While reviewing the instructions that the Cohen tells people prior to going to war, as shown in Devarim 20:1-9, there seems to be an incorrect order of statements. In particular:

  • Verse 3 - The Cohen makes a general statement that no one should fear the enemy.
  • In verses 5-7 the judges list 3 groups of people that are exempt from fighting
  • In verse 8, the judges exempt anyone who is still fearful

Question - What is the purpose of the overall proclamation of not fearing the enemy if you won't be in the army, anyway?

I'm inferring that the purpose of the initial proclamation in verse 3 is not for the general people but for the army since it says in verse 1, already, not to fear them. That seems to be addressed to everyone, overall. Verse 2 says, "When you approach the war" - that seems to be the army, as they will be the ones who will fight. Additionally, at the end of citing what the judges say, in verse 9, it says that they appoint leaders of the army.

For me, logically, the declaration of not having fear should be placed just before verse 8. I.e., first he exempts the first 3 groups (just engaged, new house, new field purchase). Then, of those left, he says, "Don't fear because G-d is fighting with you. Finally, after that, he should say (Even though you have just been told not to fear,) if you are still fearful, you are exempt.

3 Answers 3


Rashi on 20:8 brings the opinion of R. Yose HaGalili, that the person who is sent home is one who is afraid due to having committed sins.

So, according to this view, we can suggest that 20:3 is telling the soldiers not to be afraid of the physical reality of war (as Rashi says there). Then, in 20:8, there is a separate, unrelated exemption for those who have sinned.

  • I have to ponder this. I was aware of this explanation. But, offhand, it doesn't completely explain why that intro verse couldn't have been moved. I.e., fear is fear. Why should the types of fear be separated? As a separate question (may have to ask separately), why would the fear of sin cause someone to "melt the hearts of his brothers" any more than the physical fear of being killed or hurt by the enemy?
    – DanF
    Aug 15, 2018 at 19:07
  • A separate declaration that fear due to sins, is an acceptable reason, is warranted, because most people think that fear of blood and battle is the only fear we are talking about. Spiritual fear needs to be validated here too. But both fears will melt hearts if acted out. Aug 15, 2018 at 23:40

Yerushalmi Sotah 8:1 expressly says that the verses are in the wrong order! So I think you’re right.

  • This seems more like a comment on the question rather than an answer.
    – Harel13
    Mar 4, 2022 at 12:47
  • Your answer would be improved by quoting and explaining the Yerushalmi to which you refer. Mar 9, 2022 at 16:37

Rashi to Devarim 20:8 quotes R' Yossi: "Rabbi Yose the Galilean says that [it means] one who is afraid of his sins [that they will cause him to fall in war, as he is unworthy], and therefore, the Torah gives him the excuse of attributing his return home because of a house, a vineyard, or a wife, to cover up for those who return because of their sins, so that people should not understand that they are sinners. [Consequently,] one who sees this person returning would say,“Perhaps he has built a house, or planted a vineyard, or betrothed a woman.” - [Sotah 44a]

If you exempt the three groups first, (and they leave) and only then address the remaining army that they should not fear, then the following exemption for fearful people, will be noticed by all as triggering those who are cowardly to leave because of being sinners. That would embarrass them; which the Torah is trying to avoid.

Even if you say that the 3 exemptions were to be delivered first, then all would wait to hear the decree of not being afraid (Those exempt would not yet leave until after the 4th announcement.), and then the fourth exemption was delivered, it is still a problem. This is because the most recent announcement of "don't fear" is followed immediately by the exemption of fear. Then the exempt leave. An onlooker will have the discussion of fear in his mind, and by human nature, he will assume and suspect people leaving of simple fear, since that was the last concept discussed and their was a break in between the other exemptions.

By announcing the anti-fear pep talk before any exemptions are announced, it makes the departure of all exempt seem like they could have truly left for any of the four reasons.

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