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Friday, July 5

The Weekly Shtikle - Matos / Mas'ei

In this week's parsha we learn about the war that was waged with Midyan. What is intriguing about this is that in last week's parsha, at the very beginning, HaShem begins to instruct Moshe concerning the upcoming battle. Then, suddenly, that entire subject is abandoned for the rest of the parsha until we return to that topic in this week's parsha. Based on Shaarei Aharon's understanding of Rashi's interpretation of the word tzaror, it was not actually a commandment to carry out right away. It seems its placement at the beginning of Pinechas was meant to juxtapose Midyan's responsibility for the calamity endured to Pinechas' credit for putting an end to it.

Regarding the actual war, there is an interesting detail found in Targum Yonasan (31:7). He explains from Sifrei that B'nei Yisrael were commanded to attack Midyan from three sides and leave the fourth open. Rambam brings this practice as halachah in Hilchos Melachim 6:7 but does not include it in Sefer HaMitzvos. Ramban, however, lists it as part of his enumeration of mitzvos that Rambam "forgot" to include.

Meshech Chachmah here explains the disagreement between the two. Rambam is of the opinion that this military tactic is only advice on the best way to go about attacking an enemy. If an enemy is invaded from all sides, they will know that there is no way out and will fight with all their might. However, if they have an escape route, they will not be so determined to fight for they know they can rely on an escape. Therefore, it is brought in the halachos as a suggestion but it does not constitute a halachah in and of itself.

Ramban, however, adds that the reasoning behind this tactic is to have pity on the enemy to allow them a way to escape if they do not want to fight a war, akin to the mitzvah of offering peace before waging war against an enemy. Since this is a obligation and not a suggestion, it is counted as a mitzvah in and of itself.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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