In history, on the 25th day of Elul, the wall around Yerushalayim was finally finished in the days of Nechemeya. The Jews had returned to Eretz Yisroel after the Babylon Exile. Finally, at last at home in their own land, but what a shambles they found it in. Marauders had settled in packs of gangs throughout the land. As the Jews began the hard task of rebuilding the walls and gates around Yerushalayim, these illegal immigrants attacked them, stopping them from their work, hoping to get rid of the Jews and oust them out of the land again. In Sefer Nechemaya we learn how the Jews managed to get that wall up: building with one hand and a drawn sword in the other hand.
We don’t have a Bais MaMikdash, but each Jew is a Mikdash Me’at, a small dwelling for G-d’s presence. Our Avodah [service] is to build ourselves up, with a sword drawn to outside danger. It is not enough to just try to build up walls to protect our souls, we must be willing to go to battle for the purity of our inner beliefs.
Back in the days when America was still a Midbar [barren wasteland] when it came to Yiddishkeit [Judaism], an ehrliche Yid [pious Jew] moved here. His friends who met him later in life were amazed he had been able to keep his level of intense spirituality the same as he had in Europe, to the point that he was still wearing the exact same getup which most folks had shed at Ellis Island. The only thing they noticed different was that he wore a crazy big Kappel [Yarmulka, head covering, Kippa], one that literally came down so far it rested upon his ears. It looked like a ruffle peeking out from his hat, his Kappel, that’s how big it was. Asked his friend, “I don’t understand – no Torah authority or law says you have to wear such a huge Kappel and that wasn’t your family custom back home. So tell me, why do you wear it?” The Ehrliche Yid smiled and said, “Let me explain. When I came to America I realized it would be a struggle to maintain my piousness and almost impossible to protect my soul. I realized that slowly my Yetzer Hara [evil inclination] would argue me into giving up my standard of dress, and then start arguing with me about other aspects of my observance. So, I decided to give something else for the Yetzer Hara to think about and fight about. I put on a ridiculously big Kappel. All these years, I’ve been fighting that battle with my Yetzer Hara – -he says no one wears such a big kappel and I begin to think of changing it. I let my battle be there, so it doesn’t move forward to things that really matter.”
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, ZTL in Michtav M’Eliyahu points out that we know how a battle is shaping up by where the fight is at any given moment. For example, if the French soldiers are fighting in Africa, then you know France is still powerful because the battle is far away from the homeland of its soldiers. However, if the battle is in France, then you know France is in trouble, because war has come to a place within its borders. With the Yetzer HaRah we want the battle to be far from our “inner borders”, so taking on a “frimme shtik” [extra stringency] is sometimes a good strategy. Let the Yetzer HaRah fight us with that, instead of on the very existence of our belief system.
This year, in a world gone mad where battles rage for our very core observances, we need to build ourselves up, but with swords drawn. We have to think up strategies to keep intruders out of our relationship with Hashem. Just a caveat — what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. We must know ourselves, know where our battles are, and come up with battle strategies which work for us. Best of luck in fighting the good fight, my friends.