Parshat Shoftim: Don’t be Afraid
In this week’s parsha, there are many laws about what we must do and how we should behave during a war. One of the procedures is that an appointed Cohen would address the army before battle. In his speech, he announces exemptions from battle for certain groups of people, that if they fall under these categories, they can go home:
If you have built a house, but haven’t inaugurated it
If you have planted a vineyard, but haven’t redeemed it in its 4th year
If you have engaged a woman, but haven’t married her
Or if you are fearful
The Gemara discusses a dispute as to what the soldier would be afraid of. Rabbi Akiva says that it refers to the simple understanding, fear of war. Someone who would be afraid when they see the enemy unsheathe their swords, scared of the possibility of injury or death, as well as fear for having to attack and injure the enemy themselves. Whereas Rabbi Yossi Hagelili says that it refers to fear of sin. Someone who has committed a sin, and therefore won’t receive Hashem’s special protection He places over Am Yisrael’s army, and will perish in battle. Hence the Cohen must order these fearful people to go home, otherwise if their fear spreads throughout the army, they will create chaos amongst the troops.