Shoftim 5770

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Allan Horn

Moshe was eating in a Chinese restaurant and was chatting to his Chinese waiter. He commented upon what a wise people the Chinese were.

“Yes,” replied the waiter, “we’re wise because our culture is 4,000 years old. But Jewish people are also very wise, are they not?”

Moshe replied, “Yes, we are. Our culture is 5,000 years old.”

The waiter was surprised to hear this. “That can’t be true,” he replied. “Where did your people eat for a thousand years?”

We can choose a lot of things, from what we eat to who we hang out with, but it’s a lot more difficult to control how we feel. If you buy me a Porsche I’ll be happy, if you punch me I will be aggravated, and if you point a gun in my face I will run away screaming like a little girl. So then how is it that Hashem can tell us to control our emotions? In Parashat Shoftim, 20:1, Hashem says, “When you go out to the battle against your enemy, and you see horse and chariot – a people more numerous than you – you shall not fear them, for Hashem, your God, is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” So what can we gather from God’s command?

Several verses later, the officers are instructed to request that any man who is “fearful and fainthearted leave, lest he melt the heart of his fellows, like his heart. I have never been to war, but I was afraid of walking into my class to take a test, so how should I not be afraid of war? Rabbi Akiva says that we should take this literally, to the extent that he can’t “look upon a drawn sword.” Rabbi Hagalili thinks differently, and argues that it is for someone who is afraid of fighting because of his sins. Regardless of exactly how “unafraid” we should be in battle, it is understood that the essential message is referring to our trust in Hashem. No matter how frightened we may be, or how high our emotions may run, it is the confidence that God will assist that has allowed for so many miracles in our history.