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Friday, August 21

The Weekly Shtikle - Shofetim

R' Sadia Gaon lists 10 symbolic approaches to why we blow the shofar on Rosh HaShanah. However, he makes only a remote, if any, reference to the connection between the shofar and war. This connection is seen perhaps most prominently in the battle of Yericho. Additionally, when B'nei Yisrael are engaged in a war, we are instructed (Bemidbar 10:9) to blow the trumpets. The shofar serves as a battle cry of sorts.


Today, we began blowing the shofar following davening as part of our yearly Elul ritual in preparation for Rosh HaShanah, only a month away. These shofar blasts are generally regarded as a wakeup call. Perhaps we can also view these shofar blasts as a call to arms - a reminder to begin to wage war against our yeitzer hara as we turn our focus towards teshuvah in preparation for the yom hadin.


It is therefore fitting that Rosh Chodesh Elul coincides with parshas Shofetim. Of the many mitzvos discussed in this week's parsha, a good handful of them pertain to how we are supposed to conduct ourselves when doing battle. Most notably, we are warned when waging war not to exhibit any fear of the enemy for HaShem is with us, orchestrating the outcome. We are then taught of the process of extending an offer for peace before waging war on a city. However, at closer inspection, the conditions of the peace are total and complete subservience from the inhabitants of the city.


I heard another thought this week from the chaburah of R' Tzvi Mordechai Feldheim which fits nicely in this theme. Before the soldiers enter battle, a number of different groups are told to return. The last group (20:8) is the yarei verach leivav. There is a discussion in the mishnah (Sotah 44a) as to the exact meaning of this phrase. R' Yosei HaGelili posits that it is one who is fearful of aveiros sheb'yado, sins in his hands. To which sins does he refer? A beraisa brought in the gemara (44b) suggests that even a sin as (seemingly) miniscule as talking in between the placement of the two tefillin is reason enough to return and not fight.


So who would actually be left besides the most pious individuals? The important word is aveiros sheb'yado, sins that are still in his hand. Every day we are faced with daunting challenges and we all have failures from time to time. However, if we resolve to let go of those sins and do our best to prevent them in the future, those are no longer "in our hands." Therefore, the Torah is only talking about someone who has sinned and is still clinging to those sins. One who continues the fight to constantly make himself a better person is already a soldier in his own right and need not return.

Indeed, the battle cry of the shofar coupled with the strict military instructions found in the parsha work together to focus our attention to the task at hand for the month of Elul. May it be a strong and productive month for us all and may we all merit a kesivah vachasimah tovah.

Have a chodesh tov and good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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