Parashat Shoftim

Wary Of War

The understanding that Israelite troops were addressed on two different occasions before they entered war reflects the idea that our reactions to war often depend on its imminence.

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When the leaders of the Jewish State decide they have to go to war they must be conscious beforehand of the support of G-d in taking that serious step, and not make the main issue the size of their army . . .

The Rambam understands the Talmud differently because, as the Ohr Sameach (R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk 1843-1926) writes, Rambam relies not on the Sifrei, but on the Tosefta Sotah 7:10 (tannaitic material). According to the Rambam's reading and ruling (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 7:2), the mashuach milchamah repeats the same address (verses 3-8) on both occasions, once at the border and once before the battle.

Rabbi Zvi Magence (1914-1989), in Magen Zvi, Sefer Kedushat Ha'aretz, reminds us that the primary reason for turning these people back is so that their own fear of dying will not affect the others. Therefore, he suggests, since some people did not feel afraid when they first left Israel but then realize they are when they approach the battle, they are given a second opportunity to return.

But, the fundamental question remains: On what basis do all our sources insist that the mashuach milchamah addresses the troops twice? The repeating of the verb k-r-v alone is insufficient an explanation, since verse 2 is an introduction and verses 3 and 4 are a quote, so the verb is mentioned in two different, and thus justifiable, ways.

Malbim (Meir Leib ben Yechiel Michael, 1809-1877) proposes a novel solution to the problem. He notes that there is a difference between when the verb k-r-v (come near) is used with the preposition word el or the prefix preposition l’. Although both mean "to," they are not used in the same way:

K-r-v el is used with nouns, for example, “and all those who come near to the table of King Solomon” (I Kings 5:7);

K-r-v l' is used with verbs, for example, “and then shall he come near to do it” (Exodus 12:48).

In our passage, however, we have both prepositions. In verse 2, which reads:

When you come near unto (k'karov'chem el) the battle, Malbim understands "battle" as a noun, meaning the place of battle. Consequently, this refers to the address made to the troops when they are about to leave the land of Israel, crossing the border to enter the place where the war will occur. On the other hand, in verse 3 where the mashuach milchamah says:

Hear, O Israel, you are coming near to (kreivim . . . l') the battle,

Malbim understands "battle" in a verbal sense, meaning to wage war. Thus, this is a second address delivered as the troops are about to enter the battle.

War from a distance looks very different from war when it is near at hand.

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Rabbi Avraham Fischer

Avraham Fischer is a rabbi at Darche Noam Institutions.