By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis
This parsha contains the most mitzvos of all the parshiot, and they encompass many areas that prepare us for Rosh HaShana and enable us to perceive that there is more to life than mere existence.
The parsha opens with the stirring words, “When you shall go forth to battle against your enemies, the L-rd your G-d will deliver them into your hands.” (Deut. 21:10) These words are spoken, not only in regard to the battlefield, but more importantly, in connection with the personal struggle that each and every one of us must wage to conquer our most formidable enemy, the Yetzer Hara–the evil inclination. G-d promises us that if we make a decision to go forth and battle “that enemy”, He will deliver it into our hands–meaning that if we are truly determined to free ourselves of our negativity, G-d will do the rest and we will gain control of our passions rather than be controlled by them.
The many and varied mitzvos in the parsha are here to sensitize our souls so that we might better fulfill our mission in our Avodas HaShem (service of G-d). For example, the laws pertaining to a rebellious son make us realize the critical importance of parents speaking with the same voice and avoiding the tragedies that can result when there is a lack of shalom bayis and parents send conflicting messages (Deut. 21:18). The laws pertaining to helping unload a burdened animal (Deut. 22:4) not only teach us that it is a positive commandment to lift the burden from the animal, but that closing our eyes to their suffering is to transgress the prohibition of Tsar Baalei Chayim,” which means that we are not permitted to be indifferent to the distress of an animal. This law should compel all of us to re-think our relationships with our fellow man.
If the Torah is so stringent in regard to the pain of an animal, how much more must we sensitize ourselves to the burdens and the pain in the hearts of our brethren. Nowadays, there are so many problems that afflict people, so many who are lonely and hurting, so many who are ill, so many who have lost their jobs and have difficulty making ends meet., and so many who are suffering in Eretz Yisrael. We dare not turn our backs on them and pretend that we do not see or hear their cries. A kind word, a listening ear, a smile, a helping hand, can all serve to ease their pain and lift their burdens.
The parsha also admonishes us not to harness a donkey and an ox together to plow (Deut. 22:10). There are several reasons for this. 1) They have different energy levels, and harnessing them together would pit one against the other, causing undue pain and stress. 2) The ox chews its cud, while the donkey swallows quickly, leading the donkey to believe that the ox, who takes longer to consume his food, was given a greater portion than he. Once again, there is a lesson to be drawn in our human relations–Never pit people of different energy levels against one another. Never compare children, for each person is a star in his or her own right and endowed with unique gifts and talents. Furthermore, if we jealously think that someone has more energy than we do, just remember the donkey who foolishly thinks that the ox has more than he. G-d gives to each of us that which we need. We need only sensitize our hears to understand.