1. This week’s Torah reading both begins and ends with the subject of war. It begins, “When you go out to war against your enemy...,” and concludes with the mitzvah to wage war against Amalek and annihilate that nation entirely.

This raises a question: All existence was brought into being by G‑d.1 Why then, did G‑d bring into being enemies — and particularly, an enemy such as Amalek — whom the Jewish people must wage war against?

The resolution to this question is associated with the purpose of the creation as a whole, that G‑d brought the world into being so that He would have “a dwelling in the lower worlds.” For this purpose — so that the Jews could perform mitzvos with material entities, e.g., tefillin with parchment, tzitzis with wool — G‑d created the entire realm of material existence.2

Since G‑d’s desire was for a dwelling in the lower realms, and more precisely, in the lowest possible realm, within this world were created entities whose existence is directly opposed to G‑d. For He desired to derive pleasure from the existence of evil and its transformation into good.

Intellectually, it is impossible to comprehend how G‑d could bring into being — and indeed, continually bring into being — an entity whose entire existence opposes the very creative force which brings it into being. Nevertheless, G‑d is not bound by the limits of intellect and indeed, is truly infinite, transcending all boundaries. Thus, it is within His potential to create such an entity.

This concept also has ramifications in regard to the service of the Jewish people. Since the existence of evil stems from G‑d’s essential infinity, tremendously powerful G‑dly energies are invested in it. The expression of the positive nature of these energies cannot, however, come in a direct manner, merely revealing the hidden. Instead, this is comparable to the creation of a new entity, for it involves the transformation of darkness to light. The power to bring about such a transformation has been endowed to the Jewish people by G‑d. Since “Israel and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one,” the essential power to bring a new entity into existence is possessed by the Jewish people. They have the potential to transform this lowly realm into a dwelling for Him.

Thus although the material environment in which we live possesses great strength, as mentioned above, a person who carries out the service of transforming that environment into a dwelling for G‑d possesses even greater strength. This greater strength is not revealed until the person begins his endeavors and struggle to transform his environment. When the person begins his task of refinement, the strength is taken from all opposing entities, and the potential is granted to transform them into holiness.

There are two explanations for this phenomenon: a) Since a Jew’s soul is “truly a part of G‑d,” there is no other entity which can be compared to it; b) The entire purpose of the soul’s descent to this material plane where opposition and conflict exist, is so that it can carry out this service of transformation. Accordingly, the opposing forces exist for the sole purpose that they be vanquished, as it were. Therefore, any serious attempt to vanquish them will surely be successful.

These concepts are reflected in the verse, “When you go out to war against your enemy, G‑d... will give him into your hand, and you will take captive his prisoners.” The verse emphasizes that on one hand, the enemy is a powerful entity, so powerful that it can capture prisoners. Nevertheless, a Jew is granted even greater power. Indeed, in the verse cited above, the Hebrew word translated as “against,” kg, literally means “above.” Even when a Jew merely “goes out to war,” i.e., he is in the first stages of his service, he is “above his enemies.” And, he can rest assured that ultimately, “G‑d... will give him into his hand.” He will be granted Divine assistance in performing his task of refinement, for this is the ultimate purpose of creation.

In this manner, he will “take captive his prisoners,” i.e., the prisoners captured previously by the enemy. This refers to the refinement of the sparks of G‑dliness that have fallen into the realm of evil. Indeed, the entire reason these sparks of G‑dliness could have descended into the realm of evil is that they eventually be elevated and thus lifted to a rung higher than their original level. The higher level reached can be compared to “the advantage darkness possesses over light.” For when darkness is transformed into light, it produces a light which is more powerful than ordinary light.3

These concepts relate to the conclusion of the Torah reading which mentions the war against Amalek. Amalek represents the ultimate power of the forces of evil, for Amalek has the advantage of being a descendant of Avraham. This power is reflected in the Torah’s description of Amalek’s confrontation with the Jewish people, “he met you on the way.” Significantly, the Hebrew word translated as “he met you,” קרך, is interpreted in Chassidic thought to mean “he cooled you off.” Amalek has the power to quench a Jew’s fervor for the service of G‑d.

This, however, is merely the preliminary stage. Ultimately, through the confrontation with Amalek, a Jew can reach the highest levels. In this vein, the refinement of Eisav, Amalek’s ancestor, is associated with the Era of the Redemption, when “saviors will ascend the Mountain of Eisav.”

These concepts also relate to the opening verses of next week’s Torah reading: “And it shall come to pass when you enter the land..., You shall take the first fruits of the land.” Through “going out to war against your enemies,” one brings about refinement in the land, and this enables one to bring its produce to Jerusalem,4 to the Beis HaMikdash, where the Divine presence is revealed.

The ultimate expression of this service will come in the Era of the Redemption when it will be openly revealed that the world is G‑d’s dwelling. For the Jews will have revealed that the truth of the existence of every entity is G‑d’s essence.

2. A connection can be found between the above concepts and the portion of the Mishneh Torah studied today, the seventh chapter of Hilchos Mechirah, “The Laws of Transactions.” In the realm of our spiritual service, transactions refer to the manner in which G‑d “acquires heaven and earth.” This is accomplished by the Jewish people who take the elements of our material existence from the public domain and make them part of the private domain, i.e., infuse them with oneness.

