Parashat Shoftim - Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

Love And War, And Everything In Between

We’ve all heard the familiar expression, “All is fair in love and war.” But according to the Torah, this is not a true statement. According to the Torah, both love and war have parameters attached to them. The Torah specifically instructs us in the manner we are to “love the LORD your God” in multiple places. It tells us the “how” of loving a God who is beyond human logic. For instance, we are told that loving God includes: keeping His commandments (Deuteronomy 10:12–13; 11:1); teaching His instructions to our children (Deuteronomy 6:7); not heeding false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:3); loving and caring for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow (Exodus 22:21–22); bringing to the LORD the first fruits of our grain, wine, and oil within the land of Israel (Numbers 18:12); etc. Another expression of our love for God can be found in this week’s portion:

You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 17:1)

Sometimes we may be tempted to think that at least doing something is better than nothing, but this is our own feeble minds trying to impose our humanity on a holy and transcendent God. The LORD requires that everything we bring to Him be without blemish, calling anything less than this “an abomination.” And although this specifically is connected to animals that are offered in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, this principle can equally be applied to what we are able to bring to Him in a time when the Temple is not standing. When we bring to Him our prayers, our praises, our financial offerings, our Shabbat and festival meals, etc., we should bring them “without blemish.” In other words, we should bring our very best, rather than settling for less than our best.

There are also parameters that the LORD expects His people to abide by in times of war. Our current parashah gives instructions to the Children of Israel for waging war against the inhabitants of Canaan. The Children of Israel are to offer terms of peace before engaging in war with a city (20:10). If a besieged city is not within the borders of the Promised Land then its inhabitants are to be captured and subjugated (20:12). However, if the the besieged city lies within the borders of the Promised Land then its inhabitants are to be destroyed (20:16). Lastly, the Israelites were not to destroy fruit-bearing trees outside of a city for purposes of making siege works (20:19–20).

But these two extremes of love and war are just two facets of the all-inclusive nature of Torah. The Torah doesn’t just teach us about the big topics, but seeks to reach down into even the most minor areas of our lives and establish parameters by which we are to bring glory to our Heavenly Father. The Torah addresses everything from our diet to our speech, from our clothing to our modest behavior, from how we spend our money to how we spend our time. Some people find this troubling, simply because we don’t want anyone (yes, even God) telling us how to live our lives. However, if we realize that every instruction Hashem gives us in His Word is for our good, then we will seek out the details for how He desires for us to spend our days on this earth. Not only that, but we will find that abiding by His instructions brings blessings.

Is all fair in love and war? Not according to the Torah. But love, war, and everything in between should all be governed by the principles given to us by our loving Father within the Holy Scriptures. The next time we are tempted to believe the way we do something doesn’t matter, let’s remember that everything we do does matter, and it is able to reflect the goodness of our God if we allow it.