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OBLIGATORY WAR VS OPTIONAL WAR
The War On Israel On Another Level
By Rabbi Chaim Ashkenazi

Rav of the Chabad Community in Tel Aviv As discussed at a farbrengen

A person is even obligated to make war regarding the permissible, and it's a war with oneself over why we need it. In the language of the Zohar, “Bread is eaten by the sword” – and in the language of the Rebbe Rashab, at the moment that a person sticks his fork into a piece of meat, he determines whether it will be in the realm of holiness or G-d forbid, in the three klipos of impurity.

THE NEVER-ENDING WAR

The Chassid, R. Zalman Moshe, of blessed memory, once sat at a farbrengen and said “L’chaim” – again and again and again...and his face turned red, while those assembled waited impatiently to hear his words. He raised his voice and said: Do you think that life is a “shpilalaike” (a child’s game)?

This is a war! There’s a yetzer tov and a yetzer ha’ra (a good inclination and an evil inclination)

Torah speaks about two wars that are liable to occur at the time of the entry into Eretz Yisroel and its settling.

a) Milchemes mitzva (an obligatory war) – in which everyone must go and take part.

b) Milchemes Reshus (an optional war) – where there are all types of “exemptions” by which a person can stay home and remain behind in a protected area, such as the Home Front Command and the like.

According to their simple interpretation, these two forms of war are explained as follows:

An obligatory war is within the framework of the requirement to destroy the seven nations that were in Eretz Yisroel prior to the arrival of the Jewish People from Egypt. Since their actions were so utterly corrupt, we were commanded “you shall not allow any soul to live,” in order that we shall not learn from their conduct. An optional war is waged for the purpose of expanding the borders of Eretz Yisroel, which is not an obligation, and particularly not for every individual.

As is known, everything written in the Torah is eternal and exists forever, and although it must be fulfilled at every moment, even now, it is not always possible to do so in the physical sense. In our times, it is often only possible to carry out a mitzvah’s inner meaning. Therefore, mitzvos of this type require guidance and direction in the service of a Jew.

Thus, despite the fact that situations of obligatory war and optional war simply don’t exist now in the simple sense, they do exist in Avodas Hashem in all generations and at all times.

As is explained in Tanya Chapter 9, there is a constant state of war between two kings over one small city – the body – and the good and evil inclinations serve the G-dly soul and the animal soul respectively.

Even in the spiritual war of our times, there are two possibilities:

Milchemes mitzva and Milchemes Reshus (Obligatory war and Optional war).

WHAT IS AN OBLIGATORY WAR IN SPIRITUAL TERMS?

Milchemes mitzva is a war on the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos – if his hand will put on tefillin, if his body will wrap itself in a tallis, if his ears will hear the sound of the shofar, Kaddish, K’dusha, the reading of the Torah, and Torah classes, if his mouth will speak words of Torah, if his eyes will look upon a seifer Torah and other holy objects, if his legs will go to shul and the beis midrash, etc. – or not.

The good inclination wants the limbs of the body to do only mitzvos, good deeds, Torah, and tefillah. In contrast, the evil inclination only desires things that are halachically forbidden (by Jewish Law), and it has no desire whatsoever for any of the obligatory mitzvos.

The entire Jewish People are on the same level in this war; men, women, and children old enough to do mitzvos must all go out to battle. There is no excuse that can be used to avoid the issue, except in a case of pikuach nefesh, when Torah permits certain things.

However, if there is no problem of pikuach nefesh, there can be no excuses. Furthermore, if a person won’t do the mitzva or if he transgresses with one of his limbs, he is deemed wicked, meaning that he lost this obligatory war.

In the case of obligatory war, a person can’t choose whether or not he will participate, because he is sent to the front against the evil inclination, even against his will. However, it is possible and even necessary to request in davening each day the following: “Don’t lead me to a trial,” i.e., no war should occur in my lifetime. This means that we request that G-d not bring us to the front to wage a dangerous war in which we don’t know for certain if our protection is suitable or if we have the appropriate weapons for such a serious battle.

