It seems like we are constantly in battle. With our sworn enemies, with our own brothers and sisters, with ourselves. Life seems to be a series of conflicts with no easy or foreseeable resolutions. Is there no peace in our future? Is there no way to win life’s incessant battle?
This week’s parsha, Ki Teitzei, offers us some guidance and hope. The parsha begins with instructions for the Jewish nation as they enter the land of Canaan and engage in battle with its hostile inhabitants.
כִּי־תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל־אֹיְבֶיךָ וּנְתָנוֹ יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיוֹ: וְרָאִיתָ בַּשִּׁבְיָה אֵשֶׁת יְפַת־תֹּאַר
:וְחָשַׁקְתָּ בָהּ וְלָקַחְתָּ לְךָ לְאִשָּֽה
When you go out to war against your enemies and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives, and you see among the captives a beautiful-looking woman, and you desire her and take her for yourself as a wife.
(Deuteronomy 21: 10-11)
It may happen, the Torah instructs, that you will find among the prisoners of war a beautiful woman that you desire to marry. In such a case, she is to be taken into the home, shorn of her foreign garments, and after a month she may be married. The Alter Rebbe teaches that these verses refer not only to the laws of physical warfare, but also to the spiritual warfare that each of us engages in daily and throughout our lives.
Life is a constant battle between our Godly essence and the material world in which it is concealed. “When you go out to war against your enemies” is not only a hypothetical situation, but it is a daily occurrence. In the midst of our battles, the Alter Rebbe teaches, each of us will indeed “see among the captives a beautiful woman” who we will desire to marry. Who is this “beautiful woman” among the captives? She is the essence of the soul who has been hidden amongst the enemy. In other words, she is our most pure and true self which has been concealed within the material trappings of this physical realm. She has been lost within the enemy camp, garbed in foreign clothing and raised as one of them. We go to battle daily to find her, to rescue her. We bring her home and remove the foreign coverings that have concealed her.
The primary battle of life is waged with ourselves. All of our external conflicts are outgrowths of this spiritual melee. We contend with the part of us that kidnaps who we truly are. The beautiful woman is our “pnimyus/innermost core” which we have imprisoned and covered in disguises that keep her from expressing herself. At war with ourselves, it is difficult to be at peace with those around us.
Yet with patience and persistence we will be victorious, as the Alter Rebbe notes that the passuk states “ki teitzei l’milchama AL oyvecha/when you go out to war OVER your enemy,” rather than “with” your enemy or “against” your enemy. The implication here is not only that our victory is guaranteed, but that the battle itself is what brings us to an aliyah/elevation. This is accomplished because we do not simply defeat the enemy within us, but we transform him/her – we marry her and thus unify all of the aspects of creation which we had once believed to be at odds. When we do so, when we are able to resolve the underlying spiritual combat that rages within us, then our various geopolitical, social, and emotional conflicts will inevitably be settled as well.