The Torah instructs that whenever the Jewish nation went out to war, a Kohain entrusted with matters of wars along with a Judge, give a charge to the troops as the troops amassed at the edge of the battlefield.
They announced the following exemptions: “Anyone who has built a house and has not yet resided there is to return home. Anyone who has planted a vineyard/orchard and has not yet enjoyed the fruits is to return home. Anyone who has betrothed a woman and has not married her is to return home.” The concern is that these people may die in war and it would be distressing that someone else will commence what they began.
The Talmud teaches us that if one was already within the year of moving into his newly built home, or within the year of enjoying the fruits of his new vineyard/orchard or was in the first year of marriage, he was exempt from even going out to the battlefield to listen to the instructions of the Kohain and judge.
The obvious question is, why are those who had built a house, vineyard or are betrothed and did not yet benefit from them required to go out to the battlefield and hear the instructions of the Kohain to go back home? After all, they are already aware of their exemptions.
Although these people knew they were exempt from fighting in the war, there is a reason why they came out to the battlefield. We can explain this based on the words of our great commentator on the Torah, Rashi.
The Torah tells us the final exemption proclaimed by the judge. “Anyone who is fainthearted is also exempt from fighting at war.” The Talmud states two opinions as to what ‘fainthearted’ means. It is either someone who cannot handle carnage of war, or, it refers to one who feels at risk because of sins that he had committed. He too may return home.
Says Rashi, “You know why someone who had not yet enjoyed his new home, vineyard or is betrothed is excused? It was in order that the one who had sinned not be highlighted and embarrassed when he decides to return home. Since others are returning home because of other exemptions, onlookers would think that the sinner is also returning because of the other exemptions and not because of his sins.
The Torah is so sensitive in avoiding one’s embarrassment!
Generally speaking a person can repent, confess and commit to be sin free at any given moment and G-d forgives. So why doesn’t the judge tell everyone to repent and then they could all continue to go to war?
Commentators explain that the reason he returns home is for sins that he did towards others. For this type of offense, the only way to gain atonement is by asking the one who he hurt for forgiveness. The soldier therefore had to return home since it isn’t in his hands to repent.
When the Torah lists the three exemptions it concludes each verse saying, “Lest he die is the war and another will….” Rashi quoting the Medrash explains this to means that if one decides not to listen to the Kohain’s instruction and goes to war anyway, he deserves to die during war. Although this expression is used regarding all three exemptions Rashi brings this explanation only on the verse referring to the exemption of the one who was betrothed and not yet married.
The question is why does Rashi specifically explain this regarding the one betrothed?
An answer offered is that regarding the exemption of having a newly built house or vineyard, a person can make a personal or nationalistic decision to still go to war, because it is basically his own choice. However, when one is betrothed and not yet married to his bride, he is not the only one affected by his decision; he has to take into consideration his bride who is awaiting marriage. Only when one ignores his discharge at the expense of another is he exposed to dying during the war.
Here is another lesson the Torah sets forth regarding our consideration of others – in this case, to the ones that are our closest and dearest.
Rabbi Dovid Saks, Director
Jewish Heritage Connection