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Just Wait

By: Rabbi Dr Zvi Ron

In this week's parsha we have the very unusual case of the "yefat to'ar", the beautiful captive. The Torah instructs us "When you will go out to war against your enemies and Hashem your God will deliver them into your hand, and you will capture its captivity, and you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form, and you will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife" (21:10-11). We are always told to use self-control and stay away from things that may seem physically enticing but spiritually ruinous, yet here the Torah is telling us to take what we desire! How can we understand this strange rule?


Rashi, based on the Sifri, explains the month long process that this captive must go through before the Jewish soldier may marry her. She must shave off her hair and grow out her fingernails in order to look repulsive. She must change out of the clothing she wore when captured, since in those days one of the tactics used to distract opposing soldiers was to have the local women wear very pretty clothing. She must sit and cry at the entrance of the house so that the soldier will constantly run into her crying and degraded. All this is in order to make her seem repulsive to him, so that he will eventually lose his desire for her and choose a nice Jewish girl instead.

Now we can understand the famous statement in Kidushin 21b, that the case of the "yefat to'ar" is a case of "lo dibra Torah ela keneged yetzer hara", the Torah is speaking here only against the evil inclination. This is not a mechanism for permitting the soldier to marry the captive, it is exactly the opposite, it is a way for the soldier to combat his evil inclination and leave this captive. As the Zohar teaches, the war spoken about in the beginning of the parsha is the war against the yetzer hara.


What methods did the Torah teach that are effective against physical desires and distractions? There are two main tools here. The first is to see the thing that seems desirable as horrible and disgusting. Taking a moment to really think about a sinful act and how degrading it is may be enough to help a person regain their sense of right and wrong. The second tool is procrastination. Generally, putting things off is considered a negative character trait, but it may be channeled to positive uses. Here the Torah advises to wait a month. Some sinful thoughts dissolve after sleeping on it or even just waiting an hour. I was once told by a psychiatrist friend that most obsessive thoughts dissipate after being distracted for just 45 minutes. By postponing a sinful act, we have time to see the foolishness of what we were planning to do.


These two tools are ones that we are all armed with already. We have all experienced disgust at foul things and we have all pushed off something that we planned to do. The Torah instructs us to use these character traits as effective weapons in our battles against the yetzer hara.


Shabbat Shalom




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