Parshas Ki Seitzei
Where There's A Cause, There's An Effect
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
This is a parsha of cause-and-effect.
To begin with, the parsha begins talking about two types of war-one
against the human enemy, and one against the internal enemy, the yetzer
When you go to war against your enemies and G-d, your G-d gives
them over to you and you take
captives; and you see a beautiful female captive whom you desire to
take as a wife, then you
shall bring her home and ... (Devarim 21:10)
The rest of this section describes the procedure that must be
followed before the Torah permits this Jew to marry this non-Jewess (who
obviously must convert before marriage). After he brings her home, she must
cease to take care of herself, so that her beauty fades before his very
eyes. She must also mourn the fact that she has been removed from her
family, which for sure will play on his nerves, and give him recourse to
reconsider what he did in his moment of passion. If after thirty days of
THIS he still wants to marry this captive, and she converts according to
halacha, then, the Torah permits him to do so.
What about the Talmudic statement that one should not convert for
the sake of marriage? What about the fact that Jews shouldn't seek to marry
non-Jews? What about the fact that the Jews are supposed to exercise
exceptional self-control, even in times of war, and keep their passions in
The Talmud (Kiddushin 21b, which Rashi quotes) states that this
parsha speaks to the yetzer hara, or better yet, about it. We know as a
people first hand what happens to man's instinctual nature during war; the
death, destruction, and sense of despair causes many to "snap" and simply
follow the desires of their heart. Apparently, according to the Torah, the
Jewish male can act likewise during wartime. And, as Shlomo HaMelech wrote,
"Stolen waters are sweet ..."; they are certainly "sweeter" at a time when
a person has little, if any, self-control. If so, then what is a person to
The answer is: stall for time. The answer is, "Yes, you can have
her, but ... "
Everyone knows that you can't say "no" to passion, at least not
outright. Whether it is a desire for a piece of chocolate cake while on a
strict diet, or a yearning for something absolutely forbidden, a "cold
turkey" reaction can often have the reverse effect, instead intensifying
the desire until it becomes impossible to hold back.
However, a burning desire was never a reason to give in to the
yetzer hara. The trick is, it seems, to give the IMPRESSION to the yetzer
hara (or child for that matter, who operates in very much the same way as
the yetzer hara!) that you are meeting its demand SOMEWHAT, but on
condition that ...
"On condition that ..." what?
It is precisely here that the psychological warfare begins. How
many times do we lose the desire for something after a little bit of time
has passed? There is the story of a woman who loved chocolate cake, and her
weight revealed it. She tried dieting, but each time, at a moment of test,
she failed and succumbed to the "inner voice" to eat. She would tell that
"NO! We're on a diet!"
But that voice would yell back louder,
"DIET, SHMIET! LIFE IS FOR ENJOYING,
So, one day, at a moment of capitulation, she took the cake and put
it down in front of her. She was tired of fighting, and had all but given
up on the War-of-Weight. However, this time, before gulping down the cake,
she just sat there, and stared at the cake. She sat there for at least
fifteen minutes, just staring at the cake, waiting before starting to eat
it. But something strange happened this time: she didn't eat the cake.
AND EVEN SKINNY PEOPLE DIE YOUNG!"
Not only did she not eat the cake, but her DESIRE to eat the cake
also dissipated as time went on. She noticed that as time passed, her body
calmed down, and her intense desire to consume the fattening food reduced,
until finally, in a moment of calm, she simply got up walked away, leaving
the cake intact. However, she did gain something from the whole affair:
increased self-esteem and a greater resolve to lose that weight after all.
The yetzer hara always makes it seem that if we don't feed it what
it wants NOW, it will never stop hounding us-like a child who throws a
temper tantrum in the local store over candy he or she MUST have. To the
panicky parent, it can seem like a do-or-die situation, forcing submission
to the screaming tot's demand. However, the calm parent knows that "this
too shall pass."
Passions don't last forever, unless they are stunted outright; they
merely intensify because the waters become more "stolen," and seemingly
"sweeter." But they are not. What is wrong is wrong and what is off-limits
is off-limits, and there can never be any halachic justification for acting
immorally. Giving in to a child at the wrong time in the wrong way may
silence him for the moment, but it sends the wrong message and lessens the
child's chance of emotional maturity.