Yet, at that moment that we are already enlisted (and in the midst of battle) on a fiery battlefield, it is forbidden to show fear and retreat, for this is a Milchemes mitzva (obligatory war) and as such, there’s a responsibility for us to do away with evil, as is said: “And you shall destroy the evil from among you.”

There are no changes in these matters. Throughout all the generations, we have been commanded to achieve victory in this war, and not to give the evil inclination a foothold in any of the limbs of our body. Therefore, a person must stand strong and be on guard!

From generation to generation, our sages have added more and even more restrictions, because they foresaw the need to protect the Jewish community. Otherwise Jews might

God forbid fail this test in one of the mitzvos we do with the limbs of our body.

What is the reason for the additional stringencies, customs, and hiddurim?

The reason will be understood when we contemplate the parable of a war:

Since today’s weaponry is so much more destructive, therefore, the form of protection needed must be different. In previous generations, there was no need for bomb shelters because there were no bombs. There was no need for gas masks because there weren’t biological or chemical weapons.

It should be clear to everyone that we cannot compromise and say that since all of these modern weapons of war didn’t exist at one time, it is therefore possible to go out to battle with just a spear, a sword, a lance, and a shield. Only someone who has absolutely no concept of reality and lives in the distant past could possibly say such a thing.

Similarly, we find in relation to the spiritual Milchemes mitzva. (Obligatory War)

Since a person is obligated in this war, and today the weapons of the yetzer ha’ra are more developed, more harmful, and more destructive, transmitting its poisonous contents and even causing damage from great distances, we therefore must add in our own protection – and in every generation, the wise ones of the congregation of Israel, (our sages) established the mode of protection and how far one must distance ourselves from evil.

Even if they didn’t do so explicitly, they made certain that each and every person understood the need to interpret from the seventy permissible gates – as is brought in the book Reishis Chochma – in order that they shouldn’t come (God forbid) to one of the forbidden gates.

Just as in relation to a physical war, when it’s impossible to say that: “In the old days, soldiers didn’t used to protect themselves in such a way, yet a fighter remained alive, healthy, and whole.” So too when we are talking about a spiritual war, one cannot say that “My grandfather didn’t have all the stringencies like people have today. Yet he still remained an outstanding, G-d Fearing Jew.”

First of all, no one knows who remains complete in his Yirat Shamayim and who doesn’t, because this is a personal matter of the soul. Secondly, and most important, these updated weapons of destruction we face (Movies, Internet, chat rooms...) pertain to you today (and not to ones grandfather), and they are most dangerous! So much so, that we need the double and triple protection that our Rebbeim taught us about.

The Shulchan Aruch (Jewish Law) sets the limits on the area under a Jew’s control, and one mustn’t be a wise guy and start cutting corners.

Jewish Law doesn’t change over the generations. Rather, there are additional restrictions, because the weapons of “the opposing forces” in our times try more than in the past to question the control of the Shulchan Aruch over our lives, and even G-d Forbid to conquer our homes from within.

Therefore, we have to defend ourselves with all our strength in the territory we have conquered until now: Clothes that were once immodest are also immodest today, even if they are publicized by “models” who wear yarmulkes.

Speech and body language deemed in the past as crude are still inappropriate today for a Chassidic young man to express, even if it is already accepted practice among “chassidishe” singing groups. Meetings in places with immodest displays or visiting sites where it is quite easy to come across them were forbidden and remain so today, despite the fact that we no longer have to go out of our way because of them...

It is interesting to note that this general principle is clear and understood to everyone when applied in the area of kashrus, e.g., what food was forbidden to eat – impure animals, treif, neveila, etc.

It would never cross a person’s mind to say that such things are permissible today.

However, there are foods that would never have been placed upon a kosher table before, despite the fact that they are totally kosher, without a drop of anything forbidden mixed in. Today, such products are manufactured with the highest quality kashrus supervision, yet no one would ever consider the possibility that totally forbidden food had become permissible in our times, to the point that someone who was not a card-carrying chareidi would dare to eat it. G-d forbid!

