"He said to Gad….tearing off the arm with the head." (Deut. 33:20)

Our physical conquest of the seven nations who occupied the Land of Israel alludes to the spiritual conquest of the seven emotions of the human-animal soul. The two major obstacles to this conquest are the "arm" and the "head."

The "head" in this context is the mental block that results from calculating the odds of success against the dominant material culture of our milieu. Confronted with the overwhelming forces and resources commanded by the agents of materialism, the lone Jew or the tiny Jewish people are tempted to capitulate even before beginning the fight. It is particularly difficult to imagine overcoming materiality when we ourselves are engaged in the struggle to eke out a living, seemingly subject to the material laws of natural cause and effect.

The "arm" in this context is the battery of physical resources we have at our disposal. We have worked hard to earn these resources, and are therefore loathe to expend them on spiritual pursuits whose material benefits are not at all apparent.

We must therefore, "tear off the arm with the head," i.e. deny the validity of both these suppositions.

We must therefore, "tear off the arm with the head," i.e. deny the validity of both these suppositions. Furthermore, we must nullify both obstacles "together, in one blow." There is no time to waste in lopping of the "head" and the "arm" separately, i.e. in an orderly fashion. Nowadays, in the final stages of the preparation of the world for the Redemption, the level and amount of Divine energy pouring into the world is such that the former orderliness of existence – in which all processes had to proceed according to a pre-established order – had been long overridden. We must take advantage of any opportunity that comes to hand to refine ourselves or the world.

The two weapons of war in ancient times were the arrow and the spear (plus its variant, the sword); lopping off the head and arm in one fell swoop is possible only with a sword, not with an arrow. The "sword" in our spiritual arsenal is our submission to G‑d’s will, which we affirm whenever we recite the Shema. This is alluded to by the fact that the numerical value of the word for "spear" (romach = 248) is the same as the number of letters in the three paragraphs of the Shema. When we submit to G‑d’s will, no mental or material obstacle to fulfilling it can faze us.

We must emulate the valor exhibited by the tribe of Gad not only when we set out to conquer the physical world; it is required of us as well if we hope to succeed in learning the Torah as we should. Rousing ourselves to self-sacrifice is the required preparation for studying the Torah, and the mentality of self-sacrifice must inform our study.

In this latter context, self-sacrifice means relinquishing thoughts of any other pursuit during the entire time that we have devoted to studying. Just like the Israelites in the desert could devote their minds completely to the study of the Torah with no other cares to distract them – since they had manna from heaven to eat, water from the well to drink, and clothes laundered by the clouds to wear – so should we enter a state of complete absorption when we learn the Torah, as if we had not a single care in the world.

This connection between the valor of the tribe of Gad and the study of the Torah is alluded to by the fact that they chose as the territory containing the location of the grave of Moses, through whom G‑d gave us the Torah.

Adapted from Hitva’aduyot 5749, vol.1, pp. 128-129
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org