How does Mashiach fight his wars? And by extension, how should we fight our battles?
It is taught (Likutei Moharan 2:1): אִיתָא בְּסִפְרָא דִּצְנִיעוּתָא מִנּוּקְבָא דְּפַרְדַּשְׂקָא מָשַׁךְ רוּחָא דְּחַיֵּי לִמְשִׁיחָא כִּי עִקַּר כְּלֵי זֵינוֹ שֶׁל מָשִׁיחַ הוּא הַתְּפִלָּה שֶׁהוּא בְּחִינַת חֹטֶם כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב וּתְהִלָּתִי אֶחֱטָם לָךְ וּמִשָּׁם עִקַּר חִיּוּתוֹ וְכָל מִלְחַמְתּוֹ שֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה וְכָל הַכְּבִישׁוֹת שֶׁיִּכְבֹּשׁ הַכֹּל מִשָּׁם כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב וַהֲרִיחוֹ בְּיִרְאַת ה’ וְכוּ’ זֶה בְּחִינַת חֹטֶם (It is brought down in Sifra di’Tzniuta: from the nostril of the nose, the spirit of life is drawn down to Mashiach. For the fundamental weapon [of war] of Mashiach is prayer [tefillah], which is an aspect of ‘nose’ [chotem], like it is written [Yeshayah 48:9], ‘And My praise is that I will restrain My anger for you’, and from there is the essence of his vitality, and all of his wars that he will make for all of his conquests that he will conquer, all of it is from there, like it is written [Yeshayah 11:3], ‘And he shall smell [the truth of a matter] due to his fear of Hashem, etc.’, and this is an aspect of ‘nose’).
There is a great deal of information in this short paragraph, so let’s unpack it a little.
To begin his teaching, R’ Nachman shares a secret from the Hidden Torah, included in a book of the Zohar ha-Kadosh known as the Sifra di’Tzniuta, that Mashiach receives his life-force, his vitality, from the ‘nostril of the nose.’ Although it is beyond the scope of this short article to explain this secret fully, suffice it to say that there is in the upper worlds a ‘spiritual building’ or partzuf that is called Arich Anpin [Long Face]. This is a part of the sefirah of keter [crown], which is the highest sefirah and the most difficult for us to grasp. In simple terms, we are speaking about the ‘Will’ of Hashem. In that partzuf (as is the case for all partzufim), there are 248 spiritual ‘limbs’ and 365 spiritual ‘connections’, and one of those ‘limbs’ is the ‘nose’. It is from one of the ‘nostrils’ of that ‘nose’ that the spirit of life descends down to Mashiach to give him life and to keep him alive (for his life is not a simple matter). When Mashiach comes to redeem his people, he receives his power, his vitality—his very life—from that ‘nose’ and it is through that life that he is able to redeem Yisrael.
At this point, we will cease putting quotation marks around all of these spiritual terms. Just keep in mind that we are not speaking about a physical nose. All we need to know at this point is that Mashiach draws down his power and strength from the nostril of this nose.
Next, R’ Nachman states that this nose has to do with how Mashiach fights his wars, specifically through tefillah. In other words, Mashiach will defeat all forces of evil, nullifying and subjugating them, through tefillah. That is the weapon—not guns, bullets, protests, demonstrations, revolutions, etc. Similarly, this is the same for the rest of us (Likutei Eitzot, Tefillah 2): עִקַּר הַכְּלֵי זַיִן שֶׁל אִישׁ הַיִּשְׂרְאֵלִי הוּא הַתְּפִלָּה וְכָל הַמִּלְחָמוֹת שֶׁצָּרִיךְ הָאָדָם לִכְבֹּשׁ הֵן מִלְחֶמֶת הַיֵּצֶר הָרָע הֵן שְׁאָרֵי מִלְחָמוֹת עִם הַמּוֹנְעִים וְהַחוֹלְקִים הַכֹּל עַל־יְדֵי תְּפִלָּה וּמִשָּׁם כָּל חִיּוּתוֹ (The fundamental weapon for a Jew is tefillah, and all wars that a man needs to fight, whether a war against the Yetzer ha-Ra [Evil Inclination] or whether other wars with those who put obstacles in his path or oppose him, all of it is through tefillah, and from there is his life force or vitality). How does R’ Nachman derive this fact? He quotes a part of the verse from Yeshayah 48:9. Here is the entire verse: לְמַעַן שְׁמִי אַאֲרִיךְ אַפִּי וּתְהִלָּתִי אֶחֱטׇם־לָךְ לְבִלְתִּי הַכְרִיתֶךָ (For My name’s sake, I am slow to anger [a’arich api] and My praise is that I will restrain My anger for you, so that I will not cause you to be cut off [from the upper worlds]).