What’s forbidden is forbidden “until his soul departs,” in the words of the well-known Chassidic singer: “Someone who is not a Chassid says: What’s permissible is permissible until his soul departs, and what’s forbidden is also a little permissible. But the Chassid says: What’s forbidden is forbidden, even until his soul departs, and what’s permissible – is also a little forbidden...”

WHAT IS AN OPTIONAL WAR IN SPIRITUAL TERMS?

The final words of the song “What’s permissible – is also a little forbidden” allude to the spiritual Milchemes Reshus (Optional War) waged over optional matters, i.e., all worldly matters which are within the realm of the clean and permissible, yet a state of war exists in connection with them.

A person is obligated to make war even regarding the permissible, and it’s a war we have with ourselves over why we need it. In the words of the Zohar: “Bread is eaten by the sword,” and in the language of the Rebbe Rashab, at the moment that a person sticks his fork into a piece of meat, we determine whether it will be drawn into the realm of holiness or God forbid, into the realm of impurity. (shalosh klipos ha tamayos)

In addition to the fact that this is called an optional war because it is waged over optional matters (not necessary things), we have yet another reason: We have the option to decide if we will wage this war or not.

This means that there’s also a positive commandment of the Torah, as is written, “And you shall be holy.” G-d tells the Jewish people: “Sanctify yourselves in what is permissible for you.” If a person doesn’t sanctify oneself, he is deemed “degenerate with the permission of the Torah.” However, the realm of the permissible covers a very wide area. This is something each person must assess for himself properly on how we can (and must!) sanctify ourselves in those things which are permitted.

Some people may require greater measures to properly sanctify themselves regarding permissible thoughts that serve no real purpose in their Avodas Hashem. While for the next person, the same thing is a permissible speech or action.

For example, in matters of eating and drinking, what types of food and drink can and must we give up: Ice cream, butter, sugar in our coffee and tea, bread fresh out of the oven, or other delicacies?

In this, each person has a different requirement of what he needs and he is not required to give such things up, but anything more than that falls into the realm of overindulgence in physical desires. Something from which he must distance himself. To know exactly where the distinction is between an actual need and a mere desire; what is essential and what is superfluous- A person must be “one who speaks truth in his heart,” (dovver emess bilvavo). It would be proper for him to consult with his mashpia (Rabbi).

Among other things, it would be appropriate to check, together with his “Aseh lecha rav” (make yourself a rav), to see whether he’s stretching the rope a bit too far, trying to prevent himself forcibly from permissible things that he truly needs for his bodily existence, and turning instead to forbidden desires. (By not channeling the energy into an equal positive area)

For if he pulls the rope too tightly, it will snap, and he may tumble God forbid into forbidden desires.

For example, a person starts observing Torah and mitzvos, and he misses very much the noisy music that he was accustomed to hearing in the past. If he will allow himself to listen only to niggunim, it’s possible that he will be unable to withstand the serious restrictions that he has imposed upon himself.

Therefore, at a certain stage, the mashpia suggests that he listen to what is commonly called today “Chassidic music,” consisting of rhythmic styles reminiscent of today’s music, yet with stringently kosher content.

EACH PERSON AND HIS OWN “SANCTIFY YOURSELF”

This means that we have here a ladder with many rungs and levels, and it is impossible to jump to the top of the ladder if we’re still holding at the simplest and lowest stages. Everyone knows that you cannot demand from a child that from the moment he becomes bar mitzva he must refrain from eating even permissible things just as it is forbidden for him to eat non-kosher food.

You can’t tell him that he must sustain himself on dry bread and plain mineral water.

Even fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish... He should eat only what his dietician says he has to eat in order to live.

Not only do we not demand this of a bar-mitzva boy, we don’t even place such restrictions on adults.

One of the reasons is because this is an extremely high level on the ladder. Someone going down starts from the top of the ladder, whereas someone climbing upward starts

from the lower rungs of the ladder, and he must make certain that he is established firmly at the level where he’s holding before moving up to the next stage.

