This week's Torah portion, Ki Tetzei, is always read during the beginning of the month of Elul, the month of repentance and good deeds for the Jewish people. The Torah reading begins:
"When you go out to war against [literally 'on'] your enemies, and G‑d your Lord will place them into your hands, and you will take prisoners." (Deut. 21:10)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains:
"When you go out…", means if only we would truly go out and fight -
"… your enemies" - who are our enemies? The desires of our bodies and animal soul (which connects us to this physical reality, as opposed to our G‑dly soul which connects us to the spiritual plane)
"…And G‑d your L-rd will put them into your hand", means we will most certainly, with G‑d's help, succeed and conquer them; Not only that, but,
"…and you will take prisoners", meaning we will even be able to take advantage of the enormous strength of your animal soul and turn it towards holiness, as the verse says, "There is much in the strength of an ox." (Proverbs 14)

He goes on to point out that Rashi hints to us where we are supposed to focus our efforts. Rashi writes, "The verse is speaking about an optional war." When we are speaking from the perspective of a person's spiritual growth during the month of Elul, what is a "mandatory war" and what is an "optional war"? A mandatory war is the directed efforts we make to bring the light of holiness to those parts of our environment with which we are in regular, "obligatory", contact (family, friends, and co-workers). An optional war is the process of directing our efforts and trying to elevate the more peripheral zone of our lives, our social life, what we do for entertainment, how we use our spare time - the "extras".

When Rashi says that the verses here are speaking about an optional war, he is really telling us that even the war on the optional portions of our lives is a command and Torah obligation, as the first word of the verse so clearly says, "When [not 'if'] you go out to war…". Additionally, we are guaranteed victory if we keep one condition: that our war is "on your enemies", that you fight your enemies from above, using the strength of your G‑dly soul to conquer. It is then that "…G‑d, your Lord, will place them into your hands".

The Lubavitcher Rebbe insists that if we had already completed all of our work, Mashiach would be here already! In fact, everyone knows, on a personal level, that the element of Mashiach in his or her own soul has not yet arrived. So what should we do? Work harder not just on our relations with G‑d, but also with our fellow Jews; we must be especially careful to treat each person in the best possible way, greeting each individual positively. We learn this from the analogy that during Elul, the King (G‑d) is in the field, going out to meet even His most simple subjects. If the King meets us with joy, how much more so is it required of each of us to treat each of our neighbors with respect and kindness.

May it be G‑d's will that even just the merit of discussing these things, will enable Mashiach to come immediately. May each of us be signed and sealed for a good and sweet year.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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