Notice two main points. First, Hashem says to Am Yisrael that He is patient and takes a long time before getting angry [a’arich api]. Although the words are written in the future tense, Rashi says that it is an expression of the present tense. But what is more interesting is that these words could be translated literally as ‘I am long to get angry’ or ‘I am long of nose’ since אף [af] can mean ‘nose’ as well as ‘anger’. Second, the expression ‘I will restrain My anger’ is e’chetom, which Rashi says is also an expression of nose [chotem]. In other words, ‘I will close My nose so as not to allow the smoke of My nostrils to exit against you in anger.’ But how does R’ Nachman know that this has to do with tefillah? Hashem states that His patience is an aspect of “My praise” [tehillati], and as we read in Tehillim 145:1, tehillah is a type of tefillah: תְּהִלָּה לְדָוִד אֲרוֹמִמְךָ אֱלוֹקַי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַאֲבָרְכָה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד (A tehillah of David, I will exalt You, my G‑d the King, and I will bless Your name forever).
R’ Nachman also teaches that we can learn this same truth, i.e. that Mashiach draws his power from the nose, from the verse in Yeshayah 11:3. Here is the verse in its entirety: וַהֲרִיחוֹ בְּיִרְאַת יְָי וְלֹא־לְמַרְאֵה עֵינָיו יִשְׁפּוֹט וְלֹא־לְמִשְׁמַע אׇזְנָיו יוֹכִיחַ (And he shall smell [the truth of a matter] due to his fear of Hashem, and not judge through the seeing of his eyes, and not rebuke according to the hearing of his ears). What is the meaning of the word va’haricho translated here as ‘and he shall smell’? As taught in the Gemara, (Sanhedrin 93b): רבא אמר דמורח ודאין (Rava said [it means] that he will smell [a person] and judge [and he will know who is guilty and who is innocent in a case brought by litigants]).
Admittedly, these teachings are somewhat hidden and, perhaps, even obscure. Is there a more obvious source from the Torah that tefillah is the fundamental weapon of the righteous? Yes. Let’s read what R’ Nachman states next (L.M. 2:1): וְזֶה עִקַּר כְּלֵי־זֵינוֹ כְּמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בְּחַרְבִּי וּבְקַשְׁתִּי וּפֵרֵשׁ רַשִׁ”י תְּפִלָּה וּבַקָּשָׁה וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב כִּי לֹא בְקַשְׁתִּי אֶבְטָח וְכוּ’ בֵּאלֹקִים הִלַּלְנוּ בְּחִינַת וּתְּהִלָּתִי אֶחֱטָם לָךְ (And this is the essence of his weapons, like it is written [Bereshit 48:22], ‘with my sword and with my bow’; and Rashi’s explanation is that it means tefillah and entreaty, like it is written [Tehillim 44:7,9], ‘Not with my bow I trust…in G‑d we will praise [hillalnu], this corresponds to ‘and My praise [tehillati] is that I will refrain My anger [e’chetom] for you).
This verse in Bereshit 48:22 is part of the explanation of Yaakov to his son, Yosef, why he was giving him the city of Shechem as an inheritance. He said: אֲשֶׁר לָקַחְתִּי מִיַּד הָאֱמֹרִי בְּחַרְבִּי וּבְקַשְׁתִּי, i.e. that he took it from the Emori with his sword and with his bow. Although the essence of the meaning of ‘sword’ and ‘bow’ is tefillah and petition, Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah, actually states חָכְמָתוֹ וּתְפִלָּתוֹ (his wisdom/cleverness and his tefillah). The actual words ‘tefillah and entreaty’ quoted by R’ Nachman come from the Gemara in a discussion on this verse (Bava Batra 123a): וַהֲלֹא כְּבָר נֶאֱמַר כִּי לֹא בְקַשְׁתִּי אֶבְטָח וְחַרְבִּי לֹא תוֹשִׁיעֵנִי אֶלָּא חַרְבִּי זוֹ תְּפִלָּה קַשְׁתִּי זוֹ בַּקָּשָׁה (But isn’t it already said [Tehillim 44:7], ‘For I do not trust in my bow; my sword cannot save me’? Rather, ‘my sword’ is tefillah and ‘my bow’ is petition). So we see that there were two aspects to Yaakov’s weapons of war against the Emori. The first is the sword, i.e. tefillah which corresponds to tehillah, which is praise to Hashem. The second is the bow, i.e. a petition or request for one’s needs. This is stated explicitly in L.M. 2:2: כִּי הַתְּפִלָּה הוּא פִּי שְׁנַיִם שְׁנַיִם שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהֶם שִׁבְחוֹ שֶׁל מָקוֹם וּשְׁאֵלַת צְרָכָיו (For tefillah [in a general sense, not in the specific sense used above, i.e. as only tehillah] is itself double, two, there is praise [shevach, which corresponds to the specific tehillah explained above] of the Omnipresent and asking for one’s needs).
