The Jewish soldier who sees a beautiful gentile woman in war, and who
desires to take this captive as a wife, is permitted to bring her into his
home. But before making her into his wife, she must first cut her hair,
clip her nails and don her clothing of captivity while bewailing her
father and mother for one month (Deuternomony 21:10-14).
A beautiful symbolical interpretation of this mitzvah, which is of
universal relevance, is expounded by the Ohr HaChaim in his Torah
The going out to war is a reference to birth. Leaving the heavenly realm
to descend into this world, a person readies himself to engage in warfare.
His life is to be an on-going conflict wrestling with the Yetzer Hara,
evil inclination. He is only strong if he is victorious – “Who is the
strong one? One who subdues his inclinations” (Avos 4:1).
But this is not a typical or a conventional battle. It is an ongoing,
never-ending assault. It is a relentless struggle against a ruthless
antagonist who threatens to overwhelm the person. A person cannot afford
to hesitate – even momentarily – or let go his guard fearful that the
Yetzer Hara, evil inclination may get the better of him. It is a battle to
the death. And the stakes are great.
Every person has a spiritual component, as symbolized by the Yefas
Toar, “the beautiful woman”. She makes or breaks the man. She is the love
of his life insofar as spiritual pursuits are what make everything in life
worthwhile. Intrinsically beautiful, the Yefas Toar is nevertheless
held “captive” by the evil inclination.
But the soldier succeeds in capturing the Yefas Toar. He demonstrates a
willingness to take whatever steps are necessary to “free” this spiritual
spark. He wants to rescue this beautiful captive, win her over and
incorporate this spiritual component into his divine worship.
Fighting the powerful influence of the evil inclination, he longs to bring
her into his house.
However before her 100% integration, all alien ideologies must be
eliminated. And for her beauty to shine, all the foreign external
trappings must be discarded. This is alluded to in the instructions to cut
her hair and clip her nails – a reference to the extraneous components of
the human body.
There is therefore a call for Teshuvah, Repentance. The waiting time of
a “month” before the soldier is allowed to take her as a wife is an
allusion to Elul, the month designated for repentance and returning to G-d
just before Rosh Hashanah. During that time the Yefas Toar is to mourn
about her father and mother. This is the remorse felt for the spiritual
component having departed from her “Heavenly Father” and from the mother-
symbol of the “Congregation of Israel”.
May each one of us succeed in rescuing our “captive” spiritual side and
use the wonderful month of Elul to be victorious over our Yetzer Hara and
achieve complete atonement by coming closer to our Master.