In this week’s parsha of Ki Seitzei, we learn about fighting evil. We learn about going to war against enemies, about putting to death a thirteen-year-old boy for exhibiting behavior that indicates a bad future, and about remembering what Amaleik did to our people many years ago and the obligation to hate them for it until this very day. We learn about the eternal battle between good and evil and our role in that conflict.
Today, it has basically become forbidden to speak in terms of absolute truth and fiction, correct and incorrect behavior, and the like in polite company in this country. The woke media, politicians and educators have inculcated the idea that there is no definitive moral right and wrong. To them, everything is relative, and people can decide on their own how they wish to conduct themselves. Whatever choice they make is fine for them, and everyone else needs to respect their choice.
The Torah proclaims differently, and clearly sets right from wrong, directing us how to behave and how to conduct ourselves. We are to abhor evil and not give it any countenance. All throughout our lives, we seek to improve ourselves and perfect our actions in keeping with the Torah’s guidance.
The Torah teaches in this week’s parsha (Devorim 18:21-24) of a ben sorer umoreh, a thirteen-year-old boy who does not listen to his parents and is a glutton. His parents bring him to bais din, which, upon verifying the allegations, puts him to death. Rashi cites Chazal (Sanhedrin 71a), who explain that he is punished because if he were allowed to continue along the path he has set out for himself, he will eventually exhaust his parents’ finances to feed his habits and will rob people, killing them if necessary, to obtain money. He is put to death at the outset of his doomed journey, before he hurts anyone and ruins himself.
This is because, our rabbis teach, each person must live his life with the knowledge that Hashem placed him in this world for the purpose of learning Torah and doing mitzvos. Our lives are meant to center around our obligations. Our ambition is meant to be that we grow in Torah and kedusha. During our childhood, our parents’ obligation was to teach us and train us in Torah and mitzvos, and in recognizing truth from falsehood and living lives of truth.
When we become bnei and bnos mitzvah, and become obligated in mitzvah observance, we are by then supposed to be able to set our lives on the path of an ehrlicher Yid, following the well-trodden trail traversed by our parents and grandparents over the many centuries since Har Sinai. If we set for ourselves goals and seek to attain them, there is hope that our children will continue to grow and mature as fine bnei and bnos Torah. But if as we begin our lives of obligation, we have already become slaves to our yeitzer hora and have become consumed with the pursuit of physical satisfaction, spurning our parents and becoming addicted to the wrong flavors, the Torah proclaims that we are doomed.
We should be quick to point out that Chazal teach that there never was anyone who was determined to have been a ben sorer umoreh and no bais din ever found anyone eligible to be put to death under these circumstances. No boy ever degenerated at that age to such a level that there was no hope for him to rectify himself and live a proper life.
This parsha is here for us to study to know that our actions have consequences and that we must always be cognizant of the difference between right and wrong and righteousness and evil. We must always be on the side of the just and proper and correct, never condoning or engaging in anything that is dishonest and improper. There is no rationalizing in the Torah, no condoning of evil, and no compromising with the yeitzer hora.
Taking small steps in the wrong way leads to taking big steps in the wrong direction, just as stealing pocket change leads to becoming a full-fledged crook. Take a look at what is going on in today’s cities, where anarchy and robbery are virtually uncontrollable. It started with liberal charges that the police were too tough on young criminals. We were told that there was no mercy and no understanding of the impoverished inner-city poor, who have no alternative but to steal in order to eat and evade fares in order to travel.
Going easy on the criminals led to packs of teens robbing merchandise from stores and owners, while workers and security people are powerless to stop attacks. They started out stealing small items here and there, stuffing them in their pockets, but as they got away with it and became used to the free stuff, their appetites grew, as did their brazenness, and today, employees are warned to look aside, lest they pay the ultimate price for getting in the way of the robbers.
An entire generation of such people feels entitled to have whatever they want. They have no respect for anyone else, no boundaries and no self-control. How can they possibly ever be brought back? If there is no ultimate right and no ultimate wrong, then society collapses and ish es rei’eihu chaim bela’o. It becomes impossible to walk, drive or shop on the street.
If justice becomes corrupt and dishonest, as some are pursued and others are let go, and people lose respect for the system, the government cannot function and the empire can fall.