The purpose of this test is to determine whether abstaining from permitted things have an influence on him and to what degree. The question is not only if he can live without eating certain foods, but whether his spiritual state is firm and at ease, and whether those around him feel comfortable in his presence. In other words, does his abstinence take its toll in other things, i.e., his physical and mental health?

Therefore, there are no special and detailed sections in Shulchan Aruch (Jewish Law) on the concept of “Sanctify yourself in what is permitted to you”; it is expressed in most general terms: A person should not think that since wine and meat are permissible, there are no boundaries whatsoever. This is not the case. Rather, we must strive that things should be done for the purpose of our sustenance, all for our Avodas Hashem.

Every person’s needs and intentions are different. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was blessed with considerable material wealth, yet he derived no benefit from this world.

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa sustained himself each week on a small quantity of carobs. Yet, not everyone is on the level of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi or Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa. Therefore, each person must make certain for himself which level of war is suitable for him in both qualitative and quantitative terms.

However, this assessment is not enough. In addition, a person must determine whether his abstinence from different things influences his surroundings, i.e., it shouldn’t interfere with others. For in matters pertaining to the individual, he can decide how and to what degree he can devote himself. However, there are many things permissible for him that he can sacrifice, but when he is living with someone else who needs these things very much and can’t go without them, such a person has no right to deny them to someone else.

This principle pertains to relationships between friends, husband and wife, parents and children. One such example is a person who works with people who need the air conditioner turned on, while he is interested in denying himself the pleasure. Another is

someone who considers it a luxury to buy new clothes for a baby who can easily do with hand-me-downs from older siblings, whereas his wife feels that without new pink outfits, she won’t be able to experience properly the joy of her daughter’s birth.. This is similar to a father who eats his omelet only after it gets cold in order that he won’t enjoy the taste, and he doesn’t consider how his children don’t like their omelets when they lose their flavor.

The above applies only to the realm of the permissible, meaning that they are part of the “optional war,” in which participation is not mandatory. This stands in contrast to the “obligatory war” against things that are forbidden to all and thus there can be no compromise.

What is forbidden is forbidden to all, except for things included within a vow regarding a ban that a person placed upon himself.

ISKAFIA – FOR HIMSELF, BUT NOT UPON OTHERS

In the spiritual avoda called “Milchemes Reshus,” there is another most important level: A person must wage war with himself on permitted matters and not force others to adhere to his standards.

No person has the right to refrain from giving to others by claiming that it’s a non-essential physical craving, and how can I cause this person to fail through this worldly pleasure? Maybe it is preferable to give him bread and water? If a person needs help in his household expenses or in making a wedding, we have no right to say, “Settle for less – buy used furniture, get married without a band or floral arrangements...” G-d forbid that we should do such a thing! We are not the masters over the property that G-d has placed in our hands in order to give to others. If G-d says that these things are permitted, then we must make certain that others have the material good they need. As for what they do with it and how much of it is for the sake of Heaven, that’s none of our concern.

A Jew must raise to holiness those things that are within the realm of the permissible, and when he gives them to others he has already brought about their spiritual elevation. (In contrast, forbidden things are elevated by resisting them, albeit in an incomplete sense, as only a small portion of the klipa within them is refined when a Jew ejects it.)

This is the claim of the nations of the world in Rashi’s first commentary on the Chumash: “You are thieves, because you conquered the lands of the seven nations.”

Similarly, the Gentiles claim: “We’re prepared to accept the fact that a Jew has to keep his distance from forbidden things,” as Tanya states that a Gentile’s evil inclination is from the non-Jewish demons that lust for forbidden pleasures. But a Jew’s evil inclination is from the Jewish demons that desire only permitted pleasures, and this is something the

Gentile simply cannot understand, as he says: Why does the Jew abstain from what is permitted, “isn’t it enough what the Torah has forbidden you?”

If the Torah permitted it – it is permissible without limit. How can we place limitations upon the inclination towards permitted things when the Torah allows them and gives us permission to enjoy them?

