Parashat Vayeilekh begins with Moshe reassuring Benei Yisrael that God would assist them in their battles against the nations of Canaan, during which he instructs, “you shall do to them in accordance with all the commands I have given you” (31:5). It is unclear to what “commands” Moshe here refers. Instinctively, we might suggest interpreting this verse as part of Moshe’s effort to encourage the people, guaranteeing them that God would help them fulfill His command to take possession of Eretz Yisrael. Moshe here is simply assuring the people that they should be confident as they go to battle to possess the land as they were commanded to do, because God would help them in this campaign.
Ibn Ezra explains differently, claiming that this verse refers to the command to destroy the Canaanites’ sites of pagan worship. Moshe here instructs the people that when God leads them to victory over the nations of Canaan, they must not neglect the command to eliminate the altars and monuments which had been used for idolatry.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains this verse as referring more generally to all the laws governing warfare. Earlier in Sefer Devarim, in Parashat Shoftim, the Torah presents numerous different laws relevant to waging war, and according to Rav Hirsch, Moshe in this verse simply impresses upon the people the need to carefully observe those laws.
Rav Shlomo of Radomsk, in his Tiferet Shelomo, suggests that Moshe speaks here of the people’s overall mindset and ambition as they go out to war. He sought to emphasize that they should not wage battle out of a lust for violence and confrontation, but rather purely for the sake of fulfilling God’s command. Their goal should not be pride, domination or the thrill of conflict, but rather the sacred desire to obey the Almighty’s will.
This insight of the Rebbe of Radomsk is relevant not only to actual warfare, but also to all the various different “battles” that we find ourselves needing to wage over the course of life. There are occasions when we need to “fight” to uphold our values and principles, to reject and to voice opposition to ideas which we find objectionable. The Tiferet Shelomo warns us to ensure that we wage these “battles” with pure motives, that we are driven by genuine altruism and not by dark, base instincts. Ostensibly idealistic battles can often provide a convenient excuse to assert our superiority, to insult and offend others, and to relish the “excitement” of controversy. We must remember that when we go out to wage legitimate struggles, we must proceed “in accordance with all the commands I have given you,” purely and honestly as part of our genuine desire to serve God and fulfill His will, and not for the sake of any self-serving, egotistical interests.