Parshas Ki Seitzei begins with one of the more difficult sections of the Torah to understand: When someone goes to war and sees an Eshes Yefas Toar with whom he falls in love, the Torah allows him to take her as his wife (under various conditions and requirements, which we are not going to get into today). Basically, something which is incomprehensible to us is sanctioned by Torah law! This is a very strange halacha. Rashi explains: “The Torah is speaking here to handle the evil inclination.” In a time of war, a person has these tayvahs, and the Torah reluctantly permits him to do something which, under normal circumstances, would certainly be forbidden.
What makes this even harder to understand is the context of how and when such a thing happens.
In last week’s parsha, we learned that there are certain exemptions that prevent a person from being drafted into the Jewish army. The last of the exemptions is “the fearful and soft-hearted person shall go and return to his home” (Devorim 20:8). There are differing opinions as to what type of an individual is being exempted (Sotah 43a). According to at least one opinion, the fearful person here is not someone who is afraid of battle, but rather he is a G-d fearing person who is afraid that he will be punished at the Hand of G-d during the dangerous wartime scenario because of aveiros he has committed. In fact, the Gemara says that this is the primary exemption, and that the other deferments (for new home owners, newlyweds, etc.) are only to provide “cover” for the person who is afraid of Divine punishment for his past aveiros.
The result of this is that the people in the Torah-prescribed Jewish army are virtually totally righteous individuals. This certainly magnifies our difficulty in understanding this parsha. Who are we talking about that the Torah found it necessary to permit marrying this woman with whom he falls in love with during war? We are talking about Tzadikim Gemurim! The Gemara in Sotah suggests the type of aveira for which such a deferment is granted: Someone who spoke between putting on his Hand Tefillin and his Head Tefillin! We are not dealing with Sabbath desecrators or those who consume non-Kosher meat. Becoming distracted in the midst of donning Tefillin is a relatively minor transgression.
How is it that such a fellow develops such an uncontrollable passion in the middle of a war? What happened to his tzidkus?
Rav Yakov Galinsky, a famous Maggid in Yerushalayim, explained this with a very important principle. We know that there are tzadikim and there are non-tzadikim. What makes a person into a tzadik as opposed to a regular person? People think that a tzadik conquers his Yetzer HaRah much easier than normal people. Normal people succumb to their Yetzer HaRah; the tzadik is stronger, is more principled, and he does not succumb.
Rav Yakov Galinsky said this is not true. The tzadik has as much trouble—if not more trouble—than the rest of us. So, what differentiates a tzadik from a non-tzadik? The answer is that the tzadik is careful not to put himself into situations that will tempt him to succumb. He knows when a situation involves spiritual danger. He could easily stumble and transgress. He therefore sets up fences and guardrails to keep himself away from those types of situations.
A tzadik does not have a stronger Yetzer Tov. He does not have more will power. He has the same will power as the non-tzadik, but he implements a plan to avoid aveiros. It is like dieting. What is the difference between people who are thin and people who are overweight? A person who knows he can’t gain weight or that he needs to diet, fills himself up with vegetables and salads before he goes to a Chassanah so he is already half full. By the time he arrives at the wedding, he is not so hungry for the smorgasbord. He anticipates the fact that he will be in a tempting situation and takes preemptive action to ensure that he will not succumb to his natural inclination.
A person who is overweight does not take such preemptive action. He arrives at the Chassanah hungry and cannot help but say to himself: That looks so good! How can I pass that up? He eats it and he grows heavier. That is what it is all about.
So too, the tzadik has a plan. He takes preemptive action to avoid situations of temptation. However, this is all well and good under normal life circumstances. However, when someone goes out to war, he finds himself in an environment which he cannot control. Perhaps in his civilian life, he could set up certain boundaries that will ensure that he will not come into close contact with women, and certainly never be alone with them. However, on the battlefield, he is not in control. “And you will see in captivity a beautiful woman…” Suddenly, he sees a beautiful woman and he is love-struck for her. How did this happen? It happened because in regular life, he was always careful not to put himself into those types of situations, but during a war, he can’t help himself. Therefore, even a Tzadik—the person who usually won’t even speak while donning his Tefillin—can succumb to the allure of an Eishes Yefas Toar.
