The opening words, "When you go out to war against your enemies" (Deut. 21:10) can be interpreted to refer to going to an individual's war against his negative inclinations. The Baal HaTurim connects this phrase with the final word in last week's reading, which was G‑d's name, so that we read the verse, "G‑d - when You go out to war against Your enemies". This tells us that when we go out to war, when we are ready to challenge our negative personal traits, the Almighty goes with us to help us. The G‑dly soul toils to control and usurp the body's animalistic tendencies…

Chassidut explains that the "war" we face daily is during prayer, which is called "purification through war". This is an obligatory war in which the G‑dly soul toils to control and usurp the body's animalistic tendencies. The war is prefaced by "going out" to the synagogue where a Jew's prayers are always heard and where G‑d is found, as it says, "Where is He present? In the synagogues." (Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 85)

Another explanation of this verse is that there are two kinds of wars: mandatory and optional. Each Jew is obliged to war in order to illuminate his private domain, whereas war in the public domain is a matter of choice. Nevertheless, the public domain receives the same guarantee as the private one that "G‑d will give it into your hands", as the verse concludes.

If the Almighty is there to help us, why is it always so difficult? When asked by his Chassidim, "Rebbe, how do we protect ourselves from our evil inclinations chasing us all the time?", Rebbe Naftali of Ropshitz would say, "I guarantee you, it will not chase after you if you do not chase after it!"

The portion ends with one of the Six Daily Remembrances, "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way out of Egypt". (Deut. 25:17) Why does the verse use the singular "you" rather than the plural? Because Amalek, our eternal enemies, can only attack us when we isolate ourselves and are not close together with the community. In Elul the gates of Heaven are open…

The month of Elul is the month in which we review what happened to us in the last year and try to fix the areas where we come up short. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch wrote that in Elul the gates of Heaven are open! Which gates? The Gates of Compassion which open into the Chamber of Merit. For whom are they opened? For all of our brethren, the Jewish people. We make an honest soul-accounting of our divine service - the Torah we learned and which we taught to our children as well as the efforts we made to strengthen the Jewish community. May our accountings lead us to true return to G‑d, and, as a result, may we merit to see G‑dliness revealed throughout the world with the final redemption.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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