Jerusalem and the Jewish Army
It is natural for soldiers to be scared when they go out to battle. An overly frightened army, though, can translate into a quick defeat. Therefore, before the Jewish soldiers leave to war, they are given a preparatory talk by a Kohen.
The Torah provides for us the text of the Kohen’s speech:
Hear, O Israel, today you are approaching the battle against your enemies. Let your hearts not be faint; you shall not be afraid, and you shall not be alarmed, and you shall not be terrified because of them For the Lord, your God, is the One Who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.
Truly rousing words.
The book Ma’ayanah shel Torah, notes that the Kohen’s speech begins with the Hebrew words “Shema Yisrael” – “Hear O Israel.” Interestingly, while the primary meaning of the word “shema” is “hear,” the word also has a secondary meaning – “to gather.” For example, when Shaul goes out to war the Navi records “VaYeshama Shaul et Ha’am” and then lists the number of soldiers that Shaul had in his army. Clearly, the word VaYeshama refers to a form of gathering and bringing his soldiers together to a single place.
Based on this secondary meaning of Shema, Ma’ayanah shel Torah suggests a homiletical rendering of the Kohen’s pre-battle speech. The Kohen tells the people that if they want God to fight with them they need to fulfill “Shema Yisrael” in the sense of being gathered together and united. It is when the Jewish army is permeated with love and unity that God walks with them, and therefore they have no reason to be scared.
Perhaps this idea is part of the meaning of the Talmud’s understanding of Dovid’s reason for his victorious wars. On the verse “our feet were standing at the gates of Yerushalayim” the Talmud comments: “Our feet were standing in battle due to the merit of the gates of Yerushalayim where the Jews studied Torah.” On one level this Talmudic passage highlights the important merit that the study of Torah provides for the Jewish people. It is possible, though, that the location of this Torah is important. Dovid was the first king to establish Yerushalayim as the capital for the entire Jewish people, thereby uniting the previously fractious tribes under a single banner. Yerushalayim was a capital city that was not allotted to any particular tribe, rather remaining a place for all Jews. In this sense, Yerushalayim helped create a unified national identity, fulfilling the mandate of “Shema Yisrael” – of bringing all Jews together. Accordingly, the Torah studied in Yerushalayim had special potency to be a merit for Dovid’s army no matter where they might be.