We will read this week about who is “exempt” from participating in military operations: (Devarim, 20.5-8):
וְדִבְּר֣וּ הַשֹּֽׁטְרִים֮ אֶל־הָעָ֣ם לֵאמֹר֒ מִֽי־הָאִ֞ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֨ר בָּנָ֤ה בַֽיִת־חָדָשׁ֙ וְלֹ֣א חֲנָכ֔וֹ יֵלֵ֖ךְ וְיָשֹׁ֣ב לְבֵית֑וֹ פֶּן־יָמוּת֙ בַּמִּלְחָמָ֔ה וְאִ֥ישׁ אַחֵ֖ר יַחְנְכֶֽנּוּ׃
Then the officials shall address the troops, as follows: “Is there anyone who has built a new house but has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle, and another dedicate it.
וּמִֽי־הָאִ֞ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־נָטַ֥ע כֶּ֙רֶם֙ וְלֹ֣א חִלְּל֔וֹ יֵלֵ֖ךְ וְיָשֹׁ֣ב לְבֵית֑וֹ פֶּן־יָמוּת֙ בַּמִּלְחָמָ֔ה וְאִ֥ישׁ אַחֵ֖ר יְחַלְּלֶֽנּוּ׃
Is there anyone who has planted a vineyard but has never harvested it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another harvest it.
וּמִֽי־הָאִ֞ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־אֵרַ֤שׂ אִשָּׁה֙ וְלֹ֣א לְקָחָ֔הּ יֵלֵ֖ךְ וְיָשֹׁ֣ב לְבֵית֑וֹ פֶּן־יָמוּת֙ בַּמִּלְחָמָ֔ה וְאִ֥ישׁ אַחֵ֖ר יִקָּחֶֽנָּה׃
Is there anyone who has paid the bride-price for a wife. but who has not yet taken her [into his household]? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle, and another take her [into his household as his wife].”
וְיָסְפ֣וּ הַשֹּׁטְרִים֮ לְדַבֵּ֣ר אֶל־הָעָם֒ וְאָמְר֗וּ מִי־הָאִ֤ישׁ הַיָּרֵא֙ וְרַ֣ךְ הַלֵּבָ֔ב יֵלֵ֖ךְ וְיָשֹׁ֣ב לְבֵית֑וֹ וְלֹ֥א יִמַּ֛ס אֶת־לְבַ֥ב אֶחָ֖יו כִּלְבָבֽוֹ׃
The officials shall go on addressing the troops and say, “Is there anyone afraid and disheartened? Let him go back to his home, lest the courage of his comradesflag like his.”
When we read the first few verses, we must wonder why is the one who has built a new house exempt? Why is getting a special exemption- more than any other person who has not yet built himself a new house?
Many commentators say that the main reason is the fear that the three exemptions assume that the newly wed, new house owner and new vineyard planter are so involved in their recent personal matters that they will fail at war. This still leaves a question as to why the Torah mentions (in all three cases) that “someone else will take over “? How does this connect to the explanation quoted?
Perhaps: In every military conflict there are casualties. This is (almost) inevitable. Of course, every person killed at war is a tragedy for him and his family. The Torah has however identified three cases in which the pain is so overwhelmingly great. (“He just stated his life”) that even in the harsh context of war, one must take its possible toll on the remaining friends and family as a reason for exemption.
Lesson for us (even in peaceful times) sometimes one must think about a much broader humane picture, even when facing tough situations. The “big, important goal” does not release us from thinking about “trivial” individual situations.
Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld