This Sidra contains a total of seventy four commandments. This is the largest number of Commandments which can be found in any Sidra. Some of the laws are arranged with an apparent logic. However, many others seem not to have a connection with one another. Our rabbis of the Talmud distinguished between the Commandments relating to our relationship with the Almighty and the Commandments regulating our relationships with other people. For example, the 10 Commandments were divided into two distinct groups with five Commandments in each group. In this Sidra it is obvious that no distinction has been made between the Mitzvot. Furthermore, no distinction is made in between seemingly important commandments, and seemingly unimportant commandments; nor between daily commandments or those which can only be fulfilled very rarely. In his book, Chayye Olam, Rabbi Adin Steinsalz, explains that this teaches us that the Torah was not given to us for any obvious purpose. It is neither a code of laws to maintain civil order, nor is it a book offering medicines or medical advice. The fact that diverse laws are mingled together mixed up as well as the fact that we are not able to detect any logical sequence to their order demonstrates the principle that we have to accept the Torah as it is. It is essentially inexplicable to us because it is of divine origin.
The fact that the Sidra begins in the middle of chapter 21 is also surprising. According to rabbinic tradition, it seems to be because the first three commandments are linked to each other. The first law focuses on the marriage of an Israelite soldier with a ‘beautiful captive woman’, whom he meets on the battlefield. The second law legislates on the way a man who has two wives has to deal with them and their children when he hates one of them and loves the other. The third law focuses on a family which has raised a rebellious son. This son is out of control. He doesn’t listen to his father and mother and they don’t know what to do with him. He is an alcoholic and eats excessively. Our rabbis believed that the situations described by these laws, are linked to one another. One sin leads to the other. Ultimately, the family is totally dysfunctional. Thus, the elders of the city would decide that because nothing can be done for this child and that as he grows up he will decline further, he, therefore, must be executed. This would be a great tragedy. Our rabbis had a tradition that such a case never acquired. Nevertheless, the Torah included this narrative as a warning of what can happen if we are not careful.
The opening words in the Sidra reads: “When you go out to war against your enemies”. Rabbi Sternbuch, in his Torah commentary called Torah Va-Da’at, notes that the verb, which is part of the Sidra’s name, is addressed to the individual but continues by referring to many enemies. He explains that this signifies the fact that every individual soldier has to internalise the idea in his heart that victory depends on him as an individual. No soldier should underestimate his responsibility by saying to himself that there are too many enemies and that, therefore, his contribution is of little value. For example, he might be tempted to say: “I can't do very much. It depends on the strength of the entire army”. The truth is that each person counts and victory is dependent on everyone doing his very best. Moreover, the verb is in the singular to emphasise the importance of unity within the army. Our fighters must work together in complete harmony to defeat the enemies. The strength of the Jewish people lies in our unity and not in our numbers. We have always been the smallest amongst the nations. This will never change. Moses stated this in one of his prophesies in the Book of Deuteronomy. When we remain united, and fight with one purpose, we win. When we are disunited, we lose. The great success of the State of Israel lies in the fact that it is a democracy. The government is united and there exists a clear mechanism and process when making decisions. Sadly, this was not always the case in Jewish history. When the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70, we were defeated because we were hopelessly divided. There was civil war. Our rabbis called this state of affairs SINAT CHINNAM, a spirit of hatred for no reason and without any purpose. Our rabbis say that The Almighty fights on our behalf when we merit it by being united. In one of his most famous statements The first chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Kohen Kook, declared that in order to erase that bitter experience in our history from our memory, we must aspire to achieve a state of AHAVAT CHINNAM, unconditional and irrational love for every one of our fellow Jews.