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I Will Write It In Their Hearts - Volume 1
Letters from the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A contrast between the war against Midian and the war to conquer the seven Canaanite nations; the Divine service of the tribe of Levi

Translated by: Rabbi Eli Touger

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  A detailed explanation of the concept that every Jew, regardless of his conduct, will merit resurrectionTable of contentsPublishing the Previous Rebbe's sichos; the significance of the name Shlomo  

No. 88

This is a portion of a letter sent to an unknown person.
[The beginning of Menachem Av, 5703]

To conclude with a matter of relevance to this Shabbos [and the portion of the Torah read on that date]:

There are two versions of the text in the Sifri - quoted also in the Yalkut Shimoni - with regard to the participation of the tribe of Levi in the war against Midian.[1] [Both versions focus on the] word kfk, "of all," in the phrase "of all the tribes of Israel."[2] [The question is whether that term]:

  1. comes to exclude the tribe of Levi; they did not participate in this war; or

  2. comes to include the tribe of Levi. This is the version followed by Rashi as cited in his commentary on the Torah.

    {As stated in the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, the conclusion of Hilchos Shemitah ViYovel),} the tribe of Levi does not participate in wars like the other tribes of Israel. Explanation is thus necessary why a difference was made with regard to this war.

The rationale is simple. [The reason for] the war against the seven [Canaanite] nations was to conquer them, settle in their land, and begin the work of plowing and sowing. Therefore the Levites who were separated from worldly matters (Rambam, loc. cit.) and charged with "teach[ing] Your judgments to Yaakov and Your Torah to Israel" (Devarim 33:10), activities which are disturbed by plowing and sowing (see Berachos 35b) [did not participate in this war]. For they, from their own perspective, have no connection to material affairs.

The above does not apply with regard to the war against Midian. In that instance, the intent was not to conquer territory (only afterwards, the tribe of Reuven decided to settled there), but rather "to revenge for G-d,"[3] as explained by the Ramban in his commentary to Bamidbar 31:23. Therefore, even the Levites had to participate in this war.

On this basis, we can appreciate another difference between the war against Midian and other wars: that in the war against Midian, one thousand soldiers were sent from each tribe, regardless of whether they were bountiful or scarce in population. In contrast, with regard to the war to conquer the land and take it as a heritage, since a tribe with a large populace was given a larger portion,[4] that tribe had to provide more soldiers. [This logic does not apply] with regard to a war taking "revenge for G-d."

On this basis, we can appreciate the lesson to be derived in a person's service of his Creator. Based on the explanations in the maamarim entitled Heichaltzu (in Likkutei Torah and from the year 5659), the war against the seven [Canaanite] nations is interpreted as referring to the conquest of one's seven bad qualities, evil in a coarse [and obvious form]. Therefore, this war is not relevant to the tribe of Levi, nor to - as the Rambam writes - "any person ... whose spirit prompts him (i.e., work with his heart) and understands through his wisdom (work with his mind) to make a distinction and to stand before G-d and serve Him and work on His behalf." In contrast, the war against Midian involves [combating] a sensitive dimension of evil. Hence, even the Levites, and those among the Jewish people who share [their spiritual thrust], must participate in waging of this war.

Destroying this sensitive dimension of evil is difficult work (as reflected in the length and difficulty of this present exile[5] which far surpasses that of the Babylonian exile). Therefore, this war has to be fought according to the guidance of Moshe[6] our teacher {and "the extension of Moshe in every generation." This is particularly true in this final exile, in the era of ikvesa diMeshicha, as explained in the Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 21) and the Likkutei Torah of the AriZal, Parshas Vaes'chanan.} Moreover, one must go out to this war in a manner implied by the command:[7] urxnhu, i.e., with mesirus nefesh (Sifri, quoted in the Yalkut Shimoni).

A reward is granted for such an approach in a manner that follows the pattern "measure for measure." Just as a person making a commitment to go out [to this war] does not consider what is intellectually correct, but rather shows mesirus nefesh, so too, the victory he is granted from above is above all natural limitations. Not even one person will be lost in the war,[8] and all will enter Eretz Yisrael, led by Mashiach. May this take place in the immediate future.

With blessings, and with regards to the members of your family, and to R. Y.,

"Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,"

Menachem M. Schneerson
Chairman of the Executive Committee



  1. (Back to text) [See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIII, p. 210.]

  2. (Back to text) [Bamidbar 31:4.]

  3. (Back to text) [Ibid., 31:3.]

  4. (Back to text) [See Bamidbar 26:54.]

  5. (Back to text) [Which came about because of "unwarranted hatred," the result of the influence of Midian, in contrast to the first exile which came about because of the Jews' sins.]

  6. (Back to text) [This is alluded to by the fact that the command to wage war against Midian was a) addressed to Moshe personally, and b) associated with his passing, i.e., the culmination of his Divine service in this world.]

  7. (Back to text) [Ibid. 31:5.]

  8. (Back to text) [Cf. ibid.: 49.]

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