Sotah 44 - What is there to be afraid of?
We mentioned that among the exclusions from military service there was a special one : if someone is afraid of war and cannot face danger, he should go back. Some people are soft-hearted, and they may lead the army to lose its morale, contributing to defeat. This is the opinion of Rabbi Akiva.
Rabbi Yosi HaGlili says that he is "afraid and fainthearted" because of his transgressions. For example, he may have spoken between putting on the head tefillin and the arm tefillin. Or he spoke between the second part of morning prayer (Yishtabach) and the third one - the blessing of Shema. This category then is placed at the end so that the transgressors won't be embarrassed, and people may think that they claim other exemptions.
After that the army should be steadfast. Strong soldiers are put in front, so that if any of their brothers falls, they help him stand up. Strong soldiers are also put in the back: if anyone wants to run away, they have authority and axes to stop him - because running away is the beginning of defeat, just as it happened when the Israelites first ran away from Plishtim, and then were defeated .
As we mentioned before, in times of national danger the exemptions do not apply, but everyone goes to war, even a groom from his room and the bride from her chuppah.
Art: The Soldier's Return by Girolamo Induno