The Torah in Parashat Matot tells of the war G-d commanded Beneh Yisrael to wage against the nation of Midyan, that had conspired to cause Beneh Yisrael to sin, resulting in a devastating plague that killed thousands of people. The word used by the Torah to describe Beneh Yisrael’s mobilization of an army for this war is “Va’yimaseru” – which literally means that soldiers were “handed over” for this purpose (31:5). Rashi explains that the soldiers needed to be forced to go out to battle, as nobody wanted to fulfill this mission. G-d had informed Moshe that he would pass away upon the completion of this war, and so Beneh Yisrael, in their love for their revered leader, wanted to delay this battle as much as possible in order to delay Moshe’s death. Soldiers therefore had to be forced to go to wage this war against Midyan.
The Apta Rav added a deeper layer of interpretation. He associates the word “Va’yimaseru” with the term “Moser,” which refers to a Jew who, Heaven forbid, hands over an innocent fellow Jew to hostile gentiles, such as to hostile governments. Jewish tradition has always viewed “Mesira” – handing over a fellow Jew – as one of the gravest sins that one can commit. In fact, our community, following the custom of Halab (Aleppo), includes “Moserim” in the “Ve’la’minim” section of the Amida prayer in which we pray for the demise of certain types of evildoers. However, the Apta Rav explained, in preparation for the battle against Midyan, Beneh Yisrael did a permissible kind of “Mesira.” This battle needed to be fought by the most righteous members of the nation. The soldiers selected for this purpose needed to fight solely and exclusively for the sake of fulfilling of Hashem’s command, and not for any ulterior motive or self-serving purpose, and thus they needed to be pure, sacred, and sincere Sadikim. When the time came to select soldiers, the Apta Rav said, the people all refused, feeling they were not qualified. Nobody saw himself as worthy of this role, as having reached the level of spiritual greatness needed to wage the war against Midyan. This problem was solved through “Mesira” – by people “handing over” their fellow Jews. People came to Moshe and “informed” him of their fellow who claimed not to be a righteous Sadik but was, in fact, exceedingly pious and thus worthy of this role. This is how Moshe received the information he needed to select the most righteous people to wage this battle, and they were indeed sent out to fight Midyan.
This is the one kind of “Mesira” that is acceptable, and even laudable – informing people of other people’s piety and fine qualities so they receive the respect and admiration they rightfully deserve.