20:1 When you go forth to battle against your enemies…

The gemora in Sota (42a) tells us that in a time of war, the Mashuach Milchama would rally klal Yisrael, with the words “Shema Yisrael”.  The gemora tells us that with nothing more than the merit of “Kerias Shema”, one can be successful in a war campaign. Though we understand that this mitzvah is an important one, why is this the one that has the capabilities of making us succeed at the time of war?

In the world of Chasidus, when the torah talks about the idea of war, it is a metaphor for the internal war that a person has with his yetzer hara. The Imrei Emes tells us that the place where we feel the most challenged is probably at the time of tefillah. We arrive in shul, we are filled with hope and expectation that our tefillah will be flawless and infused with servitude and devotion. Yet the yetzer hara tries to pull us down, to make our tefillah into just a shuffle through a bunch of random words. The Zohar tells us that the true war that a man faces is fighting off the yetzer hara to be successful in tefillah. The way to be successful in this war is to have our tefillas preceded with “Kerias Shema”. In fact, the gemora in Brochos tells us that the 18 brochos of shemoneh esrei correspond to the 18 utterances of Hashem’s name in “Kerias Shema”. (אמרי אמת תרצ”ג)

I would like to explain this lofty idea in a very practical way. At a time of war, a soldier will often view the enemy as someone he is obligated to kill. The loftier goals of the war (e.g. securing the borders, living in tranquility, etc.) rarely enter his mind. Saying “Kerias Shema” gives us the proper focus in our own war, thereby enabling us to be successful. Kerias Shema is a statement that we make about our wants and desires in life. We differentiate between what we define as important and what we consider insignificant. Yet, in our daily expenditure of time we don’t necessarily reflect those ideals. Therefore, at least in the beginning and end of each day, we say “Kerias Shema” to affirm our true desire of what is important to us and what is insignificant in our purpose in life. Having this focus lets us regroup our thoughts in order to be truly successful.

In my opinion this could be analogous to each and every year that we live: We start off the year, during Aseres Yimei teshuva, focused on what is important. As the year goes by, we tend to get distracted and fill our minds with insignificant things. Elul is the time that we refocus again.  As we say “Shema Yisrael” each day in Elul, we should have in mind the urgency to get back on track and with Hashem’s help we should have the fulfilment of the words of Chazal that we be successful in this war of kavana in Tefillah. May not only our Kerias Shema be a success, but all of our Tefillos at this special time should ascend to heaven and be answered in a way that we should be successful soldiers of Hashem.