And this double aspect of tefillah is likened to a double-edged sword in Tehillim 149:6-7: רוֹמְמוֹת קֵל בִּגְרוֹנָם וְחֶרֶב פִּיפִיּוֹת בְּיָדָם׃ לַעֲשׂוֹת נְקָמָה בַּגּוֹיִם תּוֹכֵחוֹת בַּלְאֻמִּים (The elevated praises of G‑d is in their throats and a double-edged sword is in their hand, to execute vengeance upon the goyim, rebukes among the nations). And where is this battle taking place? The previous verse tells us (149:5): יַעְלְזוּ חֲסִידִים בְּכָבוֹד יְרַנְּנוּ עַל־מִשְׁכְּבוֹתָם (The pious ones [chasidim] will exalt in honor, they will joyfully sing/shout upon their beds). And how do we know that Mashiach is the leader of these chasidim who engage in awesome tefillah upon their beds? It is written (149:2): יִשְׂמַח יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּעֹשָׂיו בְּנֵי־צִיּוֹן יָגִילוּ בְמַלְכָּם (Yisrael will be happy in their Maker, the sons of Tzion will rejoice in their king). And who is that king who leads the battle, upon whom all eyes of the righteous look for guidance and leadership? On the one hand, it refers to Hashem. But on the other hand, it refers to Mashiach himself. Therefore, we see that the execution of the final war against the kings and nobles (see 149:8) who fight against Hashem is accomplished by a group of highly devoted chasidim, b’nei Tzion, through this double-edged sword. So if you want to be part of Mashiach’s army to fight his war, now you know, at least, where it’s being conducted. It is the same place where David ha-Melech fought his wars (Tehillim 63:7): אִם־זְכַרְתִּיךָ עַל־יְצוּעָי בְּאַשְׁמֻרוֹת אֶהְגֶּה־בָּךְ (When I remember You upon my bed, during the night watches I mediate about You).
Further support for these conclusions come from a mizmor that we recite on the days when Tachanun is included in Minchah. It explains how the Jewish People will come to know and understand that the one who claims to be Mashiach is actually Mashiach, as it is written (Tehillim 20:7-8): עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי הוֹשִׁיעַ יְָי מְשִׁיחוֹ יַעֲנֵהוּ מִשְּׁמֵי קׇדְשׁוֹ בִּגְבֻרוֹת יֵשַׁע יְמִינוֹ׃ אֵלֶּה בָרֶכֶב וְאֵלֶּה בַסּוּסִים וַאֲנַחְנוּ בְּשֵׁם־יְָי אֱלֹקֵינוּ נַזְכִּיר׃ הֵמָּה כָּרְעוּ וְנָפָלוּ וַאֲנַחְנוּ קַּמְנוּ וַנִּתְעוֹדָד׃ יְָי הוֹשִׁיעָה הַמֶּלֶךְ יַעֲנֵנוּ בְיוֹם־קׇרְאֵנוּ (Now I now that Hashem saves His Mashiach; He will answer him from His heavenly place of holiness, with the mighty power of salvation in His right arm; These [trust] in chariot and these [others] in horses, but we make mention of Hashem our G‑d [through tefillah]; These bent over and fell, but we arose and were encouraged; Hashem save! The King will answer us in the time that we call out).
In summary, Mashiach receives his strength, power and vitality from the aspect of the nose of Arich Anpin. Since the nose is an aspect of tefillah, the entirety of Mashiach’s power to wage war, defeat the enemies of Hashem, nullify all evil in the world, and bring the whole world to the side of good and kedushah is only through tefillah, not through fighting a physical war. This is also how we as Jews must fight our wars, our own personal battles against the Yetzer ha-Ra within us and within others who may oppose our walk in the ways of Hashem. There is no other way. These tefillot include Shemoneh Esreh and other tefillot that we pray during the day and during the night, such as during hitbodedut.
Sometimes we find ourselves wondering: “The world is so messed up and getting worse by the day! We need to do something, but what? Since this is the World of Asiyah, the World of Action, we need to do something, right?” The answer is that if we have emunah and believe in the miracle-working power of tefillah, then tefillah is our main action required in this world. No opposing force can stand in its way when it is wielded properly.