Who is the enemy?
For most of us, war is a concept which we observe from afar.
Our headlines are rife with images of conflicts which exist between other people, usually on a continent thousands of miles away.
And as we watch the evening news, we often ponder, “What should our involvement be?” “Should we send troops? “Who do we favor?” and “How will the outcome affect us?”
With some notable exceptions, we in the United States have lived free from military attack and conflict. For the most part, most of us consider the concept of war to be distant and removed.
But our Rabbis beg to differ.
In this week’s Torah portion, titled Ki Tetzei (“when you go forth into the Land of Israel”), we are challenged with various rules of conduct which govern how we wage war, and in turn how we continue with life in its aftermath.
We are commanded after victory to leave trees intact and perhaps most importantly, to respect those who have lost loved ones.
Yet over time, our Sages, in their ongoing study, have examined the word “war” and have pondered whether it refers entirely to physical battle.
In a country like the United States, where wars are fought and observed in distant lands, how do we bring home the idea of war, and most importantly, is there some way to consider this concept in more spiritual terms?
Indeed, insist our Sages, not all war is physical.
Each day of our lives, we fight spiritual battles. And although these conflicts do not cause physical injury or death, they possess the ability to cut deeply and redirect our life force.
The Parashah begins with the words "When you go out to battle against your enemies.” (Deuteronomy 21:10). Our mystical rabbis have studied this sentence and have rightfully asked “who exactly are our enemies?”
They pose this question not to devalue the horror of war and bloodshed, but rather to direct us towards a spiritual parallel.
For who among us has not experienced pain through broken relationships, fractured family ties, loneliness, obsession or unfulfilled dreams?
What decisions do we face every day which test the mettle of our convictions? What relationships continue to wound us? How do we control our insatiable thirst for material objects and immediate gratification?
The issue of spiritual battles and the enemy within comes to mind as we approach the High Holidays. It is a time when we are encouraged not to take inventory of our material spoils, but rather to evaluate our spiritual assets.
How are we doing? Are we spending enough time with our family? Are we holding on to grudges which obsess us? If life were to end today, are there unresolved relationships which would dangle for eternity?
It is time.
The High Holidays are designed to assess, “What will our battles be this year, and who exactly are our true enemies?”
Often, those enemies lie within.
The Torah tells us that life is a battle. But each of us possesses a spark of God which enables us to harness our life force.
These spiritual weapons are, according to the Unetanneh Tokef prayer, “Repentance, prayer and acts of loving kindness.”
Will be have the courage this next year to choose our battles better – turning away from the material, towards the things that really matter?
Indeed, whether we are entered into the Book of Life for next year has less to do with God, and more about how judge ourselves.
As High Holidays approach, let us have the courage to ask, “Who are our true enemies?”
For in the end, more often than not, it is us and not them.
Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv (with all goodness)
Rabbi Irwin Huberman