Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

The Secret Weapon

Ki Teitzei

One of the results of anxiety and distress is paralysis. From the perspective that one has in either of those two states of mind, one cannot see the possibility of succeeding in the challenge in front of him. The consequence of that perspective is that it becomes a self-fulfilling reality and one does not succeed precisely because he or she does not go out to fight.

It is difficult for one who finds himself in these conditions to contemplate the possibility of a different reality. He is a victim of his own mental constructions. The “fortress” that he built to protect himself from the possibility of failure ends up becoming the prison that does not allow him to succeed.

How does one get out of this trap?

The first verse of Ki Teitzei’s reading [1] offers a possible solution: “If you go out to war upon your enemy and G-d will deliver him into your hands…” Implicit here is the idea that for G-d to deliver your enemy, you need to go out and fight. As long as you stay comfortably hidden and protected inside your mental fortress, not even G-d can help you conquer anything.

And the first enemy that you have to face is your own intelligence. It is your own ideas that can inhibit you the most. It is not so much reality as it is your perception of it that will put brakes or enthusiasm to go out and face the challenges you see before you. You have two possibilities: either to work to change your perception or act in spite of it. If you think that your success depends on you, the most prudent thing would be to work to change your perception, replacing fear with confidence. But, if you understand that your success does not depend on you but on G-d, you can move forward without having had your perception of “reality” reprogrammed. You go out to do what you have to do, confident that by doing your utmost to do good your efforts will be crowned with success.

Sometimes one is paralyzed when contemplating the amount of tasks and responsibilities he or she is facing. It can help you calm down a bit if you visualize the feeling you will have after you have accomplished them. The satisfaction of crossing them off your list and the benefit obtained after accomplishing them will serve as motivation to persevere in the arduous stage of getting to the finish line. In other words, you can look at tasks as battles or as opportunities for success and accomplishment. 

There is a detail in the text that adds a significant element. It says: when you go to war upon your enemy. It does not say against (“neged”) your enemy but over (“al”) your enemy. 

The Chassidic masters explain that in this expression lies a great secret regarding how to triumph in personal warfare: go out with confidence in a successful outcome.

If one goes out to wage war “against” his enemy, considering the forces to be matched, he will not necessarily win, since he constantly doubts if he will be able to do so, and second guesses himself. But, when one goes out confident in the superiority of his “secret weapon”, it is a whole different story. 

What is the “secret weapon” that can give us such confidence in the successful outcome of our personal internal battles?

Conviction. 

When one goes out to fight for a just cause, one does not give up until the goal has been achieved. On the other hand, if one fights for something for selfish reasons, he will abandon the battlefield when he feels that the effort is not worthwhile.

After the Six Day War, one of the generals was asked: Was the victory due to a miracle or was it the natural result of circumstances?

“It was a mix of miracles and nature,” he answered. “The miracle was that we were able to defend ourselves against so many Arab armies. The ‘natural’ thing was that G-d helped us; who would He help, our enemies?”

The Talmud [2] quotes a saying by Reish Lakish [3] that expresses this whole theme in a few words: “He who comes to impurify himself, he is allowed to do so; he who comes to purify himself, is assisted.” In other words: when one chooses a selfish path, G-d does not interfere and lets him go his way and suffer the consequences of his choice. On the other hand, if one chooses to make the effort to overcome his impulses and “purify” himself, not only is he allowed to do so, he also enjoys special assistance that gives him an advantage. If he makes his maximum effort to do good, he can trust in victory because G-d will accompany and help him.

So the Life Hack is: if from your perspective the challenge seems insurmountable, step out of your place and you will be able to see a whole different perspective. 

_______

  1. Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19 (No, I didn’t get mixed up regarding which Parsha we read this week. I am just taking advantage of this year’s 2-week Haazinu to make up for the week of Ki Tetzei that I skipped.) 
  2. Yoma, 38b
  3. This saying gains even more resonance when Resh Lakish’s personal story is taken into account. At one time he was a gladiator and the head of a gang of bandits. As the result of an encounter with Rabbi Yochanan he abandoned his old ways and assumed a life of Torah study, becoming one of the greatest sages of the Talmud. (Bava Metzia, 84b)
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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