Look around the world. You’ll find that many countries are collapsing from the weight of criminality amongst gangs in the streets to the highest levels of government. And it all began from looking aside from one small crime, and then another, and one petty criminal, and then another, until it became ingrained and too difficult to uproot. Witness many of the African and Central and South American countries where anarchy pervades. Our country is far behind, but it is catching up quickly, unless people wake up and force changes in leadership.
And as it is with cities, countries and governments, so it is with people. To prevent total destruction, there must be change. If a person feels himself slipping, if he sees that he has become addicted to his taavos, if he finds that he does not abhor evil, wickedness, immorality and sins of all types, it is incumbent upon him to right himself before it is too late.
In his mercy upon us, Hashem gave us the gift of teshuvah with which we can turn back the clock and undo that which we have done wrong. It allows us to rectify ourselves and return us to where we were before we began slipping. Teshuvah enables us to remove the shackles that hold us down and send us on a downward trajectory, thus enabling us to become righteous once again. Teshuvah prevents us from ruining our lives, for as far as we may have strayed, we can come back.
If we have gotten into the habit of talking during davening, we can go back to speaking to Hashem and having the opportunity of Him listening to us and accepting our tefillos. If we have become gluttons for all types of exotic foods – or what used to be considered exotic foods – consumed by a need for constant pleasuring while neglecting to consider whether such activities assist in pursuing the reason for our existence, we can return to living a purposeful life through teshuvah. Doing so would help not only our spiritual health, but also our physical wellbeing, enabling us to live life as it was intended, as our forefathers did throughout the ages.
Teshuvah returns to us our humility, priorities, and fidelity to truth and honesty.
The parsha ends with the obligation to remember what Amaleik did to us when we left Mitzrayim and to eradicate any memory of that nation from the world. Amaleik is at the root of all evil. The Soton is the sar of Amaleik and the yetzer hora. We seek to wipe out any vestige of Amaleik, because as long as Amaleik is here, there will be evil in the world. We will only be rid of wickedness when we are rid of Amaleik.
The original sin of Amaleik was to battle Am Yisroel immediately following Yetzias Mitzrayim, when all the nations feared us. Chazal compare their act to a person who jumps into a burning hot bathtub that everyone is afraid of touching. Even though the braggart who jumps into the boiling water gets burned from his act, he took away the fear of others of doing the same.
Amaleik approached from the rear and attacked the weak ones among our people, and though Moshe Rabbeinu led the campaign against its armies and beat them back, they accomplished their goal of tempting others to attack us. They didn’t fear Hashem and caused others as well not to fear Him. In every generation since, the yeitzer hora, the Soton, and the progenies of Amaleik seek to weaken our fear of Heaven so that we deviate from our mission and sin. They attack and undermine us in a multitude of ways.
Any evil that is among us, any wickedness that seeks our demise, is from Amaleik. The Vilna Gaon wrote that those who cause machlokes and division among Yidden are Amaleikim, and Moshiach cannot come to redeem us until they have been banished. The yeitzer hora and the Soton utilize the power of Amaleik through various guises to steer people away from goodness and G-dliness. We have to strengthen ourselves to remain strong and firm in our yiras Shomayim.
This is why Moshe Rabbeinu reminds us and obligates us to remember what Amaleik is and what they did to us. There were other nations that battled us and sought to undermine us, but none acted like Amaleik and planted the poison within us that cools us from remaining focused on our goal. We are constantly reminded that there is definite evil in this world and we must seek to eliminate it.
When we remember to stamp out the memory of Amaleik, we are remembering that there is no compromising with evil, there is no negotiating with the wicked, and there is no condoning of improper, illicit, divisive and corrosive actions that only serve to weaken us.
We seek to be upstanding, honest, decent, yirei Elokim. That is our task and mission in life, and anything else is lacking. Compromising with what is wrong, and sinning here and there, empowers Amaleik and causes our golus to last longer.
We lain this parsha of “Ki seitzei lamilchomah al oyvecha” during Elul, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, to remind us of our obligations to do battle with our spiritual enemies now before the Yom Hadin, so that we beat back our yeitzer hora and the things that empower it, and thus merit that “unesano Hashem beyodecha.” Hashem gives us the ability to defeat and control our yeitzer hora and hold him captive so that we can engage in teshuvah, Torah and tefillah, and merit a sweet, healthy, successful new year.