Jews conquest, the Torah referred to Eretz Yisrael as “the inheritance of the nations.” Nevertheless, at the very beginning of creation, the potential that the Jews would conquer Eretz Yisrael and transform it into a land of holiness was already granted.

This concept is easily understandable. Since G‑d created Eretz Yisrael, He is entitled to give it to whomever He pleases. He granted it to the Jews, however, in a manner that will enable them to appreciate it, not as a gift given from above, but rather as something which they acquired through their own efforts. This requires that they wage a war to transform the land from being the heritage of gentiles into Eretz Yisrael, the holy land.

The above applies, however, in regard to wars which are mitzvos. In this instance, there is an explicit Divine command to conquer this portion of the world for holiness and reveal its essential connection to the Jews. When, however, speaking of a milchemas reshus, there is no Divine command involved, nor does the land belong to the Jews. Thus, taking it away from the gentiles — or in the personal sphere, taking it away from worldliness — is seemingly improper.

This, however, is the purpose of this portion of the Torah — Parshas Ki Seitzei, which describes a milchemas reshus — to teach us that we possess the potential for a new and different service; a war fought according to the directives of the Torah, but which was not obligated by its command. This endows the Jews with the potential to conquer additional portions of the world and make them and ultimately, the entire world — not only the limited area of Eretz Yisrael — a dwelling for G‑d.

This is the purpose of the creation of all existence. Although the Torah states that only Eretz Yisrael was given to us from above — and not the world at large, this is because G‑d desired that this aspect of the task to make the world a dwelling for Him be dependent totally on the service of the Jews. Torah does not give any commands regarding these matters, leaving them solely in the hands of the Jewish people.

Thus, a milchemas reshus brings out a new dimension of service, serving G‑d voluntarily, on one’s own initiative, and thus, reaches a more complete level in the efforts to make this world a dwelling for G‑d. Through this service, even those elements of existence which belong to the realm of worldliness — as opposed to those which were, at the outset, designated for holiness — become part of G‑d’s dwelling.

There is, however, a question involved: Since there is no obligation from the Torah to carry out a milchemas reshus and there is a danger involved,2 why should such a risk be taken? Similarly, in the personal sphere, since the “war” to transform the material substance of the world requires that one become involved in material things, there is a possibility that the person’s spiritual level will sink.

Though danger also exists in a milchemas mitzvah: a) We have no choice. We are commanded to wage such a war. b) The Torah’s command itself protects us from danger.

In a milchemas reshus, however, there is no such command. Hence, the question arises: Why should a Jew expose himself to danger? The Torah explicitly commands us to protect ourselves from physical harm. Although this service can bring a person to a higher level, since there is a risk involved, it would appear proper that one should devote one’s time and energy to the service of holiness where one will surely succeed.

Furthermore, if one fails in a milchemas reshus, there is a possibility that one will no longer be able to continue any service at all. Under such circumstances, it would seem preferable to devote oneself to the service of holiness, where one’s future will not be jeopardized.

[Needless to say, we are not speaking about individuals who have nothing else to do, and because, “A person was born to toil,” feels it necessary to wage a milchemas reshus. Every Jew has what to do in the study of Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvos. Why should this be jeopardized?]

This, however, is the lesson taught to us by this Torah portion: Despite the danger involved, a Jew must commit himself to this service. Furthermore, he is granted a Divine promise for success, “the L‑rd, your G‑d, will give the enemy into your hand.”3

Thus, we see a fusion of two opposites: On one hand, the Torah teaches us that the Jew must choose to go out to war himself despite the danger involved. Simultaneously, he must fulfill the command to preserve his life. This is possible because a Jew is connected with the essence of G‑d which is the source for the fusion of opposites.

This leads to a deeper understanding: The world and worldliness (“your enemy”) has a power which it was granted by G‑d. Indeed, it exists as an entity separate from the realm of holiness.4 For this reason, it is necessary to wage war to conquer such an entity and this war possesses a certain amount of danger.

Nevertheless, because a Jew is connected with G‑d’s essence, he has the potential to bring about a new development in creation, conquer these elements of existence, and thus, have them included in the dwelling for G‑d established in the lower worlds. G‑d promises him success in these activities: “The L‑rd, your G‑d, will give the enemy into your hand.” Furthermore, “you will take captives.” This phrase can be interpreted to mean that even those aspects of existence which were “captured” by the “enemy” can be redeemed and transformed into holiness.

