Extra Protection!

The Torah discusses how Jews should engage in war once they arrive in the land of Israel, and it details their marching orders.

When the soldiers gathered, a Kohain appointed over military matters, addresses the troops and gives them the following charge. “Hear O Israel, today you are coming near to the battle against your enemies. Let your heart not be faint, do not be afraid…. For Hashem your G-d goes with you…”

Rashi notes that the first two words the Kohain states, Shema Yisroel – Hear O Israel, is the same as the first two words of our daily declaration of Shema. He explains that the reason the Kohain uses these two familiar words is to encourage the soldiers that even if they only have the merit of the Mitzvah of the recitation of the daily Shema, it will be enough to defeat their enemies.

Immediately after the military Kohain gave his charge, the Torah tells us that the officers gave their charge, which is quite different than that of the Kohain. They relay all the deferments from the war. For example, if someone is in the first year of marriage, he shall return home. Finally, the officers state, “Anyone who is fearful and faint-hearted shall return home.” Rebbe Akiva understands this literally― anyone who is weak-hearted and not fit for war. Rebbe Yose Haglili understands this to mean he is afraid that the sins he had done will make him vulnerable at war. He also returns home.

The question raised is that there seems to be a contradiction between the Kohain’s speech and the officer’s speech. The Kohain tells them even if they only have the Mitzva of reciting Shema, it will help them – regardless of the sins they may have committed. The officer tells them if you are scared of sins – you can return home – sins do matter.

Reb Ahron of Belz explains that the Kohain was coming with the soft and encouraging approach, and he pepped them up by conveying the power of the Mitzva they all do every day. The officers, on the other hand, were there to lead and implement the strategy of war which demands a stricter approach, therefore they point out details they may be concerned about, such as personal sins.

Other commentators explain that the Kohain was addressing the total group of troops and pointing out that they all share this great Mitzvah of reciting Shema and that it will protect them as a group. However, the officers were speaking to them as individuals and therefore addressed their individual situations and concerns.

In a certain sense, life is similar to a battlefield. We continually balance and take stock of what we have accomplished and of what we may have erred. By doing so, we are always a work in progress, striving to be the best we can in our relationship with G-d and man.

The Parsha begins with a command that the Jews must place judges and officers in every city so that there will be law and order. The Hebrew word for “cities” used here is, “Shearecha,” which can also mean, “openings.”

Our Chasidic Masters use a homiletic approach in explaining these first words of the Parsha: Judges and Officers you shall place on all your – openings. This refers to the openings on one’s face. The eyes, ears and mouth. These functions are unique, the eyes have lids, the mouth has lips, and the ears have lobes which can be brought up and cover the ear opening.

The idea is that each of these vital and necessary functions has gates that can protect us. The lids of our eyes can block us from looking at things we should not see, or it can block us from casting an evil eye. The lips can act as gates for our mouth to prevent us from ingesting that which is forbidden, and they can seal our voice from speaking Loshon Hara. Our ear lobes serve to block out things we should not hear, such as Loshon Harah and gossip.

During this pandemic, when we must wear masks, we have an additional gate over one of the most powerful functions of man – and that is his speech. Our mask can be that extra reminder to be selective about what we should say, and how we talk to others. All this, while the mask straps are tugging on our ears and fogging our eyes!