But every good parent knows that raising children is often a matter
of distraction- distraction away from the wrong thing and toward the right
thing. There is an art to giving the child the impression that they have
not lost anything, while at the same time heeding his parent's wishes. It
works the same way for the yetzer hara as well.
The procedure of the "Yafes Toar" (the name of the captive woman)
illustrates how surviving the moment of passion leads to the revelation of
its inherent ugliness, which dampens the desire for fulfillment. Past the
moment of passion lies reality, and once we wake up to IT, the yetzer hara
has very little to say.
The truth be known, everyone wakes up to reality-eventually. The
only question after we do is, "were we burned," another casualty in the war
of life having committed an irreversible mistake for which we will have to
pay for later, or did we hang in long enough to survive the moment, and the
war itself, and walk away a whole person, in a position to receive the true
"spoils" of war-THE WORLD-TO-COME.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Then the Torah talks about a man who has two wives, one which he
loves and one which he hates. However, the firstborn son, who stands in
line to inherit the double-portion from his father, happens to belong to
the hated wife. The Torah admonishes the man by telling him that regardless
of how he feels about his wife or her child, the firstborn son is the
undisputed firstborn son, and his rights are his rights.
However, there is more to this marriage than meets the eye, as
Rashi already pointed out by the Yafes Toar:
... If he does marry her (the female captive), in the end he will
HATE her, for the Torah says
afterwards, "If a man has two wives, one he loves and one he hates
... " (Devarim 21:15);
The end of Rashi is referring to the next section, which speaks of
the rebellious son, who, unlike any other Jew, is killed by capital
punishment even before the age of Bar Mitzvah! What a tragedy! What a
disaster! And all because this man gave in to his passions and married his
yetzer hara, ah ... that is ... HIS Yafes Toar!
ultimately, he will have a REBELLIOUS SON from her (Ibid. 18). It
is for this reason that the
Torah juxtaposes these sections. (Rashi, Devarim 21:11)
Now THAT'S cause-and-effect.
(Lest one think that this situation is somewhat
out-of-the-ordinary, we have only to review the story in Tanach of Dovid
HaMelech's son from a Yafes Toar, Avshalom, who violated his step-sister
(Tamar) and Dovid's daughter from a real marriage; see Pirke Avos, 5:19.)
Another way of referring to this cause-and-effect relationship is:
a mitzvah leads to a mitzvah, and a transgression leads to a transgression
(alternatively: the reward for a mitzvah is a chance to do another mitzvah,
and for a transgression, the trap of another transgression). This, Rashi
also points out later:
When you build a new house, then you shall make a fence on top of
it, so that no blood should be
on your house if a man falls from it. (Devarim 22:8)
There is a mitzvah, if one's house has a flat-roof, to fence the
roof in as a precautionary measure, to responsibly reduce the possibility
of an accident occurring. And this important mitzvah, Rashi says, comes in
the "wake" of the previous mitzvah of not taking the mother bird with her
If you fulfill the (previously mentioned) command of
sending away the mother bird to take
its young, then you will be privileged to build a new house
and fulfill the command of
putting a fence around its roof, for one good deed leads to
another ... (Rashi)
There certainly is what to explore with regard to the deeper
connection between the mitzvah of "Shaluach HaKan" (sending away the mother
bird), and the mitzvah of "Ma'akeh," (building the roof-fence). However,
the main point here is the concept of how our response to moral imperatives
effect our personal future, the future of our families, and of the whole
nation. The effect may not come swiftly in response to our cause, but take
it for granted that it will, and when it does, hopefully it will be one
that we will not regret later.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"When a man takes a wife and marries her ... " (Devarim 24:1)
This verse is the source of the Jewish concept of marriage, and it
alludes to the means by which Kiddushin (marriage) can be affected, of
which there are three (Kiddushin 2a): the transference of money from the
husband to the wife (today, we use a ring equal to at least the Talmudic
value of a "perutah"); a marriage contract stating the officialness of the
union, and consummation (which the Talmud outlawed for obvious reasons,
permitting it only after Chupah has been performed).
