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Rabbi Nissan Kaplan shlita spoke about it this week, and i quote
In this week’s parashah, Hakadosh Baruch Hu tells Moshe Rabbeinu to send Klal Yisrael to war with Midian, and He instructs Moshe Rabbeinu to send one thousand soldiers from every shevet to fight the war:
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The word matteh or mattos is repeated three times in this passuk, and the Midrash Rabbah teaches that this repetition tells us that every shevet actually sent up 3,000 people: one thousand to fight, one thousand to guard the keilim, and one thousand to daven. Altogether, then, there were 12,000 soldiers fighting, 12,000 guarding the keilim, and 12,000 davening.
Why, asks R’ Chatzkel Levenstein, do we need a designated corps of people davening? Moshe Rabbeinu and Klal Yisrael were undoubtedly davening when the army went out to war. What was the point of having an extra 12,000 people sitting in the beis midrash while the others were fighting?
R’ Chatzkel answered with the following vort. If Klal Yisrael would just daven at home, by themselves, then when they won the war there would be a sense of kochi v’otzem yadi: our soldiers are so strong, our army is special, the Jewish kup has prevailed. We want it to be clear that no, the victory comes through limud haTorah. That’s why there had to be the same number of soldiers sitting and davening as there were soldiers in the battlefield.
An Army of Chofetz Chaims
Who were these soldiers, the ones we’re afraid would attribute their victory to kochi v’otzem yadi?
Chazal describe to us what used to happen when the Jewish army went out to a milchemes mitzvah:
First, the kohen gadol would announce that anyone who has built a new house but has not yet inaugurated it should return home. Then he would announce that anyone who has planted a vineyard but has not yet redeemed it should return home. Then he would announce that anyone who has betrothed a woman but has not yet married her should return home.
Finally, he would announce that anyone who was frightened or fainthearted should return home. The Gemara explains that this was a reference to people who were frightened because of sins they had transgressed. What kind of sins are we talking about? If a person as much as spoke out between laying tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh, he would return from the battlefield.
The soldiers that remained were the tzaddikim, who had no aveiros to be afraid of.
A famous story is told about a play performed by a troupe of maskilim, in the days of R’ Chaim Ozer Grodzensky. The play depicted the Jewish army going to war at the time of Moshiach and the beis hamikdash.
The actors were big, strong fellows brandishing sticks and glass bottles, screaming and ready to go out to war. But then, someone dressed as the kohen gadol came onstage and called out, “Anyone who has built a new house but has not yet inaugurated it should return home.” About five percent of the soldier-actors exited the stage. Then, he called out, “Anyone who has planted a vineyard but has not yet redeemed it should return home.” Another five percent of the soldiers left. Then, he called out, “Anyone who has betrothed a woman but has not yet married her should return home,” and another few soldiers left.
Finally, when all the remaining soldiers were itching to rush out to war, the “kohen gadol” called out, “Anyone who is scared or fainthearted should return home.”
“We’re not afraid!” the soldiers yelled. “We’re ready to go fight.”
“Wait!” said the kohen gadol. “I’m talking about people who are have sinned.”
A hush fell over the stage, and the soldiers slowly packed out. The stage became emptier and emptier, until the only person left was a short old man with a white beard. The audience could see that on this man were written the words, “I am the Chofetz Chaim.”
After everyone else left, the old man went over to the kohen gadol and said, “I’m ready to go fight!”
With that, the curtain fell, and the play was over.
When people told R’ Chaim Ozer about this parody, he said, “Reshaim! Why didn’t they show the end of the story, where the old man goes to war and wins?”
The Jewish army of old was composed of soldiers of this caliber. Even so, however, an equal number of people had to be davening and learning in the beis midrash, for fear that the army would be infected with the attitude of kochi v’otzem yadi asah li es hachayil hazeh.
The Source of the Army’s Power
This idea is particularly important to remember at a time like this, when the drafting of yeshiva bochurim to the army has become a burning issue. Even if a completely kosher army – one that keeps tznius, kashrus, Shabbos – could be created (and I don’t know if that’s at all possible), we have to remember that the real reason we don’t go out of the beis midrash to fight is because we believe that the Torah gives Klal Yisrael its power and its very right to Eretz Yisrael.
The zechus haTorah is what saves Klal Yisrael, not the army. Because the soldiers fight to protect the yeshivos, they have the koach to win their battles. But if the yeshivos are closed down, from where will the army draw its power?
Some people will say, “Yes, but it’s not fair, because the ones who are learning never die, and the ones who fight do die.”
We know, however, that the foot soldiers on the battlefield are not the principal players in the war. The real war is fought in the back rooms, where the strategies and battle plans are built. This is especially true today, when wars are fought mainly on the computer.
“But it’s not fair!” people might argue. “The computer guys never die! Let’s take them and put them at the front.”
The fallacy of that argument is blatantly obvious. We need the computer guy more than we need the foot soldier! Putting him on the battlefield would jeopardize the entire army.
When Klal Yisrael fought against Amalek, they drew their koach from Moshe Rabbeinu sitting and holding up his hands. Today, we, the yeshivaleit, are the computer guys. By sitting and learning, we are fighting the main part of the war.
We see from our parashah that even if the army is composed entirely of tzaddikim, we need to have at least as many people sitting in the beis midrash as there are fighting on the battlefield, to ensure that there is no feeling of kochi v’otzem yadi.
Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly as many people in the beis midrash as there are soldiers in the army, so what we really should be doing is taking soldiers off the battlefield and placing them in the beis midrash. Maybe then we’d merit the siyatta diShmaya that we so desperately need.