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Parshas Ki Tetzei begins with a discussion of going to war against our enemies, and the first section of the Parsha discusses the ‘Aishes yifas toar’, the beautiful captive. The Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh has a famous approach to these Pesukim which is especially appropriate for Elul. The Ohr Hachaim says that obviously B’derech hapshat the Torah is discussing going to an actual battle and finding a captive. B’derech haremez, however, on a deeper level, this Parsha is discussing an individual’s personal fight against the Yetzer Hara. He says that success in this world depends on the actions of Am Yisroel, and Am Yisroel acting appropriately and serving Hashem depends of course on defeating the Yetzer Hara.
Here is the Ohr Hachaim’s approach: “Ki Tetzei Lamilchama,” that the Neshama leaves the Olam Haelyon, the spiritual realms up in Shamayim and it comes down to Olam Hazeh. That’s what ‘going out to war’ means; the Neshama goes out of Shamayim and comes down here to Olam Hazeh. That Neshama has to be ready for a battle. And that battle, that Milchama, is against its enemy which is of course the Yetzer Hara. This is what the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh says.
He points out that Chazal refer to this struggle against the Yetzer Hara as a battle, as a war. In Pirkei Avos (Perek 4) the Mishna writes: Aizehu gibur? Hacovesh es yitzro, one that conquers his Yetzer Hara. The language of ‘covesh’, of conquering, is the language of war. That’s the remez in this Parsha- when the Neshama goes out to battle against the Yetzer Hara.
The Ohr Hachayim makes a beautiful diyuk along these lines. The Torah writes “Ki Tezei Lamilchama”, with a patach under the ‘lamed’. The Torah doesn’t say when you go out to ‘a war’, but rather to ‘the war’. Lamilchama implies going out to the known war. This is a Remez to the ever present war and struggle against the Yetzer Hara.
The Ohr Hachaim explains the continuation of the Posuk as well. ‘Unisano Hashem Elokecha Beyodecha’ that Hashem will put the enemy into your hands. The Ohr Hachaim explains that Hashem is promising us that no matter how strong the Yetzer Hara is, Hashem gives you the strength to conquer it. If you put in the effort, you can beat the Yetzer Hara. This is a promise that is hinted out in this Posuk.
The Pesukim continue and talk about the Eishes yifas toar, which refers to the Neshama, which is beautiful ‘ad meod’. But, sometimes a person does Aveiros, r”l, and then the Neshama becomes Mitnavelet; it becomes dirty from the Averios. However, when a person conquers his Yetzer Hara, then again it’s ‘yifas toar’ and the Neshama returns to its original beauty.
The Pesukim continue that the person will bring the captive into his home for a month. The deeper explanation is that when one does Teshuva and conquers his Yetzer Hara, he brings the Neshama into the special home of Bnei Yisroel- the Beis Midrash. And what is the remez of the ‘month’? This is a remez to the month of Elul that is set aside for Teshuva[i].
This is one of our jobs during Elul[ii], to focus on winning the battle against the Yetzer Hara. The Neshama is beautiful, it’s yifas toar; and it’s our job to keep it that way and recapture that beauty. Again, the Posuk promises us that Hashem gives us the strength to conquer the Yetzer Hara, “Unisano Hashem Elokecha Beyodecha.” We have to always remember that the Yetzer Hara can be defeated. If one stops trying, however, he definitely loses. The Ohr Hachaim is teaching us to have confidence that we can defeat the Yetzer Hara, and therefore we should never give up.
[i] The Ohr Hachaim explains more ideas along these lines, and it’s worthwhile to look inside and see how he explains the next Pesukim as well.
[ii] Clearly, this remez which the Ohr Hachaim developed fits beautifully into Elul and doing Teshuva at this time of the year. I always find it amazing how everything fits together in Torah Judasim. In Chumash Devarim, there is a general theme as to why certain ideas are included and certain ideas are not. Rav Hirsch at the beginning of Devarim discusses this point. There is also an internal order to Chumash Devarim, each Parsha flows into the next. With those ideas in mind, Hashem also worked it out that these Parshiyos that refer to Teshuva (and fit with the theme of Elul) fall out during Elul. The Parshiyos that we read from Elul to Yom Kippur, when a Jew is particularly focused on Teshuva and Cheshbon Hanefesh, all relate directly to these themes. Our Parsha, as explained by the Ohr Hachaim, is a wonderful example. This Parsha, with a remez to Teshuva and conquering the Yetzer Hara, falls out during Elul. We have a wonderful additional example of Hashgacha, how all aspects of Torah Judaism fit together to help us in our Avodas Hashem.