In the ethics code of the Israeli Defense Forces, the following is considered its chief value: “Tenacity of Purpose in Performing Missions and Drive to Victory – The IDF servicemen and women will fight and conduct themselves with courage in the face of all dangers and obstacles; They will persevere in their missions resolutely and thoughtfully even to the point of endangering their lives.”
This week we read the double portion of Nitzavim/VaYelekh. In the second of the two portions/parshiyot, God promises to be with us during the battles that are coming in attempting to cross the border into the Promised Land. God tells us, “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you/חִזְקוּ וְאִמְצוּ, אַל-תִּירְאוּ וְאַל-תַּעַרְצוּ מִפְּנֵיהֶם. כִּי ה' אֱלֹקיךָ, הוּא הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּךְ, לֹא יַרְפְּךָ וְלֹא יַעַזְבֶךָּ.” The question here is, what exactly is the meaning of “dread/ta’artzu/תערצו”? We are already not told not to be afraid, so what does this add?
Onkelos, in the classic Aramaic translation of the Torah, translates this word, “dread/ta’artzu/תערצו”, as “broken/titavrun/תתברון.” The Netziv points out that this “dread” is about a single battalion. If in the course of battle, they find themselves alone and are tempted to give themselves over to the enemy, they should trust that God is with them and not give themselves up. The simple meaning/p’shat is that this is referring to a real battle with a real external enemy.
However, all external battles can be read as internal ones as well. Though we are constantly in a struggle with our evil inclinations/yeitzer ha’ra/יצר הרע, that battle is never highlighted as much as it is now, during the Hebrew month of Elul and the days from Rosh HaShanah through Yom Kippur. During this time, we must look inside ourselves and take up the challenging task of shining a light on the parts of us that we wish could be better. It is often too easy to look at parts of ourselves that we do not like and think that we can leave it alone. “Nobody is perfect,” or “I will work on that later,” are things we might say to ourselves to justify our behavior in moments of weakness. I know I have said these things.
Our parsha is coming to challenge this desire. Do not give up any part of yourself. Struggle to clear those parts of yourself of potential dangers. This is not easy. Change is scary and uncertain. But remember, God is with us and will not abandon us. This week, as we kick up the intensity of our internal surge leading up to Rosh HaShanah, let us not give in to our fear of change. Let us be thoughtful and resolute. Let us cross over strongly and boldly into a blessed and sweet New Year.
 Deut. 31:6
 Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1816 in Mir, Russia – August 10, 1893 in Warsaw, Poland), also known as Reb Hirsch Leib Berlin, and commonly known by the acronym Netziv, was an Orthodox rabbi, dean of the Volozhin Yeshiva and author of several works of rabbinic literature in Lithuania.
 Ha’Emek Davar Deut. 31:6
I once heard a story of the late Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein that demonstrated how far he would go to uphold his principles. He believed very much in the idea that a person should constantly act with “yashrus” (honesty, lit.-straight). One must be honest at all times. You are either honest or you are not. Apparently, he took this principle to the extreme even when it came to basketball, calling out a student who was “cherry picking” for not exhibiting “yashrus”. Even if you have the right to do it, it was not the right thing to do.
In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Ki Teitzei, we are given more mitzvot than in any other parsha. 74 of the 613 come in this week’s Torah reading. One of those, is the mitzvah to add a parapet/ma’akeh to the roof of a new house. We are commanded, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you should not bring blood on your house if anyone falls from it/.כי תבנה בית חדש ועשית מעקה לגגך ולא תשים דמים בביתך כי יפול הנופל ממנו”
The Chernobyler Rebbe teaches that just as the roof is essential to a house, given that it protects what is under it, so too, the mind is essential to us, and protects what is under it (i.e.-the body). Through the mind, one can become centered. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react. As we continue through this month of Elul, marching towards Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is upon us to reflect on the past year. In doing a personal and spiritual audit, it is quite possible that we are reminded of things that have happened to us or that are still happening to us that bring us down. It is easy to be defensive and protect ourselves by any means necessary. Maybe we have repaid slights to us with our own lashes of the tongue. This mitzvah is the Torah’s way of teaching us to not stoop to lower levels even if we could. If we are careful to make sure that we do not descend from our holy level, and remember that God is with us all the time, hopefully it will be easier to accept what comes our way.
The ma’akeh is a reminder that we should take the high ground and stay there. This is not easy. I certainly have a hard time letting some things go and occasionally have an impulse to use every tool in my tool kit to make things even. This week, we pray to remain close to Hashem. We pray that we might receive divine help to remain our best selves, even when it is tempting not to be. If we keep our minds straight, then our actions will follow. Our yashrus will bring holiness to everything around us, knocking down obstacles and raising up those in need.
 Staying on the offensive end of the court while his team so was playing defense so when his team regained possession, they could pass to him for an easy basket.
 Deut. 22:8
 Rabbi Menachem Nochum Twersky of Chernobyl (born 1730, Norynsk, Volhynia - died 1787, Chernobyl, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth) was the founder of the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty. He was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezritch, and published one of the first works of Hasidic thought.
 Me’or Einayim, Parshat Ki Teitzei
Rabbi Ezra Balser has been the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom since July 1, 2016. He received his “smicha” (ordination) in June 2017 from Hebrew College while also earning a Master’s Degree in Jewish Studies. He has also received the iCenter's Certification in Israel Education.