Monday, May 23, 2011

The Subtle Evil

G-d spoke to Moses saying "Take revenge against the Midianites for the children of Israel."
[Matot 31:1-2]

In contrast to other wars, where the Levites did not fight, Rashi writes that the Levites were required to fight in the war against Midian. However this is difficult to understand in light of Rambam's explanation that the Levites were exempt from fighting because "they have been separated out to serve G-d as His ministers... therefore they were also separated from worldly matters." Why was an exception made in this case?

The explanation is that the war against the seven Cana'anite nations was fought in order to conquer and settle their land, which would then lead to a life of plowing and sowing the land. Thus the Levites who were "separated from worldly matters" did not participate in this war.

However, the war against Midian was not fought in order to conquer territory, but rather it was purely "to carry out G-d's revenge". Thus the war did not fall into the category of "worldly matters" but rather, it was solely an act of serving G-d - fitting indeed for the Levites, who "have been separated out to serve G-d as His ministers".

According to Chassidic thought, the war against the seven Cana'anite nations alludes to the "battle" of refining one's overtly undesirable character traits which fall into seven broad categories, stemming from the seven emotional faculties of the Animal Soul. Consequently, this "war" is not relevant to the tribe of Levi, or to those who aspire to their spiritual level - as Rambam writes that this could be "any type of person... whose spirit inspires him, and he resolves in his mind to set himself apart (from worldly pursuits), to stand before G-d and serve as His minister, to work for Him, and to know G-d".

In contrast, the war against Midian involved fighting against a subtle type of evil which is found in virtually every personality, even those who dedicate themselves as fulltime "ministers" of G-d. Thus, even the Levites, and those among the Jewish people who devote themselves "to stand before G-d and serve as His minister" must participate in waging the spiritual war against Midian.
What is the "subtle evil" that can plague even the most dedicated servant of G-d? Chassidic thought explains that this is a lack of unity and camaraderie between one man and another, indicating underlying emotions of divisiveness and unjustified hatred. All this arises from a sense of over-inflated self-importance, which causes a person to be intolerant of others and eventually view them as enemies. Clearly the war against these attributes is very important indeed.

Source: Based on the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Likutei Sichos vol 28 p.344

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