Potential for this service is derived from the fact that a Jew is essentially “upon (i.e., above) his enemies.” He is one with G‑d, transcending entirely the limits of the material world. This reflects a higher dimension of soul than the service to conquer Eretz Yisrael. Although the latter conquest also involves a war, as mentioned above, from the outset, Eretz Yisrael was the part of the world destined to become included in the realm of holiness. Therefore, it involves a dimension of service which is also limited in nature and which relates to worldly matters. In contrast, the service of milchemas mitzvah relates to that aspect of the Jewish people which is “above your enemy,” transcending all aspects of material existence and one with G‑d.

These concepts are also reflected in the personal realm, in a Jew’s war with his yetzer hora, his struggle to refine his body and animal soul. On the verse, “And you shall... see the difference between one who serves G‑d and one who does not serve Him,” our Sages comment, “ ’One who serves G‑d’ is one who reviews his subject matter one hundred and one times. ‘One who does not serve Him’ is one who reviews his subject matter only hundred times.”

In Tanya, the Alter Rebbe differentiates between these individuals and a tzaddik. A tzaddik is called “a servant of G‑d,” using the past tense. He has already completed his battle with the yetzer hora and hence is referred to with a title that attests to the acceptance of his service as an established fact. In contrast, the expression, “one who serves G‑d,” indicates that the person to which it is referring is presently in the midst of his struggle with his yetzer hora, i.e., a benoni.

The Alter Rebbe continues, explaining the difference between “one who serves G‑d” and “one who does not serve Him.” In that era, it was customary for a student to review his subject matter one hundred times. Therefore, it was the one hundred and first time, the time when the person went beyond his habit and normal practice, which caused him to be distinguished as “one who serves G‑d.” His striving (“war”) to rise above his nature and personal habits merited that he be awarded such a title.

These ideas can be related to the concepts of milchemas mitzvah and milchemas reshus explained above. Although a person has already waged the milchemas mitzvah which is required of him and thus refined his nature and habits to the extent that he is worthy of the title tzaddik, one might assume that he need not be involved in “wars” any more. On the contrary, he should proceed from strength to strength in the realm of holiness.

Nevertheless, in order to merit the title “one who serves G‑d,” one cannot remain satisfied with one’s previous achievements. Rather, one must “go out to war,” strive to change and elevate one’s habits and nature, and reach an even higher level of holiness. This applies even to one who has engaged in such milchemos reshus previously. Although after refining his behavior to be included in the realm of holiness, he strove to seek greater heights, having attained those heights, he cannot remain passive, but must “serve G‑d,” by seeking an even higher peak.

The above is particularly relevant in the month of Elul. The yetzer hora may try to tempt a Jew, telling him, “Surely, you have already carried out all the dimensions of the service of Elul, observing Torah and mitzvos b’hiddur. Therefore, it is time to rest. If you want, continue your service, but do it in a regular manner, in a pattern that fits your accepted norms. Don’t risk anything. Devote your energies to holiness.”

In the present generation in particular, the yetzer hora will add, “This is the last generation of exile and the first generation of the redemption. Seemingly, our energies should be directed towards preparing the world for the coming of Mashiach by devoting our energies to progress in holiness, to rising higher spiritually.”

For this reason, the Torah teaches us, “When you go out to war...” emphasizing how a Jew must constantly wage wars both against his own personal nature and in the world at large to make the world a dwelling for G‑d. Indeed, even Mashiach will “fight the wars of G‑d,” to bring the world to its ultimate state of refinement.5

Thus, in this time, each person must apply himself to the service of Elul in a manner which challenges his nature. This includes the establishment of a bond of love and happiness with G‑d as emphasized by the verse, “I am my Beloved’s...”6

This relationship is expressed through Torah study in which a complete bond is established between a Jew and G‑d. Thus, it is appropriate that each individual increase his own Torah study and also influence others (particularly, children7 ) to attend public sessions of Torah study.

Similarly, there should be an increase in tzedakah which reflects the unity of the Jews. Such unity brings about the love of G‑d and motivates the expression of His love for the Jews.

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2. Our Sages state that thirty days before a holiday, we should learn the laws pertaining to it. It is already less than thirty days before the holidays of Tishrei begin and in this context, it is necessary to mention that importance of providing Jews with their holiday needs so that they will be able to celebrate Rosh HaShanah and (the holidays which follow) in the manner stated in the Bible, “Eat sumptuous foods and drink sweet beverages and send portions to those who do not have prepared.” This is particularly relevant this year, when Shabbos comes directly after Rosh HaShanah,8 Sukkos, and Simchas Torah, and thus, festive meals will have to be prepared for three consecutive days.

May these activities bring each person a kesivah vachasimah tovah for a good and sweet year and may it conclude the greatest blessing, the coming of Mashiach, who will “fight the wars of G‑d and be victorious,” and then, rebuild the Beis HaMikdash where we will fulfill the mitzvos mentioned in this week’s Torah portion, bringing our first fruits as an offering to G‑d.