Hadrash Ve-Haiyun
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by Efraim Levine

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HaGoan R' Aaron Levine zt"l
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Hadrash Ve-Haiyan


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The officers shall add in speaking to the people and say, “Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his brothers like his heart. (Devarim 20:8)

In this week’s parsha we learn how the Torah instructs a group of individuals to return from the battlefield. Included in this group is one who is fearful and fainthearted. Rashi explains that there is a dispute as to what exactly this person is afraid of. Rebbi Akivah says he is afraid of war. He cringes when he sees a sword drawn against him. Rebbi Yosi HaGelili says he is afraid because of the sins he has committed. At this time of danger the solider is afraid that his sins may allow Hashem’s Attribute of Judgment to cause him to perish in the battle.

According to both opinions we may ask why the Torah expressed the soldier’s fear with two separate phrases. The posuk says the he is both “fearful” and “fainthearted.” What exactly do these different expressions convey?

According to Rebbi Akivah we may answer simply that “fearful” refers to fear of an enemy attack. This fear will prevent the solider from properly defending himself. “Fainthearted” may connote a lack of courage to go on the offensive and attack the enemy. Fear and faintheartedness thus refer to two settings in the battlefield, defense and offense. However according to Rebbi Yosi HaGelili what is difference between the two? With regard to sin what is the difference between fearful and faintheartedness?

Chazal tell us that when a person comes to the next world he will give a “din ve-chesbon.” This phrase is translated as “judgment and calculation.” The Vilna Goan explains this double statement to mean that one will be “judged” for his sins and be required to give a “calculation” for the mitzvos he could have preformed during the time he committed the sins. Furthermore, he will have to give a “calculation” for the mitzvos he lost as a consequence of the sins. When a person commits a sin he loses motivation to perform mitzvos. Punishment is exacted not just for the actual transgression of Hashem’s commandments but for the loss of potential mitzvos that are the collateral damage of sin.

 Likewise, with regard to the soldier we may suggest that “fearful” refers to the actual fear of the violation of Hashem’s commandments. “Faintheartedness” refers to the feeling of despair one has in realizing what merits he has lost by failing to perform more mitzvos as a consequence of sin. The soldier feels fainthearted due the realization of how the merit of many mitzvos will not accompany him and protect him in battle.

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According to teachings that they will teach you and according to the judgment that they will say to you shall you do you shall not turn from word that they will tell you right or left. (Devarim 17:11)

So that his heart does not become haughtily over his brothers and not turn from the commandments right or left so that he will prolong years over his kingdom he and his sons amid Israel. (Devarim 17:20)

It is mentioned twice in our parsha the concept of deviation from the Torah with the expression “right of left.” The first reference instructs the Jewish people to listen to the sages and not deviate right or left from what they have to teach. The second mention is a warning to the King that if he fails to follow the Torah the consequence will be that he will deviate from Hashem’s will  “right or left.”

The commentators note that the word “left” is spelled differently in these two posukim. With regard to the command to listen to the sages, the word left is spelled without a second vav. This is called by chazal, chaser, i.e., lacking. However with regard to the King, the word is spelled with a second vav. This is called by chazal, malei, i.e., full. Why the difference?

We may suggest that the word spelled without a vav conveys a small deviation to the left. When the Torah commands the Jewish people to listen to the sages, they are warned not to deviate to the left even without a vav. They must be completely faithful to the sages and not deviate even a minute amount. However, when the Torah speaks about the King, the Torah tells us the consequences if the King fails to follow the Torah. The Torah predicts that he will end up deviating from the correct path. His deviation will not just be a little off track but completely off track. Left with a vav.


© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5763/2003