You shall bring her into your house. She shall shave her head, and let her nails grow.
Rashi explains: The Torah arranges for the star-struck soldier to constantly encounter her in her least attractive state. Hence, he brings her into his home, where he will constantly run into her looking disheveled and unkempt – decidedly not glamorous. The Torah aims to cool his ardor by repeatedly exposing him to her less desirable aspects, hoping that he will lose romantic interest in her.
This seems to us like a clever way – we would expect nothing less from the Torah! – to deal with the difficult challenges that a soldier faces in wartime, and of little relevance to the rest of us non-combatants. But this would be missing the point entirely. The section of yefas to’ar places an extraordinary obligation upon all of us. The Torah indicates that it doesn’t limit its teaching to the “usual” conditions of Man. The Torah has something to say about the non-typical situations as well. And it obligates Man to take honest stock of those situations, and seek the Torah’s counsel.
Many people – to their credit – create finely-tuned schedules for themselves, through which they maximize their learning time, and provide the best conditions for their davening. Should they find themselves on the road, however, they founder. They are so accustomed to their routine, that when forced to operate outside of it, they tell themselves that they simply can’t do a good job. Learning and davening will have to suffer until they can return to their “normal.”
Our parshah tells us that this is an error. The soldier is us. We are all soldiers engaged in battle with the yetzer hora. Sometimes his weapons are predictable. At other times, he deploys surprise and cunning, and catches us off guard. Our first response has to be that the Torah provides advice for these conditions as well.
Chazal teach us how to deal with an upwelling of ta’avah. If a person finds that his yetzer hora has taken hold of him, and he finds himself unsuccessful in resisting, he should dress himself in black and go to a place where no one recognizes him and sin there. This effectively provides two lines of defense. First, he many lose interest in the aveirah if he has to put himself through so much trouble. Second, even if he succumbs, he minimizes the chilul Hashem when no one knows him.
“Gehinom is cooled for one who recites krias Shma and is meticulous in the pronunciation of all its letters.” Gehinom is a terrible place; cooling it down for someone who is already there is also an accomplishment. The Torah addresses itself even to the person doing time in the place he didn’t want to be.
There is no respite from the war with the yetzer hora, even in times of weakness and failure. We are always, always expected to have a strategy of how to fight back. First and foremost, must be acute self-awareness under all circumstances. A person must know who he is, and where he stands. If a person is swept away by a strong current, with no idea how to save himself, he still possesses the advantage that he knows that he is in desperate straits. He is far better off than the person who doesn’t even realize that he is being carried out to sea.
The Torah will always have something to say to the person who is trying to deal with his mission in life and with its struggles. Not so for the person who has stopped dealing. He has taken himself outside of the boundaries of what Man is supposed to be.
- Based on Daas Torah, by Rav Yeruchem Levovitz zt”l, Devarim v.2 pgs. 1-4 ↑
- Devarim 21:12 ↑
- Kiddushin 40a ↑
- Berachos 15b ↑