On this point, Rashi comments that this is the reason why the Torah starts with “In the beginning, G-d created,” etc. – in order that we can understand that “when He wished, He gave it to them, and when He wished, He took it away from them and gave it to us.” Yet, while these things were given for a person’s enjoyment and they are permissible, nevertheless, the same Creator Who created them permissible is also the One Who said that everything depends upon His will. If it is based upon His will – for the sake of Heaven, for the needs of a Jew’s Avodas Hashem in this world – it is given to us. If this will is lacking, it is given to the nations of the world. In other words, despite the fact that these things are permissible, since a Jew doesn’t use them for the sake of Heaven, they derive from the power of the klipos.

THE BATTLE FOR OUR HOME-LAND

Until now, it was clear what belonged to the realm of the forbidden and thus included in Milchemes mitzva, and what is within the realm of the permitted, belonging to Milchemes Reshus. (Optional War)

However, there is another category which consists essentially of permitted things, yet they border on the forbidden. This means that they were formed with the objective of bringing a person close to the border of the forbidden, and he needs to pay special attention to the smell of neveila concealed within them. For example, let’s take a

certain garment regarding which it is possible to argue whether it looks chassidish or not, however, upon taking a much closer look, particularly when you contemplate upon who made it and with what purpose in mind, you reveal that the purpose is bring the wearer closer to the forbidden zone.

Similarly, we find regarding certain places to eat, e.g., restaurants and coffee houses, where one can debate whether it demonstrates proper modesty or not, and if refusing to patronize such an establishment is warranted and not just being overly “far-frumt.” (Overly religious) For the purpose of this type of leisure to appeal more to the “Eirev Rav,” (Non-Jews who pretend to be Jews) who make the claim that we appear too “chareidi,” a fact that certain people wouldn’t find particularly complimentary or respectable.

These borderline examples seek to bring us closer to a treacherously steep slope, from where we might God forbid, slip into the depths of the “other side.”

While a war over things of this type may be regarding optional matters, this is an obligatory war, similar to what’s stated in Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Shabbos, sec. 329: When non-Jews come to a city, even for straw and stubble, i.e., purely economic matters not directly related to human life, if this is a city close to the border, it is permissible to violate the laws of Shabbos to go out to war against them.

This is because the situation mandates an obligatory war, and it’s a mitzva to violate the laws of Shabbos under such circumstances, since the city is close to the border and its capture can open the path G-d Forbid to the interior of the country being easily overcome and conquered.

Maybe it would be better to channel our resources elsewhere and not waste them on such insignificant matters? Nevertheless, Jewish Law rules that the Shabbos must be violated!

This is an obligation, and we are not allowed to come up with excuses, because this is a war for our home.

The Torah reveals to us that the Gentile isn’t really looking for straw and stubble but uses it as an excuse to invade the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel. (The Land of Israel)

Likewise we have a goy within us – called the “yetzer ha’ra” who wants us to break the holy boundaries that G-d has established in the Torah regarding how and what distinguishes the Jewish People from the other nations.

Therefore, even if the changes he’s trying to instill seem very small and insignificant, since his whole purpose is to bring us closer to going over the forbidden spiritual border, we must fight him in a total war, until we achieve the true and complete victory of the Jew within us – our G-dly soul and the yetzer tov.

Guarding the borders is doubly important in these times of darkness and confusion, when the “forbidden side” tries to dress up in a rabbinic cloak to penetrate our home with innovative norms of behavior.

In the merit of our placing firm boundaries that repel these forbidden forces, our using the permissible to fight them at the border. Not letting them pass over the border and conquer the interior, by placing limits on permitted things we deem unessential, so in this merit, we should merit to see very soon: Hinay Moshiach Bah! (“Here comes Moshiach”)

When at the time of Moshiach in the future, the boundaries will be made indistinct in a positive sense, and then Eretz Yisroel in the future will expand to encompass the world. This will begin from Yerushalayim and the Beis HaMikdash, meaning that the holiness will break through these boundaries and add from the holiness to the mundane when “He who breaks open the way goes up before them” and “Yerushalayim shall be inhabited like un-walled towns.”

Amen. May His will be fulfilled

Reprinted from Beis Moshiach Magazine Issue 626

Translated By Michoel Leib Dobry

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