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Parashat Ki-Teseh: Waging the Battle

Shabbat Candle lighting Time in NYC, Friday Sept. 12th 2008: 6:51PM
Minha, Seudat Shelishit, Derasha, and Arbit in Har Lebanon: Starts at 6:00 PM

The first section of Parashat Ki-Teseh addresses the situation of warfare and the taking of non-Jewish captives: "When you go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem your God delivers them into your hands, and you take them as captives..."

The Rabbis of Musar (religious ethics) suggested that this verse may also be read as an allusion to the "war" waged by each and every one of us at every moment, namely, the battle against our Yeser Ha’ra – evil inclination. The Torah here commands us to "go out to war against your enemies," to actively wage the battle against our sinful impulses and desires. Regardless of how great a person has become and how much he has achieved, he cannot simply sit on his laurels and think that he is now free from the clutches of the Yeser Ha’ra. Our evil inclination waits very patiently for even the tiniest crack, for the smallest opening through which he can enter. In fact, the Mishna tells of a man named Yohanan who served as the Kohen Gadol, the holiest man in the nation, for eighty years, and ultimately became a heretic. Nobody is ever safe from the Yeser Ha’ra, and we must therefore remain vigilant at all times in maintaining our high standards and never relenting.

A story is told of the experience of a recovering alcoholic, which exemplifies this need for constant vigilance. Many years after undergoing successful treatment for his addiction, the man took ill and required medication. He suffered an allergic reaction to the medication, which raised his blood pressure to dangerously high levels. In order to bring down his blood pressure, the doctor prescribed for the patient daily doses of valium.

"Sorry, Doctor," the man said. "I cannot take any potentially addictive drug." He explained to the physician his past history of addiction, and his hesitation to begin taking doses of valium.

"Not to worry," the doctor replied. "I have prescribed a very small dose – just .5 grams a day, and I will give the bottle to your wife, who will give you only your daily dosage."

The man agreed, and on the first day, his wife gave him his first .5 grams. Instead of taking the medication, however, he put the pill in his pocket. He did this for the next three days, until he had four pills. He then took the pills, and enjoyed the sensation brought on by the drug. The patient then continued this practice, and gradually relapsed into his alcohol and drug addiction, throwing his entire life into a downward spiral.

How did this begin? When he decided to save the daily doses for several days, so that he can enjoy the sensation of a full dose of valium.

This is how the Yeser Ha’ra works: it finds the smallest opening that the individual allows. Any slight, momentary lapse in our ongoing struggle could potentially result in spiritual downfall.

The Torah perhaps alludes to this warning when it writes at the end of this verse, "Ve’shabita Shibyo" (literally, "and you take their captives"). The word "Ve’shabita" might relate to the word "Yeshiba," which refers to sitting or resting. The moment a person takes a break from his persistent battle against the evil inclination, then "Shibyo" – he is taken captive. It thus behooves us to wage this battle constantly and unrelentingly, and ensure never to let our guard down and allow the Yeser Ha’ra to make its way into our souls.

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