When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: "Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory." Deuteronomy 20:2-4
The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means "judges," from Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 51:12-52:12.
When an army sets out for war, it's typical for the commander or other high-ranking army official to give a pep talk to the soldiers. With their experience, knowledge, and confidence, these individuals are in a position to successfully motivate the soldiers about to enter battle. However, in this week's Torah portion, we learn that it's not the general who was to address the army of Israel before battle, but rather the priest. As we read, "When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army."
Why would a priest be preferred to an experienced fighter when it comes to matters of war?
The answer, of course, is that from a spiritual perspective, the success of any battle is not due to the might or numbers of any given army, but to the will of God. The Israelites needed to know this when they went out to battle, and so the priest, the prime liaison between God and the people, would address the army. He was instructed to say, "Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory."
More important than the grade of weapons or the number of soldiers was - and is - the help of God. One of the most moving pieces of battle footage to emerge from last year's Operation Protective Edge was the prominent rabbis of today blessing and praying with the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces before they entered Gaza. Part of the standard prayer includes this very verse. Even today, Israel knows that her success is not due to military prowess alone, but to the spirit of God.
Less obvious, however, is that this model is just as accurate when we go out into our daily lives. There are challenges that lie ahead, potential for danger, obstacles to overcome, and fears to conquer. We need this prayer for our daily lives as much as we require it for going into an actual battlefield. Our lives are a battlefield where we fight the forces of evil with the force of good fueled by the power of the God.
Today, as we go through our day, let's remember that our victories depend less on our own talents and capabilities and more upon God's help. In fact, our very being depends entirely on God. Therefore, let us pray to Him and remember Him through our struggles and our triumphs. He goes before us to defeat our enemies and give us victory. Praise God!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President