By: Steve Kirschenbaum
In 31:7, Klal Yisrael went to do battle with Midyan, as HKBH commanded Moshe Rabbeinu.
What does it mean that they went to do battle as HKBH commanded Moshe?
The Sifri says that this comes to teach a Halacha that G-d told Moshe to tell Klal Yisrael that
when you go to battle, there’s a certain formation that needs to be done. Namely, Ten Lahem
Ruach Reviis She’im Livroach Yichlu, when you surround a city and you conquer it, let there be
an escape route. Let there be a way for them to get out. If there’s a route by which they can get
out, then you’re doing the Milchama Ka’asher Tzivah Hshem Es Moshe, you’re doing it the right
way. The way you’re supposed to do it.
The Ramban in Sefer HaMitzvos 5 adds a number of Mitzvos that he feels were missed by the
Rambam. One of those Mitzvos is a Mitzvas Asei to leave the fourth side open. The Ramban
counts it as a Mitzvah; the Rambam doesn’t count it as a Mitzvah. Pashut Pshat is that this isn’t a
dispute. The Rambam writes in Shoroshim, in his rules, that Mitzvos which are not clearly
spelled out in Pesukim aren’t included in the counting of Taryag Mitzvos. There are more
Mitzvos than Taryag; the ones that are only Merumaz, that are hinted to in Pesukim.
The Meshech Chochma imparts a deeper and more valuable insight. There’s a second
Machlokes. The Machlokes is whether this applies only to Milchemes HaReshus, which the
Ramban says, or whether this applies to all Milchamos including a Milchemes Mitzvah as well,
as stated by the Rambam. The Meshech Chochma imparts this understanding of the Machlokes
between the Rambam and Ramban.
The Ramban holds it’s a Mitzvah to leave the 4th side open, to leave an escape route for the
people who are going to war. Explains the Meshech Chochma, just like it’s a Mitzvah to offer
Shalom, to offer peace at the time of a Milchama, so too it’s a Mitzvah to have Rachmanus and
try to avoid bloodshed and leave an escape route for the people that are being conquered. So,
according to the Ramban, it’s a Torah-mandated obligation to try to have less bloodshed and let
The Rambam disagrees with the explanation of this command. He says no, it’s not a Mitzvas Asei,
but rather it’s a strategy of war. It’s a fact that when a person is cornered and has no choice
and is stuck, he will fight with much more dedication. When cornered, he will do whatever it
takes. Don’t corner the enemy. If you corner him, he will fight in a much stronger way. Leave
him an escape route so that when things seem hopeless to him, he will run away rather than
double down on his efforts. So, according to the Rambam, it’s not a Mitzva, but a strategy of
So says the Meshech Chochma, according to the Rambam there’s no difference whether it’s a
Milchemes Mitzvah or Milchemes Reshus. In any war, you fight the war with a strategy that we
understand and were taught. However, the Ramban holds it’s a Mitzvas Asei, he can make a
distinction between one type of war and the other. This is the Meshech Chochma’s
With this, the Sifrei Machshava explains that anything pertaining to going out to battle in this
world is a Remez, a hint regarding how to combat the Yeitzer Hara. We learn here from the
Rambam a psychological truth that when a person feels he has no choice, he’s naturally
energized to accomplish what needs to be done. The adrenaline flows. He’s able to do things he
wasn’t able to do otherwise. He’s able to conquer and defeat those to whom he was otherwise
It’s a lesson. When we battle with the Yeitzer Hara, we should feel there’s no other option, it’s
got to be this way. When a person feels that the Yeitzer Hara has him cornered, he finds greater
strength, greater energy, and more ability to do the things he has to do. Tachsisai HaMilchama.
The way to do battle.