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Ki Teitzei: The Power of Unity

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Ki Teitzei: The Power of Unity
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Herschel Reichman - August 22, 2010

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The Shem Mishmuel raises an intriguing question originally posed by his grandfather, the Kotzker Rebbe. In Parshat Ki Teizei, we read, "Ki teizei l'milchomo al oy'vecha...." Hashem tells the Jewish nation that when they will go out to war, He will straightaway give the enemy into their hands. There is no mention of prayer or fasting or fierce battles. It seems as if Hashem gives the foreign nations over to the Jews on a silver platter. In contrast, in Parshat Behaloscha, we read, "V'ki tavo'u l'milchama..." The Jews will need to pray, fast, repent, and then do battle before winning over their enemies. Why does this situation demand so much more?

To answer this, the Shem MiShmuel points out another question. In Parshat Ki Teizei, "Ki teizei", which refers to the Jewish nation, is in singular tense and "oy'vecha"-your enemies, is in plural tense. However, in Parshat Behaloscha, "Ki tavo'u"-the Jewish nation, is referred to in plural tense. The Shem MiShmuel explains that the Jewish people's success in battle is not dependent on their physical strength. Their victory is dependent on their spiritual level, on how in touch they are with their "Tzelem Elokim"-their G-dly image. In fact, Jewish soldiers wore their tefillin to battle. Tefillin require extraordinary spiritual focus to the point that one needs to constantly feel the Almighty's presence in ones mind and heart. Normally in the midst of war, soldiers become inhuman. Yet the Torah emphasizes that even in the heat of battle a Jewish fighter must maintain his sanctity. A Jew's power is not physical, rather it is a mystical, spiritual force, drawn from his perfection of Tzelem Elokim . This achieves victory over the enemy.

How does one reach such spiritual perfection? A person is made up of 248 limbs and 365 sinews which correspond to the 248 positive and 365 negative commandments. The soul also has 613 elements. When a person performs mitzvoth, he affects his positive corresponding aspects and when he keeps away from sin, he avoids the negative elements. In this way, a person can achieve perfection of Tzelem Elokim. If however, he neglects to fulfill one mitzvah, there is a blemish in his Tzelem Elokim. There are specific mitzvoth given exclusively to the kohen and the king. Can one Jew possibly fulfill all 613 mitzvoth? Chassidut explains that ideally when all Jews are united they share one common universal soul called "Yechida". If one Jews performs a mitzvah all Jews can claim a share in the act. That is how we can achieve perfection. Therefore, the most important factor in the defeat of the Jewish nations' enemies is the unity of Israel. Achdut Yisrael is the key to success in war.

The Shem MiShmuel quotes the Maharal that the Jewish people have a paradoxical and tragic tendency to split off from one other. The Jew leans towards being individualistic and separate. How can we subdue this and develop the universal Jewish soul identity? The Shem MiShmuel writes that one should strive for the level of, "Kedoshim Tihiyu." Rashi explains this mitzva as a command to sanctify oneself with matters that are permitted. Dveikut b'Hashem-cleaving to Hashem, should be a Jew's primary goal. In a sense this entails relinquishing one's personal identity and agenda for Hashem's agenda. Part of unity is Ahavat yisrael-respecting each individual Jew's path in avodat Hashem. When we all cling to that same inner point and Source, namely Hashem, then we can achieve unity of Israel, perfection of Tzelem Elokim, and victory in war.

When Jews confront their enemies with achdut, their foes splinter. When Jews are disunited, their enemies join together and defeat them. In Parshat Ki Teizei, the Jews were united in purpose and service to Hashem. Therefore, Hashem gave the enemy easily into their hands. However, in Parshat Beha'alotcha, the Jews were fractionalized and their enemies were united. Therefore they needed to do teshuva, before they could achieve victory.

The month of Elul is a time of preparation for the New Year. It is a period when we work on our Ahavat Yisrael and reconcile with our fellow Jews. If we are willing to give up our personal preferences to cling to Hashem, to live holy lives, we will achieve the Yechida level of true Jewish unity.

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