There are basically two stages to the Jewish marriage process:
Kiddushin and Nisuin. Kiddushin, from the same word as "Kiddush," means to
sanctify, or to "set-aside." As the Talmudic commentary Tosfos points out
(Kiddushin 2b), when a man becomes halachically engaged to a women, she
becomes sanctified to him, that is, off-limits to every other man. They may
not live together at this stage of the relationship, but, for all intents
and purposes, they are HALACHICALLY husband and wife. Separation at this
stage would require a "Get," that is, a halachic divorce document.
Nisuin is the part of the process that is performed through the
ceremony under the Chupah, which makes the man and woman husband and wife
in every sense of the term. Hence, a married person is called a "nisui."
It used to be that after the halachic engagement of Kiddushin was
done, the chason (groom) and kallah (bride) would return to their parents'
homes to prepare for the wedding to be held months later. In Talmudic
times, before catering and refrigeration made weddings a "snap," months of
preparation were necessary to give the kallah the type of wedding every
women deserves. As a result, a considerable span of time would pass before
the marriage could be consummated, though halachically, they were already
As a result, and because young people often have difficulty
controlling their passions, unfaithfulness sometimes resulted between the
time of Kiddushin and the final act of Chupah. This was tantamount to
adultery. For this reason, today, Kiddushin and Nisuin take place at one
time under the chupah; any other type of "engagement," for the most part,
is only ceremonial.
However, one must always be very careful, lest he and she find
himself and herself UNINTENTIONALLY "married," the consequences of which
may be the requirement of a divorce should the man and woman choose not to
remain together. And remarriage in a case where divorce was necessary but
not carried out results in illegitimate children, accidentally or
The bottom line is that the male-female relationship is never a
casual "event." As the word Kiddushin implies, it is a HOLY relationship,
one rooted in the very reason for creation, of which the Talmud says is to
TRY to have children. In fact, King Chizkiah was almost killed for not
having children, and one of the four questions they'll ask us when we get
up "There" for the final "test" is: Did you try to have children?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The end of the parsha includes the mitzvah of Yibum, or, the
Levirate marriage. This is the mitzvah for the surviving brother to try to
have a child on behalf of his dead brother through the latter's wife,
should that brother leave his wife childless. All of this, says the Torah,
So that his name shall not be eradicated from the Jewish people.
However, what is amazing here is that, if the brother died leaving
even only one child, then marriage between the surviving brother and his
sister-in-law would be absolutely forbidden. Yet, if the brother dies
childless, not only is it PERMISSIBLE to perform the Levirate marriage with
his sister-in-law, but it is a MITZVAH to do so, one for which abstention
results in public humiliation!
"... This is what is done to the one who won't build his brother's
What changed in the woman because she did or didn't have children?
How can she be both forbidden yet permissible? How does having a child
change her nature with respect to the surviving brother-in-law that she
all-of-a-sudden becomes permissible to him?
Obviously, there is a lot to discuss and understand here. In fact,
there is a whole, long section of Talmud devoted entirely to the laws of
the Levirate marriage. But, in the meantime, we have a classic example of
how nothing is intrinsically permissible or forbidden in this world. (Can
we really tell the difference between meat that was ritually slaughtered up
to a hairsbreadth, which, according to G-d, makes it treif?)
What makes something, anything "permissible" or "off-limits" is
WHAT G-D THINKS ABOUT IT. Like the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good
and Evil, which the midrash says was not intrinsically good or evil. What
made its fruit forbidden and spiritually dangerous was because G-d called
it that. And THAT is the ULTIMATE reality of forbiddenness.
Analyzing mitzvahs to gain a deeper insight into life and its
purpose is fine and even encouraged. However, in the end, we have to keep
in mind that it is what G-D thinks about the mitzvos and their performance
that makes all the difference in life. This is the ultimate cause that
leads to the ultimate effect: closeness to G-d, and peace to the entire
Have a great Shabbos,
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston is a teacher and author of many books on Jewish philosophy
(hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston's Perceptions on the
Parsha, you may enjoy many of his books.
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Project Genesis, Inc.
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