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Parshat Devarim: The Spiritual Wars of Israel

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Herschel Reichman

In Parshat Devarim, Moshe discusses the sin of the spies and then mentions the judges who were appointed to help him. He recounts, “I told them to be fair and honest judges and to carry out the laws of Hashem in the right way.” Chazal ask why Moshe goes off on this puzzling detour.

The Arizal teaches that the physical world is only a reflection of many spiritual worlds above. This idea is not unique to Judaism. Greek philosophers, most notably Plato, wrote about the concept of the ideal in some other sphere working its way into the reality of this world. It follows that in order to conquer the physical land of Israel, it needed to be subjugated in the upper world.

When the Jewish people are in conflict with another nation, we are actually reflecting a higher spiritual struggle in the upper worlds between the ideals which each of us embodies. Hashem orchestrates our enemies’ confrontations middah k’neged middah. When foreign nations distort justice, it is a reflection of our own weaknesses. It must be that somewhere in our own world we are guilty of injustice. Our external enemy is meant to awaken our internal enemy. Winning the battle against the angels in heaven involves conquering the yetzer hara within us. In fact, the Zohar writes that our worst enemy, Satan, gets its power from our sins.

The Shem MiShmuel explains that there are two types of evil tendencies. The first is evil which is clearly wrong, but it is difficult to overcome, because of our inherent taavot (desires). The second is secret and insidious. The yetzer hara has seven names, but the last one tzefoni-the hidden one, is the worst because it catches us unaware and penetrates deeply into our soul. It appears harmless or even good, much like the chazir who shows his split hooves, but doesn’t chew his cud. Rome signifies this hidden yetzer hara. They represent beauty and culture, but their essence is completely corrupt. Such insidious falsehood can only be overcome with din and emet.

The judges were sent to spy out the land. They were victims of this hidden yetzer hara. They thought they were recounting the truth and saving the Jews from destruction. Instead they caused disaster and mourning. If they would have had emunah, the seven nations would have fled before them. It wouldn’t have been necessary to battle them at all. The meraglim didn’t know this because they weren’t committed to truth in the absolute sense. And that is why Moshe detours from the story of the spies. He admonishes the Jews to be truthful and fair so that they will not come to stumble again.

The Navi writes, “Tzion b’mishpat tipadeh..”- Zion will be redeemed with justice. Defeating our spiritual enemies, whether they are revealed or hidden, means committing ourselves to mishpat and emet. In this way we will defeat not only our own yetzer hara, but the evil angels above who represent distortion.

The Navi writes, “Tzion b’mishpat tipadeh..”- Zion will be redeemed with justice. Defeating our spiritual enemies, whether they are revealed or hidden, means committing ourselves to mishpat justice and emet truth. In this way we will defeat not only our own yetzer hara, but the evil angels above who represent distortion.

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