My Personal Battle Cry
Translated and adapted by Braha Bender
Sometimes I am a prisoner of war, waiting to be released, forgetting that it is in my power to release myself. Sometimes I am in the flurry of hard combat; a duel, sword clashing against sword; I cannot weaken my grip for a moment, lest the enemy best me and I lose my breath. Those are the mornings I wake up, muscles already taut, and I am ready for the fight that never ends. Sometimes I raise the flag of victory, shouting praises to the Creator for my success.
We are, each one of us, a soldier in combat.
The Israelites had a score to settle with Midian, who had lured them into numerous base behaviors, resulting in the death of thousands by plague.
The Creator gave the Jews the spiritual quest of reclaiming the holiness of the land of Israel and its borders. The Midianite nation embodied some of the lowliest human traits. So before Moshe’s (Moses’) death, the Almighty gave him his last assignment: to declare war against Midian.
Moshe immediately prepared to fulfill this command.
He turned to the nation: “Arm (hechaltzu) men from among yourselves” (Numbers 31:3). Moshe hurried them towards the war, a direct commandment from on high. Moshe’s life that had been rich with action, had witnessed not a single day withered in waste. Primed for this moment, our hero hurried to fulfill the Almighty’s Will with love.
Every battle, by its very nature, demands a heavy cost. A soldier in the front lines knows that he is placing his life on the line, and if he isn’t emotionally ready for war, he is putting the entire army at risk. The Creator formed man in such a way that his life is his highest value, his dearest commodity. So at the outset of war, the soldiers were asked to shed their personal attachments, even to the extent of risking their lives for the Will of their King.
In the war with Midian, the soldiers (chalutzim) carried out Moshe’s instructions to a tee. The merit of their trust in Moshe’s guidance won them their victory – no casualties. In the exultant feelings of gratitude for the special guidance they had witnessed that day, the soldiers thought it proper to bring special contributions to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) from the spoils of war. Their contributions expressed the soldiers’ gratitude to Hashem for saving their lives.
In a broader sense, the details of this battle describe the constant battle that mankind never ceases to fight:
The story is told of a pious man who met a group of people returning with the spoils of war after vanquishing their enemy in a fierce battle. He said to them, “You have returned victoriously from a minor struggle; now prepare yourselves for the major struggle!”
“And what is the major struggle?” they asked him.
“The struggle with the yetzer hara (destructive impulse) and it’s armies,” he said to them.
(Duties of the Heart, The Gate of Wholehearted Devotion of All Acts, Chapter 5)
People are made up of innumerable coordinating and opposing elements. We have desires, whims, and comforts; we have reason and logic; we have subconscious motivators; and we have wisdom. Our generosity may find itself at odds with an old fear of being taken advantage of; indecision and vulnerability may take a cut at our higher intellect. If we silence all the voices, we will hear what our innate wisdom is telling us, but there is usually a slew of reasons preventing us from acting upon our pure conscience.
Today the battle may be against the lusts and jealousies that have me wound up and trapped in their ropes. Tomorrow it may be the rote habituation that envelopes my moments, robbing life of its zest, and zapping even my good actions of their creative appeal.
Next month I may find myself slave to a social trend that clamps my personal space, takes captive my inner strength, and even forces me into roles that I do not wish to fulfill, censoring my honest self-expression. And often, I must duel the insidious enemy that tries to take control of my mind and convince me that I, as a person, am just not worth it.
Against all this, we are commanded to “arm yourselves against them (hachalztu).” The first step is to recognize that we are in this battle, and that we are a strong, capable warrior. Otherwise we will be pulled downstream by the varying voices inside of us.
The second step is to focus on our goal, and allow ourselves to shed (chaletz) our small-mindedness in the light of a higher state of mind.
We can free ourselves of these inner chains; all we have to do is declare battle against the inner enemy that threatens our optimum well being, placing ourselves under the command of the ultimate Commander. Then the way will be clear.
But to what extent, honestly, can we be expected to overcome our personal blind spots? After all, it’s constant! It’s tiring. Can’t we have a day off?
Well, let’s take a look at Moshe.
Moshe was aware that this war was his final assignment. Once completed, he would have finished his journey and purpose here on this earth. He had all the reason in the world to take it slow and procrastinate. But did Moshe take it slow? He didn’t. Ever zealous to fulfill the Almighty’s command, he took the job on right away, girded the troops, and fought the war. When the war was won, he prepared for his own death with no less courage..
In our personal battles, it is our own spirit we are fighting for, our very own lives. Even if there are sacrifices, we must know that winning this war is possible. We can call to mind the selfless equanimity of Moshe, doing what he knew was right, no matter what the costs.
Moshe and other heroes throughout Jewish history have proven it: anything is possible. What was true for them is also true for you and me: victory is always just one choice away.