Friday, August 13, 2010

Shoftim 5631 Fourth Ma'amar

In this week’s parsha, the priest gives the various conditions exempting people from the requirement of going to war.  A person who has just built a house, planted a vineyard or betrothed a woman is not required to join the army.  Furthermore, anyone who is afraid is exempt as well. 

This last exemption needs an explanation.  The priest introduced the exemptions with a declaration that God has promised to fight the nation’s battles and to save us from our enemies[1].  The commentaries[2] understand this to mean that each individual will be protected.  What, then is this fear that exempts a person from the army?

There is a debate between Rebbi Akiva and Rebbi Yosi HaGelili as to whether this is to be understood literally or not[3].  According to Rebbi Akiva, a person who is fearful of war should return home because he does not have the proper amount of faith in order for God’s promise to save him.[4]  Rebbi Yosi HaGelili holds that since sin causes all hardship, the only reason a person would fear is because he has sinned.  Sin distances a person from God, so to speak, and from God’s protection.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains that if a person is not afraid, even if he has sinned, it is an indication that his sin has been forgiven.  His repentance has brought him closer to God once more and there is no longer cause for fear.

The Sfas Emes notes that fear of sin is a good thing.  But, of course, fear of sinning is not the same as the fear that results from having committed a sin.  Fear of sinning comes as a result of complete repentance.  After complete repentance, the penitent is no longer connected to the transgression and cannot even imagine how he transgressed in the first place.  He is no longer the same person who committed the sin.  This person has become close to God.  His transgression no longer causes him to fear and he no longer worries of being outside of God’s protection.

Regarding fear of sinning and repentance, the Torah relates that Sarah Imeinu laughed skeptically when she heard the prophecy that she would have a child in her old age.  She had sinned but when confronted with this she denied it because, the Torah tells us, she was afraid, “וַתְּכַחֵשׁ שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר לֹא צָחַקְתִּי כִּי יָרֵאָה .../Sarah denied it saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ because she was afraid.” 

This is difficult to understand.  She knew that she was talking before God.  It was obviously futile to deny what she had done.  How could fear cause her to deny?  The answer, the Sfas Emes teaches is that she denied it because she had already repented.  She was in a different state, a state of fear of sinning.  In this state it was impossible for her to even fathom the sin.  Because of complete repentance she had become a different person.

Chazal teach us that even a person who has spoken between putting on the Tefillin shel Yad and the Tefillin shel Rosh is exempt from going to war.  This is a relatively minor infraction yet he is exempt if it causes him fear.  Why should such a minor transgression exempt a person from joining the war?  According the Chiddushei HaRim the answer is clear.  His concern is an indication that he has not repented, his sin has not been forgiven and he is not close to God.  This person will not be protected by God’s promise to fight for him against the enemy.

Sin distances us from God’s protection and repentance brings us near.  May we merit repentance and God’s protection from our enemies always.  Amen.

[1] Devarim 20:4
[2] Viz. Ramban on Devarim 20:8, Or HaChayim on 20:4, lehelachem etc.
[3] Sotah 44a
[4] Viz.  Ramban on Devarim 20:8


Tzvi Kantor said...

Fearing the Sin vs. Fearing Sinning... Gevalt!
A beautiful idea, and well delivered!
Thanks so much!


Cammie Novara said...

"A person who has just built a house, planted a vineyard or betrothed a woman is not required to join the army." It's such a great quote I may use it as my email signature. There's a really fascinating debate that I thought would be of interest on evolution vs. intelligent design going on at