By Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski
This week’s Sedra opens with one of the most difficult to understand Parshios. The Torah tells us that while fighting a war if someone chances upon a beautiful female captive that he desires, he may take her as a wife. The Torah sets certain limitations on such desires by prescribing a very particular procedure for marrying that captive. The Torah tells us that we must shave her head and then remove from her any beautiful garb (see Rashi) and allow her to mourn her father and mother for a month. If at the end of this month long period he still desires her, he may then take her as a wife. If he doesn’t, he must set her totally free, and he cannot sell her as a slave in retribution for the suffering he caused her.
Rashi as a form of introduction to this entire issue quotes the Medrash Tanchuma that Hashem is allowing the taking of the captive by making her ‘permitted’ through marriage because otherwise people would do it despite its being forbidden. Rashi and the Tanchuma continue that if someone, after going through the time consuming procedure, does marry such a woman, he will end up hating her. The Medrash explains that such a union will in turn produce a wayward son. These latter two drashos are based on the juxtaposition of the Parshios that deal with these three issues.
What is the significance of this whole ordeal of the beautiful captive? What gives us the right to inflict upon her such suffering?
The answer to the second question was already alluded to. We mentioned that she must remove her beautiful garb. Really the Passuk says that we must remove from her the garb of her captivity. Rashi explains the reason for this is that when the Nations of the world go to war their women folk dress provocatively in order to seduce the enemy soldiers – presumably to distract them from the battle, to weaken or destroy their will to fight. There is thus a certain element of justice being carried out by afflicting the female captive in this way. Their provocative dress constituted weaponry of a sort, a bait to lure us to defeat. They are thus deserving of punishment – and the punishment fits the crime.
My Rebbe Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlita had once come out very strongly against some sort of business scheme. His campaign against the scheme was so effective that it spurred the originators to call him. He received an unannounced conference call from them in which they told him that he had robbed them of their parnassa. Rabbi Belsky replied that he was very troubled if he had indeed deprived anyone of parnassa, and that if so he was willing to do something to help them. They then explained that his ban on their “investment” has caused them tremendous loss, and that if he would be able to retract it this would certainly help them. Rabbi Belsky replied that not only was he willing to retract his ban, but would even provide an endorsement to their “investment” – on one condition. Rabbi Belsky continued to explain that the previous Erev Shabbos he had entered the kitchen to find his wife baking Challos. He was, however, astonished to see that his wife was baking the most miniscule Challos he had ever seen. He asked her why she was making such small Challos, as he couldn’t understand the reason for such a radical departure from the usual. His wife replied that these were the very same Challos that she baked every week; she explained that in the dough there is yeast and that the yeast makes the Challos grow to be big. Rabbi Belsky told the men on the phone that if they could explain to him what the yeast was in their “business”, he would then be more than happy to write a letter of endorsement. There was silence on the other end of the line, and then the men thanked Rabbi Belsky for his time.
The Gemorah compares our Yetzer Horah (evil inclination) in few places to sour dough – the olden day’s equivalent to yeast; the idea being that the Yetzer Horah has the power to take anything and make it look glamorous, thus luring us to desire it and to act upon that desire. Yet, the actual substance of the act is in reality close to nothing. We are as if hypnotized. Sin appears so attractive as to be irresistible – and we succumb to it. If we would but put the act into perspective and see its ramifications, we would then realize how insignificant the act is and how simply not worthwhile it is to commit. The problem is that as we are trapped in the present and therefore don’t focus on the past or future. We lack perspective and this is where we fall into the trap of the Yetzer Horah. If we would only be able to put the present and the act of sin into perspective we certainly wouldn’t succumb to sin.
The nations of the world used their women as agents of Evil to lure us into sin. They were not merely distracting us, but were causing us to sin and to lose focus from fighting a war LeShem Shamayim. The Torah understands that this sort of seduction may be irresistible. The Torah understands that we – as we witness such ‘grandeur’ as the Yetzer Horah can display-will have not just an urge, but almost a need, to yield to it. Therefore the Torah tells us how to put it back into perspective. The Torah does this in two ways: firstly, the Torah tells us to strip the beautiful captive from the artificial elements of beauty she adorned herself with, and likewise to place her in a mood that will force her to mourn her loss and her family, thus making her realize that she is no longer a means of heroic weaponry to her nation, but rather as a lowly captive for her captors to do with as they please. The effect of this is that her willingness to act seductively, and definitely her luring behavior, will cease. The Torah is thus trying to give us the proper perspective, so that we can realize that there is no true beauty present, but rather only the false beauty of the Yetzer Horah.
If this fails the Torah then provides us with a second perspective: the Torah tells us that there is in this situation no real relationship – that eventually the husband will come to hate his wife and that ultimately the fruit of such a relationship will be a wayward child.
As we find ourselves in Chodesh Elul on the threshold of a new year it is a time to place things in perspective, both past and future. We must ask ourselves: what is the yeast? Are we using our Yetzer Horah and rationalizing wrongful actions? Or are the Challos in fact becoming big and nice because we are using real ‘yeast’?
A very warm Good Shabbos, Rabbi Y. Dov Krakowski