Ki Tetze: The beautiful captive woman

The Netziv asks:’’What is this beautiful woman, adorned and dressed in her finery, doing in battle?’"

Danny Ginsbourg‏ ,

Danny Ginsbourg
Danny Ginsbourg

We read in our Parasha (21:10-14) of the אשת יפת תאר: the captive ‘woman who is beautiful of form’, that Hashem ‘delivers into our hand’, and that: ‘You will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife; You shall bring her into your house, she will shave her head and let her nails grow. She shall remove the garments of her captivity, and sit in your house, and she shall weep for her father and her mother for a full month; thereafter you may come to her and live with her, and she shall be a wife to you’.

The Netziv asks:’’What is this beautiful woman, adorned and dressed in her finery, doing in battle?’

He answers:’That was the custom of the other nations at that time, that when the young men went out to war, the beautiful young maidens of the nation, adorned in their wedding finery, also went out, and the hand of the warrior who stood out for his bravery, would be the ‘prize’ for these women.

‘This is why these women, when their nation was defeated- as here, in the battle against Bnei Israel - were so attired, when taken captive’.

Our Sages differ as to the meaning of the words: ולקחת לך לאשה: ‘and you shall take her’, written before ‘she is brought into your house’.

One view is that he is ‘permitted’ to come onto her immediately when she is taken captive; the other view, is that this is only permitted after ALL the other steps set out are taken, up to and including, the thirty days of crying for her parents.

The Alshich Hakadosh adopte the first of these views, saying:’There are two types of battle alluded to in this Parasha: there is the battle between nations, and the internal battle of the Jewish warrior with his יצר הרע, his evil inclination..

‘The first of these battles is not, in fact, fought by Bnei Israel, for Hashem wins this battle for us- as we learn from Avraham Avinu and his faithful servant, ‘defeating’ four mighty kings, and so many other miraculous ‘victories’ that our history is replete with.

‘The second battle, which is a far more difficult one, is for us to fight, for, as our Sages say:’All is in the hands of Shamayim, except fot יראת שמים: the awe of Shamayim’.

This is why our Sages say:(Avot 4:1):’Who is a גיבור: a brave man? One who conquers his יצר׳- the man who is in full control of all his inclinations, is braver than one who wins battles, against outside foes.

‘Hashem, in our Parasha, teaches of His great חסד to us: Look, He says: I have ‘fulfilled’ my part, by delivering your enemy into your hand; but you, instead of fulfilling your part, gave in to your יצר, and the minute your eye sees the ‘beautiful woman captive’, you desire her, and cannot control your urge to take her, there and then.

‘Worse! You transgress with that that I have given to you: ‘my’ captive, as I, not you, fought-and won- this battle.

‘What, then, shall I do, to prevent you ‘losing your soul’, by this intentional forbidden act?

‘As an extra חסד to you, I ‘permit’ this act to you; but, lest your יצר הרע, as a result, take permanent residence in you, I prescribe four steps to prevent this:First, as the ‘novelty’ of this captive was the lure your יצר seduced you to give in’, now, before you have any further relations with her, bring her into your home, so that she becomes ‘part’ of that which you see every day, and so that the first bloom thereby recedes.

‘Second, take the steps I have laid down, to reduce her physical attractiveness, and the finery by which you were ‘seduced’.

‘Third, the relief that you felt, when, the fear of battle, and death, had passed, when the battle was won, gave you a feeling of calm, which was the perfect condition for your יצר to ‘take over’; this will be replaced on your return home, with your captive, as your wife will make the battle of Gog and Magog pale into insignificance, when compared to her reaction to the new woman you have brought into her life- and home.

‘And, fourth, the great sense of joy and triumph that you felt, in the spoils of ‘your’ victory, will be forgotten, when you see your captive crying continuously for a month, for her father and her mother’.

Concludes the Rav:’Behold, I have laid out before you the four antidotes to the things that brought you to give in to your יצר this one time, so that should you, after all the conditions I have prescribed, still wish to take her, it shall be for your wife, and not to satisfy your base desires’.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch offers a different understanding of our Parasha:’Our Parasha teaches that צניעות and proper conduct is to be observed even in the heat of battle, and protects the rights and dignity of the captive woman.

‘The Jewish conscience binds us, even in the most ‘trying’ situations, such as war when men give free rein to their inclinations- and how much more so, in ‘normal’ conditions.

‘Most parshanim hold that the man, in our Parasha, has already once yielded to his desires, and come upon the captive woman, immediately after the battle, and the Torah now comes ‘only to speak against the יצר הרע’(Kid’ 21:); if he is not permitted to come upon her, he will give in to his יצר, and transgress.

‘You shall bring her into your house’:You are obligated to take one of these two courses: Either, marry her, after all the matters set out in the Parasha are satisfied, and she has fully converted to Judaism; OR, if that is not your wish, to free her - you are forbidden to take advantage of her in any way, be it to keep her as a servant, or to sell her to others.

‘Our Sages understand that the purpose of that which is to be done to the captive in your house, is to lessen her attractiveness, and that the prescribed period of her presence in the house, unadorned and unhappy, will give the man time to pause, before he decides to take her as his wife, as the spirit of the Torah is not favorably disposed to a union whose roots are desire.

‘For this reason, the Torah juxtaposes the parasha of the captive woman, with the parasha of the two wives, one beloved and one hated, and of the rebellious son, to warn of the likely consequences of this undesired union’.

The Zohar Hakadosh gives a very different exposition of this wondrous Parasha:’The אשת יפת תאר is not an ‘outsider’, but is our נשמה!’.

Adds the Ari Hakadosh:’’And you saw in her captivity אשת יפת תאר, that is your soul, ‘and you shall shave her head’: these are the false thoughts, ‘’and cut her nails’: dispose of all the excesses; ‘and cast off the clothes of her captivity’: the attire made by the transgressions.

‘And then: ‘She shall cry for her father’: for her transgressions against Hashem, and ‘her mother’: for her transgressions against her people, ‘for a month of days’:for the whole month of Ellul, which is the propitious time for Teshuva’.

The Be’er Mayim Chaim adds:’Every preparation for קדושה requires thirty days: our Sages teach (Pesachim 6.):’Thirty days before Pessach, we start to learn the halakhot of the chag’, and likewise with the other chagim.

‘In the same way, the thirty days of Ellul are a preparation for Rosh Hashanah, by engaging in תשובה, so as to be ready to receive the קדושה and טהרה of יום הדין.

‘And these thirty days are, as is known to the Sages, against the fifteen steps we take backwards, to distance ourselves from sin, and the fifteen steps upwards, to ascend, step by step, to the קדושה of the Holy Days’.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.

Danny Ginsbourg is a retired lawyer who made aliya from Australia a decade ago. He has written five volumes of Torah thoughts in Hebrew,and was awarded the Jerusalem Prize.for the two volume Davsha shel Torah to which there are already several sequels.