Such “transactions” are completed in three ways, “with money, with a document, or by manifesting ownership.” These in turn refer to the three services “on which the world stands,” Torah, prayer, and deeds of kindness which are representative of the three sefiros, chessed (kindness), gevurah (might), and tiferes (beauty).

The connection to the concepts mentioned above can be explained as follows: The fact that a transaction is necessary indicates the power possessed by the worldly dimensions of existence. The need for their transfer to G‑d’s domain to be formalized through legal means as it were indicates the strength of their existence. Nevertheless, the Jewish people possess even greater power and they are capable of bringing about such a transfer.

Why do the Jews possess such power? For they are totally one with G‑d, married to Him, as it were. Therefore, it is within their potential to acquire material entities for G‑d, i.e., to make this world a dwelling for Him.

The particular laws studied today also provide a significant lesson. Today’s portion of study includes the following law:

When a person gives payment, but does not draw the produce [into his domain], the transfer of the goods has not been completed.... Nevertheless, whoever — whether the purchaser or the seller — reneges [on his commitment] has not acted in a Jewish manner and must receive [the following condemnation]:

“May He who exacted retribution from the men of the generation of the flood, from the men of the generation of the dispersion, from the men of Sodom and Amorah, and from the Egyptians whom He drowned in the sea, exact retribution from one who does not honor his word.”

One the surface, one might ask: Why are all the examples taken from situations in which gentiles were punished before the giving of the Torah? Why aren’t examples of retribution visited upon the Jewish people cited?

To explain the above within the context of our spiritual service: כסף — the Hebrew for “money” — also means “yearning.” Thus it refers to the revelation of G‑dly light from above, the subject of our yearning. Drawing an object into one’s domain refers to our service in elevating the material realm. Ultimately, the transfer of an object to the realm of holiness involves both of these activities.

When, however, one only pays money, i.e., there is only the revelation from above, the service has not been completed, i.e., the world as it exists within its own context has not been elevated. This allows for the possibility that one may renege, fail to complete this service of refinement. To do so, however, is not Jewish conduct. For all Jews “truly desire to perform all the mitzvos” and complete the service of making this world a dwelling for G‑d. To encourage a Jew to complete his service and to impress him with the seriousness of the matter, he is told “May He who exacted retribution....”

Why do all the examples involve gentiles before the giving of the Torah? For precisely such subjects reflect how the world exists within its own context, and how it is in need of being elevated and refined.

This would not be apparent by making reference to examples involving the Jewish people. For the Jews are by nature above the material dimensions of our existence. A Jew is, in essence, one with G‑d. He descends into this world — “When you go out to war” — only to fulfill G‑d’s command. Indeed, even as a Jew exists within the world, the manner of refinement most natural to him would be the revelation of G‑dly light. For by revealing G‑dly light powerfully, one can attract sparks of G‑dliness. Thus the divine light revealed by King Shlomo attracted the sparks of G‑dliness of the kingdom of Sheba.

Therefore, to emphasize that the service of drawing down G‑dliness alone is not sufficient, we recall the gentiles who existed before the giving of the Torah. These individuals reflect the coarsest dimension of material existence. Nevertheless, since the ultimate goal is to affect them as well and make them a part of G‑d’s dwelling, the service of elevating the material realm is necessary. Therefore, these gentiles are mentioned. This should inspire us to complete the service of refining the world and transforming it into G‑d’s dwelling.

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3. The above concepts also share a connection with the chapters of Pirkei Avos studied this week, chs. 1 and 2. Chapter 1 begins “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai.” This reflects how the spark of Moshe which exists within every Jew is given the entire Torah. This expresses itself in service in the three vectors of Torah, avodah (prayer), and deeds of kindness, “the three pillars... on which the world stands.”

In a more particular way, these three vectors are represented by the three services mentioned at the conclusion of the first chapter, “judgment, truth, and peace,” for these establish harmony within the world and enable it to become a dwelling for G‑d.

This in turn will lead to the expression of the lesson communicated at the conclusion of the second chapter of Pirkei Avos, “Know that the righteous will be given their reward in the World to Come.” The present era is the time when service must be performed, and in the world to come, the Era of the Redemption, we will receive our reward.

As an introduction to these concepts, it is customary to recite the Mishnah, “All Israel has a portion in the world to come,” which reveals the essential positive nature of every Jew. Even before “Moshe received the Torah,” every Jew has an essentially positive core, for he is “the branch of My planting, the work of My hands in which I take pride.”

Why then did “Moshe receive the Torah”? For the reason stated in the Mishnah recited after studying Pirkei Avos, “Because the Holy One, Blessed be He, desire to endow Israel with merit, He granted them an abundant measure of the Torah and [its] mitzvos.”

4. To conclude with directives for action, for “deed is most essential.” Parshas Ki Seitzei emphasizes the importance of going out into the world and carrying out our divine service in such an environment. This involves the five modes of divine service associated with the month of Elul: Torah study, prayer, deeds of kindness, teshuvah, and Redemption.

Encouragement to carry out this service can be derived from the fact that “the King is in the field,” and receives His people there. Similarly, the positive influence will be contributed by the commemoration of the founding of Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim, the central Lubavitcher Yeshivah, which took place on the fifteenth of Elul. The founding of the Yeshivah is associated with training “soldiers of the House of David” who will prepare the Jewish people and the world at large for the Redemption. May this come about in the immediate future.