Sep 27

Chess Move!

(Torah Portion Ki Seitzai) Chess Move! 

A story is told of a leading Rabbi who taught his young son how to play chess. He explained how each piece is moved and the goal of the game. His son asked, “If after I make a move I change my mind, can I move it back?” His father said he may not.

The son said, “I feel I cannot play this game because it is not based on Jewish principles.”

The surprised father asked, “What do you mean? The son explained, “I was taught that anything we do and then recognize it as wrong can be ‘taken back’ and erased through the Teshuvah – Repentance process. I cannot participate in something going against our basic principles!

This week’s Parsha begins with laws about warfare, saying, “When you go out to battle your enemy.”

War was common throughout history and the threat of war always existed with today being no different. We know too well the consequences of war and we are concerned about the possibility of attack. Enemies always exist.

In addition to the enemy from without, we always must contend with an enemy from within. No one is immune or safe from the battle we have with our evil inclination – our wild side – that is always schlepping us away from the correct course.

Our Chasidic Masters point out that this Portion is read prior to Rosh Hashana when our thoughts and actions are focused on the upcoming Day of Judgment. The Torah addresses this internal battle that we contend with and gives us words of encouragement. “When you go out to battle your enemy – your evil inclination – G-d will give you the ability to be successful in your quest.”

I recently came across a fascinating idea presented by Reb Tzodok Hakohain o.b.m. Generally speaking we have a rule that one is not to rely on miracles. However, this tenet does not apply to when one faces an internal reckoning and wishes to make a turnaround in the spiritual realm. If one desires to take even a small spiritual move forward – it can feel overwhelming, unattainable and unrealistic. From a practical humanistic level this is correct. However, says Reb Tzodok, spiritual return defies the natural processes and the miraculous takes over – to the point that one can even rely on miracles to make it happen!

Within the framework of our lives the physical and the spiritual can coexist. However, there is a tension between our spiritual soul that yearns for spirituality and our physical bodies that seek the enjoyments of life. The Neshama – soul – has no interest in the pursuits of pleasures, and because the soul’s source is from the Heavens – the most pleasurable luxuries are worthless to it.

The Mesilas Yesharim – which teaches the classical ethical guidance for life, offers an illustration to elucidate this concept.

Suppose a princess chose to marry a man of simple means. No matter how expensive the gift the groom would present his bride, it would be insignificant to her because of her royal upbringing.

Similarly, our soul is completely spiritual through its direct connection with its heavenly source, and when it is matched up with our physical body no entirely material activity or acquisition is of interest to the soul.

If that is the case, what is the purpose for our living?

G-d placed us in this world and gave us the freedom to choose His Torah and Mitzvos which guide our lives. We then utilize our material possessions with a focus on spirituality – thus forging a partnership between body and soul enabling us to reap the ultimate rewards and pleasures that await us in our eternal existence!

Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid Saks