In this week’s Parasha we come across a seemingly simple verse, which reveals deep concepts to us upon closer inspection.
כִּֽי־תֵצֵ֥א לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה עַל־אֹֽיְבֶ֑יךָ וּנְתָנ֞וֹ יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ בְּיָדֶ֖ךָ וְשָׁבִ֥יתָ שִׁבְיֽוֹ
(Devarim, Ch.21 V.10)
“If you go out to war against your enemy, and Hashem your G-d will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives…”
Which war are we discussing?
Who are enemy against whom we struggle?
This war can be none other than the war against our Yetzer Hara! Hakadosh Baruch Hu is telling us that as Jews, it is incumbent upon us to battle the inclinations and temptations that our bodies (and the secular world) are constantly pulling us towards every day. Hashem guarantees that when we decide to wake up and fight our Yetzer Hara – our “enemy,” when left to their own devices and not under our control – Hashem will give us the strength to overcome this powerful enemy. Not only that, but we will also be able to channel and focus the energy of our Yetzer Hara into our Avodat Hashem.
In his book on marriage, Rabbi Avraham Peretz Friedman proposes an interesting suggestion regarding the workings of the Yetzer Hara. He brings the verse “בראתי יצר הרע ובראתי לו תורה תבלין” (Kiddushin 30a) and raises a point on how this verse is usually slightly mistranslated. Most people would say that the translation is “I created the Evil Inclination, and I created for it the Torah, as an antidote.” He then explains that unless you would consider ketchup an antidote to your hot dog, this translation of “Tavlin” is grossly inaccurate. When we consider the content and meaning of the word “Tavlin,” we see that it is more accurately translated as a “spice” or as a “condiment.” Rav Friedman thus goes on to explain that in His infinite wisdom, HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave us the ability to channel the energy of the Yetzer Hara within the framework of Hashem’s will, and thereby “capture” that powerful energy and use it to serve our Creator. Thus, the Torah becomes a “condiment” that we can use as a “spice” for the Yetzer Hara and its pleasure-seeking ways.
We can clarify our understanding of this passuk on a deeper level with a parable that was said over by Rav Yaakov Darmoni.
There was once a very wealthy man who realized that his time in this world was nearly over. As such, he decided that he would give all his worldly possessions to his only son. At the same time, the father was worried that if he made it known that everything in his possession will go to his son, then his servant would not take such good care of him in his old age. The father thought long and hard, then came up with a plan of how to fulfill both goals. The wealthy man told his servant to go to his son immediately after his death, and to tell his son that “all of my possessions but one will become the property of my loyal servant. You, my dear son, have the right to choose which of my many possessions you would like to keep as your own.”
And so it was.
The wealthy man passed away, and the servant immediately ran to his late master’s son to inform him of his father’s final message. The son was clever, and told the servant that of all of the wealthy man’s possessions, he wants to keep the servant for himself. In his great wisdom, this young man understood that his father wanted to give him all of the blessings and pleasures that the world has to offer. Yet the only way to do so would be by becoming a master over the servant. Anything that the servant owned would then become the property of his master.
So too it is with us. Our father, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, is the Master over everything! He wants us to enjoy life in the most beautiful way, but in order to do so we must be clever. We must recognize that in this world a great many pleasures “belong” to the Yetzer Hara. In order for us to enjoy these pleasures, we must become masters over the servant – we must control our Yetzer Hara, and channel all of our desires through the projector lens of the Torah. Not only will the fulfillment of our desires become permissible, they will also become amplified since they are done in the proper manner. If we control our desires and channel them through the framework of the Torah – the instructions that אבינו שבשמים gave directly to us – we will become masters over our inclinations, and thus the masters of worldly pleasure. If, G-d forbid, a person does not strive to control his desires and lets them control him instead, then woe to that man who has become a slave to his whims and instincts.
אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי, בכל יום ויום בת קול יוצאת מהר חורב ומכרזת ואומרת אוי להם לבריות מעלבונה של תורה.
שכל מי שאינו עוסק בתורה נקרא נזוף, שנאמר (משלי יא כב): “נזם זהב באף חזיר, אשה יפה וסרת טעם“.
ואומר (שמות לב טז): “והלחת מעשה אלהים המה והמכתב מכתב אלהים הוא חרות על הלחת“, אל תקרא חרות אלא חרות, שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi explains (Avot, Ch. 6 Mishna 2) that it is by virtue of the fact that one is involved in Torah study that he may become a free man.
One who disregards the beautiful path that Hashem’s Torah paves before us will become a disgrace of a man. Woe to one who enjoys the beautiful and bountiful blessings of this world without recognizing its Source, and does not study and live his Master’s word. Such a person is a gross distortion of the great person he could have potentially become. Our Mishna compares him to one who places a “gold ring in a pig nose,” and to “a beautiful woman that is tasteless.” An object of beauty that is combined with bad taste becomes repugnant; its vulgarity increases in direct proportion to the potential beauty which was abandoned in poor taste. The instructions that G-d has given us are meant to give us true freedom. One who is controlled by his desires is not free. That person is the epitome of a slave, since they cannot even control their own body! A truly free person is one who can do the right thing even when it is difficult, and can prevent themselves from doing the wrong thing, even when it is the most enticing thing in the world.
The question we must now asks ourselves is as follows:
When we go out to war against our enemy – the Yetzer Hara – what will happen? Will we placidly allow it to dominate us? Or will we cry out to Hashem, follow His commandments, and thus become masters over our enemy?
We are G-d’s nation, His beloved children who He took out from slavery in Egypt. We are done with being slaves to our enemies. Today, we are destined to be the masters. Let us go out in G-d’s name and take control over our Yetzer Hara. Even when it is difficult, we must make the choices that Hashem wants us to make. Let us cleave to our Creator and live life the way it should be lived.