Rav Galinsky remarked on the timeliness of this parsha always falling out a week or two before Rosh HaShanna. When a person makes a cheshbon ha’nefesh (internal reckoning) and asks himself “Why is this year going to be different than all other years?” he needs to be thinking about ensuring that he is not put into situations in which he nebech feels compromised such that he may not be able to overcome his Yetzer HaRah. It is the forethought and planning that prevents him from spiritually stumbling.
The Torah Is Not Just Speaking About Lost Oxen and Cows
The Baal HaTurim makes an interesting comment in our parsha on the pasuk regarding HaShavas Aveidah (V’Asafto el toch beisecha) (Devorim 22:2). When we find a lost object, we are instructed to “gather it” into our house. The Baal HaTurim says there are only two places in the entire Tanach where the word V’Asafto (meaning to gather in) appears with a vov at the end. One of them is here by HaShavas Aveidah, and the other one is by Tzaraas (Melachim II 5:6).
The Baal HaTurim—as is his style—provides a connection between the two pesukim: The Gemara in Eruchin (16a) says that Tzaraas occurs as a result of Tzarei HaAyin (stinginess). “Can I borrow your lawnmower?” “It is broken.” “Can I borrow your folding chairs?” “I don’t have folding chairs.” The person always comes up with an excuse not to lend out his property. What does the Torah say happens to such a person? He gets House Tzaraas. He needs to take all his property outdoors when the Kohen pronounces the house tameh. Everyone will see that he has a working lawnmower, and he has plenty of folding chairs, etc., etc.
The Torah is saying “V’Asafto el toch Beisecha“—if you keep all your utensils inside your house and you are afraid to lend them out, then you will wind up with the plague of Tzaraas and you will need to take out all your utensils, and you will be shown to be a stingy miser. This is what the Baal HaTurim writes.
I saw a very interesting pshat in the sefer Marpeh L’Nefesh from HaGaon Rav Refael Zilber, Av Beis Din of Freiman. Many meforshim, among them the Schach in his sefer on Taryag Mitzvos, say that even though the simple reading of this pasuk by HaShavas Aveidah is that a person needs to take the found “lost objects” into his house, there is another meaning here as well: A person must return a sinner to his proper state of being—meaning to return his nefesh (soul) to him by giving him appropriate rebuke when necessary. The Torah is not merely speaking about returning ball point pens or cows. The Torah is talking about returning human beings—souls!
In a similar vein, the Maharam Schick, in his Sefer HaMitzvos, writes that the Mitzvah of HaShavas Aveidah does not only include returning lost property, but it also includes returning a person’s body (i.e. – through healing) and kal v’Chomer, it includes returning a person’s spirituality (hashavas nafsho).
In fact, the Ohr HaChaim haKadosh is the most elaborate in emphasizing this idea, literally learning every part of the pasuk as referring to kiruv rechokim (bringing people back to religion and spirituality). It is really worthwhile to read it inside to see how he explains every phrase of these pesukim.
“When you see the ox of your fellow man” – This refers to people who are so far removed from a Torah lifestyle that they act like animals. They don’t know the difference between good and bad.
“Your fellow man” (achicha) – This refers to the Holy One Blessed Be He.
“Wandering lost” (nidachim) – As in V’Nidachta v’hishtachaveesa lahem (you are spiritually straying, and you will bow down to them (i.e., idols)) (Devorim 4:19).
Regarding the pasuk “And if your brother is not close” the Ohr HaChaim (writing in the 1500 and 1600’s) says that this is referring to a time way off in the future. People strayed from Torah. They are wandering and lost. Hashem commands us “You shall gather these lost objects into your home.” (V’Asafta el toch beisecha). Take those people—drag them—into the Beis HaMedrash and teach them the Ways of Life (Orach Chaim) so that they shall be lost no longer.
According to the Ohr HaChaim, the pasuk is referring—at least homiletically—not to a lost cow or ox. It is referring to a lost person. You must find him and bring him into the House of Torah study.
