The Enemy Within

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

This week’s parsha tells us that when the Jewish people will enter the Land of Israel, G-d will drive out our enemies by sending ahead deadly wasps (Exodus 23:28).

Cool, right?

Not so fast. That is, G-d won’t drive out our enemies so fast. Why? Because the cities would become desolate and wild animals would move in. To avoid this dilemma, G-d will drive out our enemies slowly, according to the pace of the demographic growth of the Jewish people (Exodus 23: 29-30).

This raises an interesting question, if G-d can control wasps, why couldn’t He control the wild animals and keep them out of the cities?

Of course G-d can control them all, and He does, He is simply making a point: of the two, you would rather have the Canaanites as enemies than the wild animals. Why?

Rav Noah Weinberg zt”l would ask, “Which would you rather have: a sane or an insane enemy?” The answer is, a sane enemy. Why? Because they will only do what hurts you, but an insane enemy will do things that hurt him, and you. Crazy!

Why do we get insane enemies? When you can conquer your sane enemy too quickly. When that happens, you get the biggest insane enemy there is: you.

Let me explain.

Just like waging war against the Canaanites, so too is the battle to earn a living. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (19th century Germany) explains that the word for war (milchamah) and bread (lechem) share the same root in Hebrew. He explains that earning a living (symbolized by bread) is a battle. The healthy way is to slowly make it to the top; the unhealthy way is to get there fast.

Show me someone who got rich very young and through little effort, and I will show you someone with a lot of arrogance (and probably a ruined life).

In 1948, the enemies of Israel were pretty sane (relative to today). Most of those enemies have since melted away or disappeared, but because that war was so miraculous and we won so quickly, we got an internal insane enemy, arrogance. To help us overcome that arrogance, G-d sends us an external insane enemy to subdue the arrogance.

Hezbollah, Hamas, suicide bombers, and ISIS are so insane they could have their own mental disorder named after each of them. They did not exist in 1948. We have them so that we will attain humility. Because even the best among agree (in humility), “We don’t know what to do.”

Insane enemies teach us that we are not G-d. The more you appreciate how little you can do without the help of G-d, the more you will achieve. The more you think you can win without the help of G-d, the more significant problems you will have to convince you otherwise.

How fast can a person succeed in life? There is no limit if you know it’s all a gift from G-d.

By Rabbi Stephen Baars

 Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. He did nine years of post-graduate studies at the Aish HaTorah Rabbinical College in Jerusalem, and has been an educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years. Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at and