|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
כִּי תֵצֵא ● Ki Seitzei
● Why did the Torah “give in” to the Evil Inclination? ●
“Beauty & the Beast, Lashes & Muzzles”
Returning to the topic of war, as was mentioned, Moshe Rabbeinu taught the rules pertaining to the Eishes Yefas To’ar, literally, the woman of beautiful appearance.1 Once again, the law dictates that after an opposing nation is given over to the B’nei Yisrael and is plundered, Hashem actually allows an Israelite soldier who may desire a “beautiful” gentile woman from among the captives to go ahead and marry her, provided that he follow the unpleasant procedure prescribed in the opening verses of this Sidrah (i.e., she must be made to shave her head bald, lets her nails grow, strips herself from her garments of captivity, and be in a state of mourning).
As was also mentioned, in interpreting the Torah’s odd allowance of this marriage, Rashi cites a tradition, explaining that the “Torah was only speaking in correspondence to the Yeitzer HaRa,”2 the idea and concern being that if G-d would not have allowed the marriage, the soldier would have married her regardless, illicitly.
Though we discussed this tradition above, it certainly needs to further qualification.
REVISITING: The Eishes Yefas To’ar & the Yeitzer HaRa
It would be one thing for Chazal to have concluded that marriage to the Yefas To’ar is not fundamentally inappropriate; the proof would have been that the Torah permitted it. That is in fact not what they have concluded.
At face value, what it sounds like Chazal have instead suggested is that in order to “account for” man’s Evil Inclination, lest he be punished for this controversial and otherwise incorrect act, G-d granted him leeway by simply legalizing the act which would we have otherwise rightfully called a crime. With this unique permit, Hashem afforded man the opportunity to reap the best of both worlds, simultaneously allowing him fulfill his desires and not violate any prohibitions in the process. Again, the underlying logic for this permit is that man would have otherwise violated G-d’s will anyway.
The question is why the Torah only granted this permission here. It is not like the Torah authorizes one to eat pork, lest he proceed to violate the dietary rules of Kashrus anyway. In fact, this “compromise”—that one is permitted to do something “incorrect” due to the fear that he would rebel and do it anyway—does not seem to appear anywhere else in the Torah. And if we think about it, why should such a phenomenon exist altogether? One of the fundamental missions we were assigned to in this world is to overcome the Evil Inclination for the sake of G-d’s higher will. Sometimes, man overcomes and other times, man succumbs, but the goal and standard virtually always remains the same. For G-d to compromise or bend His will would seem to completely undermine the lofty mission statement.
Yet here, it appears as though the Torah has done just that, having given man the go-ahead to simply submit to his Evil Inclination. Thus, Yefas To’ar apparently breaks all of the rules and violates the elevated standards of the Torah. The question, again, is: Why? Why did the Torah violate its own ideals like that? Why, in any case, did the Torah “speak only in correspondence to the Evil Inclination” and allow a person to marry this gentile captive?
DANGER AHEAD: To the Hated Wife & the Rebellious Son
But, as was also addressed earlier, the with the Torah’s allowance for a union with Yefas To’ar is not only a moral and logical problem for the moment of one’s submission to the Yeitzer HaRa, but it is apparently a practical, larger scale problem for the future of this man’s family, years down the line.
Rashi cites another tradition from the Midrashim3 that the subject of Yefas To’ar is followed by the topic of the Ishah Ahuvah and the Isha S’nuah, and that of the Ben Soreir U’Moreh to depict a domino effect that is started by one’s theoretical marriage to the Yefas To’ar. If one marries a Yefas To’ar, Chazal imply, she’ll eventually become a “hated wife” to him who is bound to bear a “wayward and rebellious son” who will have to be executed in court. Thus, adding weight to our question, one might argue that this permission to marry the Yefas To’ar is not only spiritually distasteful, but heavily detrimental, threatening the physical and spiritual lives of this man’s unborn children!
NOTICE: “Seeing” & “Taking”
In a more subtle way, the text might even suggest the foreboding and almost sinister course on which the Yefas To’ar leads the one who desires her. Various contemporary students of Tanach, such as R’ David Fohrman, have noted a particular pattern, that many sinful or decadent deeds that are perpetrated in the Torah’s narrative are conveyed through the pairing of two verbs, those of “Re’iah” [ראיה] or seeing, and “Lekichah” [לקיחה], taking.
