Shabbat Parashat Ki Tetzei| 5763
Clean Up your Own Camp First
The Torah warns us that, upon going out to war, we must “guard ourselves from all bad things” (Devarim 23: 10). The Torah then gives examples, including waste disposal and matters of purity, which seem overly detailed and technical, considering the pressures soldiers undoubtedly undergo. Isn’t it enough that their general moral value system doesn’t collapse?
The Ibn Ezra gives a logical, technical explanation of the Torah’s emphasis. He points out that since the aron (ark) went out with the army camp, the soldiers had to be particularly careful, similar to Kohanim and Levi’im, in the proximity of the holy vessel. So why was the aron in such a spiritually vulnerable location? Perhaps it was needed to help win the war.
We can suggest that the necessity was more spiritual than military. Soldiers are necessary in war, but in the final analysis, it is Hashem who brings victory or defeat. Similarly, the aron can stay safely behind, and Bnei Yisrael can be just as successful, if Hashem so desires. Rather, the aron went along to ensure that the soldiers felt compelled to maintain a spiritual level befitting the aron’s presence. It was also there to remind the soldiers and the rest of the nation that when victory comes, b’ezrat Hashem, they should realize that it is, indeed, b’ezrat Hashem, with Hashem’s help (see also, Meam Loez).
There is perhaps another factor involved in the choice of spiritual demands on the soldiers. There is, at times of war, leniency in regard to mitzvot between man and man (fighting, spoils) and between man and Hashem (yefat to’ar, kashrut). Yet the Torah stresses matters of cleanliness and bodily purity, best categorized as between man and himself. The message is that to maintain his moral standing, a soldier must guard his self-dignity, as prescribed by the Torah. Starting with “little things” like that, the Torah can then sum up that the soldier will avoid an “ervat davar (matter of abomination)” (Devarim 23:15). Many sins begin when a person doesn’t respect his own spirituality and fails to recognize the Divine Presence in his midst (ibid.).
During these times of war, we have much cause for pride in regard to the moral level of our soldiers, whether those who are fully aware of “the aron in their midst” and are careful about sins between man and Hashem, or those who are less aware and less careful. Apparently, one thing that the overwhelming majority of our soldiers maintain is their self-dignity, which, in turn, helps preserve their overall morality. May this be one of the merits which will bring us peace, security, and the coming of Mashiach.
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