At the end of this week’s Parshah we read that Klal Yisrael sent messengers to Sichon melech haEmori seeking to pass through their land. Bnei Yisrael had promised not to interfere or trespass into private property. They promised to travel on whatever path the king would direct them on. Yet, Sichon refused their offer and instead prepared his army and waged war with Klal Yisrael.
Bnei Yisrael defeated Sichon and his armies, and conquered their land. A few pesukim later, we read that Og melech Habashan and his army came to wage war with Klal Yisrael and as we all know Klal Yisrael defeated them as well.
There is an obvious question about this story. Why would Sichon and Og wage war with Klal Yisrael? Klal Yisrael should have been considered untouchable. Everyone knew what happened to Metzrayim, and afterwards by the Yam Suf, and then to Amalek. They knew that for forty years Hashem sustained the every need of the entire nation in the desert. Why would they wage an unnecessary war with them? In fact in sefer Yehoshua, Rachav tells Kalev and Pinchas “namogu kol ha’am – everyone here is petrified” of Klal Yisrael. So why did Sichon and Og voluntarily wage war with Klal Yisrael?
My rebbe, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, zt”l, summed up the answer in one word – responsibility. Rashi tells us that Sichon and Og were hired by the kings of Canaan to protect them. When someone has a responsibility he can do things he otherwise would not have been able to do. When a person feels his sense of responsibility, it empowers him to fulfill even the most difficult obligations. Since Sichon and Og were hired to do something, they did it regardless of what it entailed, even waging war with a nation that has Hashem fighting their battles.
Every person has responsibilities. The key to accomplishing all of the things that we need to do is by sensing our responsibilities. When we know that we must do something, we will be able to ensure that it will be accomplished. The key to fulfilling the mitzvos and refraining from doing averos is by feeling that we have a responsibility to Hashem to keep them.
The Torah knows that a kattan (minor) cannot be held responsible for his actions, and therefore it doesn’t hold him responsible for them. Once a boy becomes thirteen the Torah assesses that he can now be held responsible for his actions.
It has been said that the line between childhood and adulthood is crossed when we move from saying ‘It got lost’ to ‘I lost it.’ The defining difference between a kattan and a gadol is responsibility. The key to fulfilling the mitzvos and all of the obligations that we will endure is by feeling that we have a responsibility to perform them.
We have entered the month of Tammuz, which begins a period of sorrow and mourning over the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. Rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash after close to two thousand years may seem like an impossible task. It is extremely arduous to change our ways and mend the wrongs that we have become accustomed to. Yet, if we realize that it is our responsibility to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash and improve ourselves we will be able to realize this goal.
May we see the speedy coming of Mashiach in our time, and rejoice this year on Tisha B’Av in Yerushalayim, amen.