Just to present a few examples:
- Back in Gan Eden, the Chumash describes that woman “saw” the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and subsequently “took” it.4
- In the closing passage of Parshas Bereishis, the Torah relates that these B’nei HaElohim (either “rulers” or possibly angels) “saw” the women and then subsequently “took” from whomever they wanted of them.5
- Shechem “saw” Dinah and of course “took” her.6
Indeed, this pattern would resurface numerous times throughout Scripture.7 For our purposes though, the most relevant of these occurrences appears right here in the opening verses of our Sidrah:
“Ki Seitzei LaMilchamah Al Oyivecha…V’Ra’isa BaShivyah Eishes Yefas To’ar V’Chashakta Vah V’Lakachta Lecha L’Ishah”-“When you out to war against your enemies…And you shall see among the captivity, a woman of beautiful form and you shall desire her, and you shall take her for you as a wife.”1
Indeed, the Torah’s description of the soldier’s inclining towards the Eishes Yefas To’ar follows the model of these murky scenes. This close reading of our Pesukim further suggests the damaging nature of this deed, cleaving with this physically appealing war captive, strengthening our question as to why the Torah would have permitted the man to act on this desire.
NEXT STOP: Between Lashes & Muzzles
Towards the end of the Sidrah, the Torah returns to the topic of judicial laws, with a focus on the courts obligation to administer Makkos or Malkos, which is the striking or flogging of a transgressor of most basic Torah prohibitions.8 Now, which Torah prohibitions qualify for and incur this penalty of Malkos?
In answering this question, Chazal address another mystery, namely, the odd juxtaposition between the topic of Malkos and the seemingly random transgression prohibiting the muzzling of one’s ox while it works in the threshing floor; “Lo Sach’som Shor B’Disho”-“Do not muzzle an ox in its threshing.”9
Chazal have derived from this juxtaposition that only prohibitions which are “Dumya D’Lav D’Chasimah,” fundamentally similar to the prohibition of muzzling, incur the Malkos penalty.10 For this reason, a “Lav She’Ein Bo Ma’aseh,” a prohibition that is not violated through a physical action, or a “Lav HaNitak La’Aseih,” a prohibition that can be fixed by a subsequent positive commandment, would not incur Malkos.
Certainly from exegetical standpoint, these Halachic ramifications are reasonable on the basis of this juxtaposition. And perhaps, technically speaking, they justify the juxtaposition. The question is why the Lav D’Chasimah was made the headquarters for the rules of Malkos. Thematically speaking, what fundamental connection does the prohibition of muzzling one’s ox while it threshes have to do with the Malkos penalty? If, indeed, the Lav D’Chasimah is a model for other transgressions so that other similar transgressions would qualify for Malkos, then certainly, almost any of those other transgressions could easily have been named the model for Malkos. However, the Lav D’Chasimah was the chosen one which was juxtaposed to the topic of Malkos. What is the deeper connection between lashes and muzzling?
INVESTIGATING: Between Seeing and Taking
Concerning the Torah’s sanctioning of one’s marriage to an Eishes Yefas To’ar, we highlighted that the textual presentation of this permit follows an ominous pattern which is found prominently among the narratives of sin in the Torah. That pattern is marked by the verbs of “seeing” and “taking.” The question is what gives paired acts of “seeing” and subsequent “taking” the insinuation of sin or blame?
In the context of most of the Torah narratives in which the pairing is present, the “taking” is often the response to the “seeing”; one sees something, then, one takes it. It is as simple as that. The pairing reflects an impulsive chain reaction, almost as automatic as cause and effect. One sees and then takes, but he doesn’t just take; he instinctively has to take. Because he saw it, it looks good, and he desires it, he is going to go ahead to take it.
This pairing of actions is natural and in many cases, innocent. If a person is hungry in a forest and sees an apple tree, it would seem acceptable and expected for him to pick an apple off the tree and eat it. The problem with this instinctive progression though is that one cannot always just take what he sees—even if he really wants it. Suppose he sees something that does not belong to him; the object is off limits to him. Perhaps his taking of the thing or person he sees is a violation of a command or another’s rights. Perhaps, for one reason or another, it is more worth his while in the long run to overcome his instincts and not just take.
