Going to War

Sotah (8) | Yisrael Bankier | 9 years ago

The eighth perek deals with war. There are two categories of war. The first is milchemet mitzvah in which everyone is obligated to take part. The Rambam explains that this includes the initial conquest of Eretz Yisrael, the war against Amalek or a defensive battle. The second is milchemet reshut, which is to expand the borders of Eretz Yisrael. The Mishnayotdeal with second category and discuss those that take part, those that are instructed to return and take a supporting role and those that are completely exempt from any involvement.

The Torah lists three people who are instructed to return from the battle field: “the man who has built a new house and has not inaugurated it”, “the man who has planted a vineyard and not redeemed it” and “the man who has betrothed a woman and not married her”. The Mishnah (8:2-3) explains exactly what satisfies these three cases.

The Minchat Chinnuch (526) notes that it is unclear whether these three people are simply given permission to return, but may chose to stay or whether they are obligated to leave. He notes there is another person who is instructed to return – “a person who is scared and of soft heart” – it makes sense that he must return as the Torah states “Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows like his heart.” (20:8) Nevertheless for the above three it is not obvious.

The Minchat Chinnuch cites Rashi (20:7) that comments that when the Torahwrites that the engaged man should return “in case he dies in battle”, that he would deserve to if he does not listen to the kohen. The implication from Rashi is that he must. The Ramban (20:5) appears to move in a similar direction: “… and these three were command to return, because their hearts are on their house and vineyard and wife, and are likely to flee”. The Ibin Ezra adds that their fleeing would cause others to flee as well. The reason why these three are instructed to leave is therefore much like the reason those that fear war are told to return home. In contrast the Meiri writes that these three are given permission to leave and may return if they wish.

This debate impacts other areas. The Mishnah teaches that a groom from a forbidden relationship is not exempt from war. Two cases listed are the kohen that marries a divorcee and a kohen that marries a chalutza. The nature of the prohibition in the second case is rabbinic. If we say that the a groom is given permission to return, then in this case the rabbinic prohibition simple prevents our groom from exercising that right. However if the groom is obligated to return by Torah law we run into a problem. How can the Chachamim force this man to stay when he is obligated by Torah law to leave?

Indeed we learn (8:5) about the debate between R’ Yosi Ha’Glili and R’ Yosi regarding the scope of the exemption of “one that fears war”. They both agree that it refers to the fear of a sin that they have transgressed and R’ Yosi argues that this includes rabbinic laws. Nevertheless the Mishnah learns the exemptions from the pasuk describing the case of the groom (44a) and states that it excludes the kohenthat married a chalutza (“ve’lo lekacha”).

The Tosfot Yom Tov initially answers that really chalutza should not be included in the text. Since however we find in our learning gerusha and chalutza paired together, they were included together here as well. He notes however that the Rambam includes the case of the chalutza in the Mishneh Torah. The Minchat Chinnuch however explains that the Torah exclude even a rabbinically prohibited relationship. He brings other laws that are similar including the position of R’ Yosi above that Torah can exclude even one that has a rabbinic sin.


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