Sotah, Chapter Eight, Mishnah One

 

Introduction

When Israel goes out to battle, the people are charged by a priest, who according to the rabbis must be anointed with oil.  This charge is described in Deuteronomy 20.  This entire chapter is an explication of how this was done.  Our mishnah is a midrash on verses 2-4.

 

Mishnah One

1)      When the anointed for battle addresses the people he speaks in the holy tongue, as it is said, “And it shall be, when you draw near the battle, that the priest shall approach” (Deuteronomy 20:2)—this refers to the anointed for battle. 

a)      “And speak to the people” (ibid) – in the holy tongue.

2)      “He shall say to them, “Hear, O Israel, you are about to join battle with your enemy” (vs. 3)— “with your enemy” but not against your brother, not Judah against Shimon nor Shimon against Benjamin, that if you fall into their hand they shall have mercy on you, as it is said, “Then the men named above proceeded to take the captives in hand, and with booty they clothed all the naked among them—they clothed them and shod them and gave them to eat and drink and anointed them and provide donkeys for all who were failing and brought them to Jericho, the city of palms, back to their kinsmen. Then they returned to Samaria” (II Chronicles 28:15).  Rather against your enemies do you march, so that if you fall into their hand they will have no mercy on you.

3)      “Let not your courage falter, fear not, and do not tremble or be in dread of them” (Deuteronomy 20:3)

i)        “Let not your courage falter”– at the neighing of the horses and the brandishing of swords;

ii)       “Fear not” –at the crash of shields and the tramp of the soldiers shoes;

iii)     “Do not tremble” — at the sound of trumpets;

iv)     “Or be in dread of them” — at the sound of battle cries.

4)      “For it is the Lord your God that goes with you”–they come [relying] upon the might of flesh and blood, but you come [relying] upon the might of the Omnipresent.

a)      The Philistines came [relying] upon the power of Goliath (I Samuel 17:4 ff.), but what happened to him in the end? In the end he fell by the sword and they fell with him.

b)      The Ammonites came [relying] upon the power of Shobach (II Samuel 10:16-18), but what happened to him in the end? In the end he fell by the sword and they fell with him.

c)      But with you it is otherwise, “For it is the Lord your God is that goes with you”—this refers to the camp of the ark.

 

Explanation

Section one:  The Torah states only that a priest shall come forward, without describing which or what type of priest. The rabbis add that this priest must be a priest who has been specially anointed with oil for this purpose before they go out to battle.  The address must be given in Hebrew.  According to the Talmud this is derived from an analogy between the word “speak” here and “speak” in Exodus 19:19.

Section two:  The anointed priest reminds the people that they are going out to fight against their enemies.  If they were going to fight their own people, a not uncommon event in Biblical times and an event that continued to occur as long as Israel had political sovereignty, then at least they could expect mercy if taken captive. This mercy is demonstrated by the mercy shown by Israelite (the northern kingdom) soldiers to Judean soldiers as described in II Chronicles.  Now they are going out to fight their (foreign) enemies, and if they are taken captive they can expect to be treated ruthlessly.  Therefore, they should fight all the more fiercely so that they will not be taken captive.

Section three:  This section contains a midrash which relates each part of the charge to a fear of another aspect of war.  As is typical, the rabbis understand each type of fear to be related to something different.

Section four:  In the final part of his speech the priest points out that God is going out to battle with Israel.  The mishnah uses this to contrast Israel with their enemies. Israel’s enemies come out brandishing their physical power, exemplified by Goliah and Shobah.  Both of these great warriors were struck down by David whose power was not based on his physical strength but on the fact that God was with him.  This reminds us of Zechariah 4:6, “No by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, said the Lord of Hosts.”

As a final note, the mishnah relates that the ark was brought out to war with Israel as a tangent symbol of the fact that God is fighting with them.     

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