Indeed, to consider these sophisticated, larger picture issues such as ethics, respect, or spiritual betterment, often means to violate one’s instincts. It requires one to be in tuned with the intellectual and moral spirit which G-d has imbued in mankind at the beginning of time.11 Indeed, G-d has only given this higher spirit to humankind, and He thus tests man regularly to see if man will utilize this spirit by thinking clearly, considering the issues and not acting on animalistic impulse, making decisions properly, perhaps not to take but rather hold back, and to just say “no” to the Evil Inclination.
PROCEED WITH CAUTION: “If you are so inclined…”
If all of the above is true, the question is why the Torah would have allowed the soldier to act on his instincts with regard to the beautiful captive. Why here did the Torah choose to “speak in correspondence to the Evil Inclination”?
We have to assume that Hashem was not simply discarding its own values when He seemingly chose to look the other way and give the soldier the “okay” to succumb to his Yeitzer HaRa “just this one time.” He must have had something more profound in mind. Indeed, we might argue reasonably that in the case of the soldier, the Torah was considering the gravity and pressure of the circumstances, the duress of war and the great power of impulse that is stimulated throughout. The Torah understood that more than ever, in the extraordinarily intense heat of this situation, man is going to “see” and very much desire to “take.” And, although we argued that by letting one marry the captive, the Torah appears to have lowered its standards, perhaps, the Torah had something else in mind.
Yes, the Torah allowed one in this unique situation to let his divine spirit rest while his inclination temporarily takes the driver’s seat and makes the decisions, but the Torah did not leave it at that. Before allowing man to succumb to his Evil Inclination, the Torah added some stipulations, and these stipulations are the most crucial and most telling aspect of the Torah’s attitude towards Yefas To’ar. Among the guidelines which the Torah sets forth to allow the marriage with Yefas To’ar, we have explained that the woman must have her head shaved, let her fingernails grow out, remove her attractive garb of war, and mourn. Why were these measures required?
The Midrash12 explains that the Torah wanted the Yefas To’ar to become ugly to him. The question is: Why? If the whole purpose was to allow man to quench his burning desires for this beautiful woman, then would making her grotesque not completely defeat that purpose? Indeed, and perhaps that is the entire point. The Torah strips the beauty from this war captive and removes the distracting mirage, forcing the soldier, who may or may not eventually go through with this marriage, to at least think and ask himself what is best for him. Though at the present moment, she looks beautiful, is acting on these instincts truly worth it in the long run? With the physically appealing form of the woman out of sight, is this someone he thinks he should take for himself or not?
DISCOVERING: Two Desires – Lusting vs. Lasting
It is at this point that we encounter the question of what it is that this soldier and mankind at large truly want and desire. Because, in fact, there are conflicting desires, such as desires for the moment which are satisfied by immediate gratification versus more sophisticated desires such as those that appeal to the larger picture, to ethics, and one’s spiritual mission in this world. There is desire that is mere lusting, and desire that is lasting. If one looks closely at our passage, the Torah fascinatingly alludes to these different kind of desires.
The Chumash initially stated that the man “desires” the woman, and ends off by stating that if the man does not “desire” her, he may send her off. However, the Torah conspicuously used two different words for the verb of desire; “V’Chashakta Vah”-“and you may desire her.” The root “Chashak” [חשק] implies this desire of lust. Later, the Chumash writes, “V’Hayah Im Lo Chafatzta Bah”-“And it shall be if he does not desire her.” This verb from the root “Chafatz” [חפץ] means a desire of meaningful aspiration—a desire that matters more in the longer run, the lasting desire. With this war captive’s new makeover, the soldier does not merely lose his initial lust (“Chashak”), but he reminds himself that all along, he might’ve never really desired her in a meaningful and lasting way (“Chafatz”). Perhaps, his satisfying of his Cheishek for this woman was not worth his sacrificing of his longer lasting Cheifetz for a meaningful marriage.
If this soldier chooses to turn a blind eye to these consequences and remains so inclined to pursue this woman further, he may eventually be rudely awakened by the circumstances of an Ishah S’nuah and a Ben Soreir U’Moreh.
Thus, although the Torah lets man give in to his desires here, it does not do so without creating guidelines which put those desires carefully into perspective and challenge man to reevaluate what he really wants to do. In so doing, the Torah affords man the opportunity to address his desires, not merely by feeding them, but by conquering them and ridding himself of the desire entirely. Hence, in this roundabout way, the Torah does not momentarily capitulate to man’s Evil Inclination, but it “speaks in accordance with the Evil Inclination,” responding in kind to the ploys of the Evil Inclination.