The sefer Marpeh L’Nefesh uses this explanation of the Ohr HaChaim to connect the two expressions of V’Asafto pointed out by the Baal HaTurim. V’Asafto el toch Beisecha means take him into the Beis Medrash and thus “gather him in” from his Tzaraas affliction. Tzaraas is Tzaar Ayin—a very limited perspective of life. He thinks that what is important in life is making money, having pleasure, etc. He has a very narrow view of man’s purpose in this world. Take him into the Beis Medrash (v’Asofto) and you will heal him from his Tzaras Ayin, his limited perspective and his warped view of the world.
A Message Hidden in Sofei Teivos Rather Than Roshei Teivos
Finally, I wish to share one last comment from the Baal HaTurim. If you have to speak at a 40th or 50th wedding anniversary – this is a perfect vort.
The Torah provides a draft deferment for the newlywed soldier—”He shall be totally devoted to his house for a complete year” (Devorim 24:5). The Baal HaTurim notes that the last letter of the words in this pasuk (Naki Yiheyeh l’Beiso Shana (Achas)) spells out the ineffable Name of Hashem—Yud, Hay, Vov, Hay. The Torah is hinting here that the purpose of giving newlyweds an initial year of complete dedication to one another is so that the Divine Presence (Shechina) should reside in their midst.
The question is: Why is this allusion contained in the last letter of each word (Sofei Teivos)? Why is it not alluded to in the first letter of each word (Roshei Teivos)? Perhaps this alludes to the following: Yes, in the early years of one’s marriage people get along. Honeymoons are great. At that point, it is rather easy to create an environment of Shalom Bayis, where the Shechina is Shruyah Beineihem (the Divine Presence resides in their midst). The challenge is Sofei Teivos! When people have been married for quite some time—his idiosyncrasies drive her crazy and her idiosyncrasies drive him crazy. The respective parties of the marriage are perhaps not so particular that it should be such a loving relationship anymore.
That is why the pasuk emphasizes that the Shechina’s presence should be perceived in a marriage through Sofei Teivos and not only through Roshei Teivos. For this reason, the name of Hashem is spelled out at the end of the words rather than at the beginning.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Edited by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Ki Seitzei is provided below:
- #020 – Non-Halachic Marriage Ceremonies
- #065 – Polygamy and the Cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom
- #110 – Mamzeirus: Possible Solutions?
- #156 – Reconciling Divergent Customs Between Husband and Wife
- #203 – The Pre-War “Get”
- #250 – The Mitzvah of Ma’akeh
- #293 – “Get Me’useh”: The Prohibition of the “Forced Get”
- #339 – Shana Reshona: The First Year of Marriage
- #383 – The Mitzvah of Burial
- #427 – Trying on Suits that May Have Shatnes
- #471 – Autopsies on Non-Jews
- #515 – Women Wearing Men’s Clothing
- #559 – The Double Portion of the Be’chor
- #603 – Burying a Rasha Next to a Tzadik
- #647 – Ramps and Stages – Do They Need a Maakeh?
- #691 – Chassanah Minhagim
- #735 – Brachos in a Bathroom?
- #779 – Shehecheyanu at a Chasuna
- #823 – Tzar Ba’al Hachayim – Does It Apply to People?
- #867 – Dying Hair For Men – Asur or Mutar?
- #911 – Returning a Lost Pacifier
- #955 – The Un-Cancelled Stamp – Can You Re-use it?
- #998 – Making a Bracha for Building a Ma’akeh?
- #1042 – Dressing Up As A Woman for Chasunah Dancing and on Purim?
- #1086 – A Bracha for Shiluach Hakein?
- #1129 – The Ani Who Picked Up Your $20 bill
- #1171 – Dating Someone Before You Are Divorced?
- #1259 – Shiluach Hakain – On Shabbos? From Your Back Porch?
- #1303 – Is A Woman Allowed to Carry a Gun?
- #1347 – The Case of the Frail Grandfather and the Bracha Under the Chupa
- #1391 – Shalom Aleichem – Before or After Kiddush?
- #1435 – Paying a Worker on Time- A Mitzva De’oraisah
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