by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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The sedra begins with the laws of the "Yefas To'ar," the beautiful gentile woman whom a Jewish solder meets in his battle against her people. Rashi says a very strange thing in regard to these laws.
"And you see among the prisoners a beautiful woman, if you desire her, you may take her as your wife."
You may take her as your wife: Rashi: The Torah speaks only in deference to the evil inclination (yetzer hara) "Lo dibra Torah ela keneged yetzer hara." For if the Holy One blessed be He, would not permit her, he would live with her illicitly. However, if he does marry he will ultimately hate her, as it says afterwards (verse 15) "if a man has [two wives on he loves and one he hates..]
A Question: How can this be so? When does the Torah ever "give in" to the yetzer hara? Rashi says that because the man will in any event marry her illicitly, therefore the Torah decided to allow him to marry her!? If this were the Torah's approach, then any time a man is tempted to do evil we would expect the Torah to permit the act to begin with. The reasoning being similar: If we prohibit the act, then he'll do it anyway, so why not permit it?" (Some Jews do think this way!)
Is this what Rashi is saying?
An Answer: The Torah is actually giving us an important lesson in how one can deal successfully with his tetzer hara. This is based on the Talmudic (and psychologically true) principle of "pas b'salo" (bread in his basket) - meaning that if a person is on a trip and has bread in his bag, he will not be as a hungry as the person who takes the trip without any provisions for the way.
Being without food makes one REALLY feel hungry; on the other hand, having food in easy reach, makes one REALLY not feel hungry. If the Torah had said "No!" You can't take this beautiful woman" then one's yetzer would be ignited even more. By the Torah saying "Yes you can take her, but…." The clout goes out of the seemingly irresistible desire to have this woman. The Torah says "Yes you can take her for a wife, but first …have her head shaved…then… let fingernails grow…then… have her remove her nice garments… then… let her cry her eyes out…then if you still want her, you can legally take for a wife (not for a prostitute).
This is the Torah speaking against the wiles of the yetzer hara - not for it. How a person can succumb the yetzer, not how one can succumb to it. Because the yetzer is so strong under the special circumstances of war where all the rules are set aside, where one's usual social and environmental pressures that ordinarily help constrain our impulses are absent, where one can act he as he wishes without others knowing about it - when all these factors combine in the case of the solder at war, then the yetzer is particularly powerful. In these circumstances, the Torah gives us an approach to deal with the yetzer, with wisdom and psychological insight. The rule: Don't say NO!" say "Yes, but…"
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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