LOOKING BACK: Kivros HaTa’avah & the Death of Desire
A similar model for G-d’s roundabout way of responding to the Yeitzer HaRa can be found back in Parshas B’Ha’alosecha when G-d provided the Slav, or the quail for the B’nei Yisrael.13 The nation had complained about their desire for meat, and G-d strangely responded that He would give them just that. Though He appeared to be capitulating to the people’s desire by granting them meat, in actuality, it is clear from the end of the story that the meat was intended not to quench their desires, but to kill their desires entirely, making them sick literally to the point of death.
Thus, when the people died from the quail, the location was ironically named “Kivros HaTa’avah,” literally, the “burials of desire,” because indeed, the true death of desire is not met by satisfaction to those desires, but when one no longer desires.
DIVERGING PATHS: Between Man & Beast, Lashing & Muzzling
With the above in mind, we can return to the “strange bedfellow” laws, that of the Malkos penalty and the “Lav D’Chasimah,” the prohibition of muzzling one’s ox as it threshes. From the outset, the two topics seem to have nothing to do with one another, but when we consider the Torah’s communication of these two levels of desires, there emerges an incredible insight which powerfully explains the relationship between Malkos and muzzling.
Thus far, we have established that there exists two kinds of desires, one of instinct and lust versus one of meaning which lasts. And as we’ve explained, the unique divine spirit which G-d has imbued in man alone is the center for the second of these two desires. It is man’s spirit which requires him to consider a higher calling and act against his instincts, or his animalistic desires. With this divine spirit, man has the capacity to “see” and choose not to “take.” However, an animal, say an ox on the threshing floor cannot see and choose not to take. Indeed, animals do not have a concept of morals or free choice. They were not imbued with a divine spirit. All they have are their animalistic impulses. Since they cannot say “no,” it is therefore cruel to pain them by positioning them in the threshing floor with fodder in sight, but not affording them the opportunity to take. To do so means to attempt to force an animal to understand something it simply cannot.
On the contrary though, man has the capacity to make decisions based on his divine spirit and the will of G-d. But, what happens when man lowers himself like an animal, succumbing to his temptations and instincts, disregarding morals and higher purpose? He has to be reconditioned like an animal. He has to be hit with Malkos before he learns right from wrong. Like an animal, he has to be hit before he recognizes that he may not just see and then take what he pleases. Thus, the expectation of this difference between man and beast is the fundamental connection between Malkos and muzzling.
It is in this exact vein that R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch invokes the Halachah that the very straps which are used for the flogging process are made from animal hides, recalling the verse in the Navi, “Yada Shor Koneihu VaChamor Eivus B’Alav Yisrael Lo Yada Ami Lo Hisbonan”-“An ox knows his owner and a donkey the trough [crib] of his master; [but] Yisrael does not know, My people does not consider.”14 It is with this verse in mind that the Gemara urges in G-d’s Name, “Let the one who does know his master’s trough come and repay for the one who does not know his Master’s trough.”15
FINAL DESTINATION: Thinking Things Through
In the end, the topics of Eishes Yefas To’ar, Malkos and the Lav D’Chasimah awaken us to the constant battle one must fight against his temptations, how one must fight desire with desire, that which is mere lusting versus that which is truly lasting. Because of man’s heightened status marked by his divine, mature spirit, it is incumbent on man to recognize his ongoing mission, always consider the Ratzon Hashem, and think his decisions through. If he does so, he will attain that which he truly wants.
May we all be Zocheh to be influenced by our divine spirits to always think in terms of Ratzon Hashem, and fulfill that Ratzon, and we should merit the swift arrival of the Geulah and Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Devarim 21:10-14
- Kiddushin 21B
- Citing Sifrei 214 and Tanchuma 1
- Bereishis 3:6
- Some other such occurrences include: Bereishis 9:22-23, 12:14-15, 37:18-24, 38:2, Shemos 32:1-4, and Vayikra 9:24-10:1.
- Devarim 25:1-3
- See Makkos 13B and Sifrei 286.
- Bereishis 2:7; See Onkelus.
- Sifrei 21
- Bamidbar 11
- Yishaiyah 1:3
- Makkos 23A