Go Out and Face your Conflicts
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read parashat Ki Tetze. It begins with a series of laws regarding the war. The very first verse of this parasha says, “If you go out to war against your enemies…” (Deuteronomy 21:10). In the original Hebrew the verse can be perfectly understood, not as a conditional, but as a sentence describing a situation. That would read as, “when you go out to war against your enemies.” In fact, you could even understand this verse as if it was encouraging the reader to go out to war. Why would that be?
The famous Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (better known as the Kotzker Rebbe, Poland, 1787-1859, Hasidic rabbi and leader) explained that the verse is alluding to the well-known fact that success in war depends in part on the ability to have the initiative. Those who “go out to war,” instead of sitting and waiting for the enemy to come first, are more likely to win the fight.
The Kotzker Rebbe explains that this same piece of advice (go out first, have the initiative, fight in your enemy’s field) can be applied to our daily war against the Yetzer Hara, the evil inclination in man, also understood as man’s natural inclination or desire. When you wait for the natural desires to appear in yourself, it will be hard for you to control them. It is much better to anticipate the desires and try to control them before they surge.
Following the Kotzker Rebbe explanation, I believe we should apply this same recipe to the way we face problems and conflict in general. You can identify those areas of your life where you know problems and conflict will appear sooner or later. If you go out and tackle your problems before they come to you, you will be much more likely to dominate them than if you just sit and wait crossed arms for the problems to appear.
These weeks before Rosh Hashana are an excellent opportunity to think about what we need to change in order to live more meaningful and happier lives. We should follow our parasha’s advice and “go out to war” first, have the initiative in our life, be able to stand up and face it, and hopefully anticipate our conflicts. The New Year can be a better year if we have courage and take the initiative in our life. Go out first!