Torah Fax

Friday, September 16, 2005 - 12 Elul, 5765
Torah Reading:  Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19)
Candle Lighting time: 6:44 PM
Shabbat ends: 7:42 PM
Pirkei Avot: chapter 1 & 2

Crime Doesn’t Pay?
This week's Torah portion begins with the words, "When you go forth to war upon your enemies… and you capture captives." Though the Torah here is simply discussing the laws relating to a prisoner of war in the physical sense, there is also a profound message to be learned as well.
In the spiritual war, the war - as discussed in previous  Torah Faxes - that we wage within ourselves between our G‑dly and animal souls, we are constantly confronted with evil. Conventional wisdom, as well as classic Jewish thought, teach us that we must shun evil and negativity and distance ourselves from it at all costs.
The Ba'al Shem Tov - whose 300th birthday we will be celebrating on the 18th of Elul - taught that there is something actually beneficial to be gained from evil. True, we may never engage - G‑d forbid - in evil behavior no matter what the benefit, for the end never justifies the means, but we still can - and therefore must - learn lessons in how to serve G‑d from evil.
The benefit we can gain from evil is the constructive lessons we can learn from it. Anything negative in ourselves or our surroundings can be exploited for the good, if only we can derive a lesson from it in serving G‑d.
The Ba'al Shem Tov thus explains the opening verse of our Parshah this way: we can "capture captives" from our enemy, from the forces of negativity that we are at war with — by availing ourselves of the positive energy captured from those forces.
To illustrate, let us quote a teaching from the famous Chassidic master, Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli. He taught that there are seven lessons to be learned from - of all people - a thief!
1. What he does, he keeps to himself. (He doesn't brag about his accomplishments.)
2. He is willing to take risks to achieve his goal.
3. He does not distinguish between "major" and "minor" tasks. He is careful and exacting in every detail.
4. He invests great effort in what he does.
5. He is swift.
6. He is always optimistic and certain that he will succeed.
7. If at first he fails, he tries again and again.
Clearly, Rabbi Zusha had no respect for the reprehensible activity of stealing. But, he taught, if only we could incorporate even a few of the thief's qualities in our service to G‑d - how much greater the world would be!
In the same manner that Rabbi Zusha succeeded in pinpointing the positive traits of the thief, we can similarly look for positive lessons in all areas - even the less than admirable parts - of life.
The process of "capturing the captive" is a prelude to an even more sublime form of exploiting evil that relates to the process of Teshuvah, repentance - a timely theme during this month of Elul in which we prepare for the New Year. The Talmud teaches that when we do Teshuvah out of love (and not merely fear of retribution) we have the ability to turn our sins into virtues. Not only is the rebellious act "stricken from the record," but it is actually considered a mitzvah. Teshuvah has the ability to not merely glean something positive from the negative deed, it can actually transform the act in its totality into good.
This form of Teshuvah is a prelude to the time of Moshiach, about which the prophet declares, "The spirit of impurity I will remove from the land." During the Messianic Age, evil in all its forms will be completely transformed into holiness so that even a potential for negativity will not exist.
Moshiach Matters
The prophet Isaiah (chap. 53) teaches that Moshiach’s suffering atones for the sins of the Jewish people. This is because his soul is on the level of Yechidah, the essential core of life that permeates all of creation. From Moshiach’s Yechidah, all the particular souls of creation are derived. Thus, what occurs with his soul has a profound effect on all souls and - in this instance - his suffering brings atonement to all. (The Crown of Creation, Mrs. Chana Weisberg, p 148)

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