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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Ki Seitze

When you will go out to war against your enemies…And you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form…You will take her to yourself for a wife. (21:10,11)

The pasuk refers to a "milchemes reshus," optional/discretionary war, for in the war of Eretz Yisrael we do not take captives. It is in such a war that the soldier may see a woman whose physical appearance captivates him. The Torah permits their eventual marriage as a way of warding off the yetzer hora's, evil-inclination's, effect on him. The Torah understands that had he not been granted permission to marry her, he might marry her in a forbidden manner. This is a powerful statement. The Torah knows the power of the yetzer hora and the grasp it has over a human being. The Torah responds to the human being's natural frailty when confronted head-on by the yetzer hora.

Horav Shlomo Margolis, Shlita, derives a valuable lesson from here. We are under the assumption that man has before him two paths in life - what is permissible and what is prohibited; the right way and the wrong way. We derive from the incident of the "yefas toar," the Torah's response to the soldier's human frailty, that there is a third path: the optional path. The derech ha'reshus, discretionary approach, is available to everyone. He is empowered to transform this opportunity into a mitzvah, or he can defer to his base nature and act in an opposite manner. Since many obstacles and pitfalls line the optional path, if one is not extremely vigilant his discretion will lead to sin.

The Torah permits the soldier to marry the yefas toar. Chazal tell us that this marriage invariably will bring forth a son who will become a ben sorer u'moreh, a wayward and rebellious child. How can this happen? After all, the soldier is no ordinary Jew. He is one of those who remained after the Kohen announced that whoever was fearful should go home. Chazal define fearful and fainthearted as referring to one who is insecure concerning his aveiros midreRabbanan, sins violating rabbinic ordinances. In other words, this soldier is a G-d-fearing person who does not sin, who has no qualms about any indiscretion that he might have committed. Yet, he might be overwhelmed by the captive's physical appearance.

The Alter, zl, M'Novardok, explains that while this person is pious and G-d-fearing, he may remain committed only when nothing challenges his willpower. He is not prepared, however, to ward off the blandishments of the yetzer hora under extreme conditions. It is not enough to be good, to act properly, only under utopian conditions. One must temper his faith and galvanize his conviction to withstand challenge and trial.

Another lesson can be gleaned from the incident of yefas toar. The Torah juxtaposes yefas toar upon the laws regarding one who has two wives, one of whom he hates. This halachah precedes that of the rebellious son. Chazal tell us that one thing leads to another. In this situation, the individual has insisted upon marrying the girl who captivated him. He now has two wives. The harmony in his home will not last. Yet, he may never divorce the yefas toar. She is his wife until death parts them. He now has two wives, one that he loves and one for whom he no longer cares. In fact, the Torah refers to her as the senuah, hated one. It is no wonder that a child born to this marriage will have a deficient upbringing. This is the genesis of the wayward and rebellious son. It all starts with the captive maiden who captivates him.

We see that if the yetzer hora has a hand in the equation, it is doomed. Even if the marriage is halachically legal - it has been forced in order to combat the yetzer hora. The evil inclination is involved. Therefore, it cannot work.

Horav Margolis notes that we often hear criticism from those who are estranged from the Torah way of life, claiming that if we would only be "meikil," lenient, in regard to some of the Torah's laws, we would bring many people back to Judaism. We should bend with the "times." Perhaps if Judaism would be a bit more flexible, more people could live with it. The Torah teaches us that these claims have no basis in reality. The prohibition against taking a woman from outside the faith was relaxed under specific conditions in response to a unique situation. The prohibition was lifted by the Torah itself due to the risk to the soldier's spiritual stability. Does it work out in the long run? No! The Author of the Torah, the Creator of humankind, knows the nature of His creations. The Torah does not have to be altered. We are the ones who need to change.

When you will go out to war against your enemies. (21:10)

The various commentators interpret this pasuk as referring to a unique war, one not fought with conventional weapons, because the enemy is not the usual type of adversary. This war is the battle that we wage throughout life with the yetzer hora, evil inclination. The yetzer hora is a difficult enemy to overwhelm. He fights with incredible guile. In fact, he uses us in his never-ending battle to deter us from the Torah. Chazal suggest a number of ways to assist us in this very difficult struggle to maintain our spiritual well-being.

Horav Avraham Yehoshua Freund, zl, rav of Nasaud, Hungary, suggests that the letters of the word "teitzei," "you will go out," are a notreikun, acronym, for the words: "tzayer tzuras avicha," "imagine/depict (before your eyes the) image of your father." The Torah offers us a sound piece of advice, a battle plan for winning the war against the yetzer hora: Conjure up the image of your father. One will think twice before he commits a sin when the image of his father stands before him. This is true, of course, providing that the father was an individual to whom a son would look up. Regrettably, at times some of us do not project a positive image before our children. We fail to live up to the paradigm that a parent must represent. Rather than reinforcing the message our children are being taught in school, we live a lifestyle that undermines it.

On the other hand, there are individuals who are saved from spiritual and moral extinction because of the image they maintain of their fathers. How wonderful it would be if we could all bequeath a legacy of honor, dignity and virtue to our children.

If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son, who does listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother. (21:17)

How can a G-d-fearing, law-abiding Jew raise a rebellious son whose future is so bleak that the Torah orders his execution before our fears regarding this boy are actualized? Did the parents fail him in the manner in which they raised him, or was he just a "bad seed" whose evil nature doomed him? The idea of a son who does not listen to his father or mother is a tragedy of formidable proportions. It certainly does not just happen. What was the genesis of the ben sorer u'moreh's downfall?

The Munkaczer Rebbe, zl, feels that the answer lies in the words, "einenu shome'a b'kol aviv u'bkol imo," "who does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother." As a boy grows up, he should "hear" about his father's positive deeds, his acts of kindness, his virtue and observance of the Torah. He should "hear" that his father rises early in the morning to study Torah and daven. He "hears" his father recite Bircas ha'Torah with a loud voice filled with excitement and enthusiasm. He "hears" wherever he goes of his father's virtue and service to Hashem. He "hears" his mother recite the brachah before candle-lighting, with tears streaming down her face, as she implores Hashem on behalf of her husband and children, that they should continue to excel in their Torah studies and mitzvah observance. He "hears" his mother's supplicating Hashem on behalf of her daughters that they should grow in the way of the Torah, being true bnos Yisrael with middos tovos, positive character traits. When a child grows up in a home in which he "hears" such wonderful sounds emanating from his father and mother, there is hope that he will follow suit and live up to their expectations. A child who grows up in a home where he does not listen to such voices from his father or mother, when what should be the hopes and aspirations of every Jewish parent is neither felt nor articulated, so that they are subsequently not heard, it is no wonder that a child will rebel. Begetting children is the hope and prayer of every Jewish parent; raising them in the Torah way is a parent's overriding responsibility. Parents must set the standard by their own behavior. Children must see, and they must hear. While for some parents this might be a bit difficult, the alternative is disastrous.

You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. (22:10)

The Sefer HaChinuch explains the shoresh, source/root, of this mitzvah in the following manner: Tzaar baalei chaim, afflicting pain on creatures, is forbidden by the Torah. Various animals and fowl by their very nature have a difficult time living alongside creatures not of their owns species. To put two animals of various species together inflicts "mental" and physical pain upon each one. A wise person should derive from here that this idea certainly applies to human beings as well. To appoint two people from diverse backgrounds, personalities and perspectives to work together is incorrect. We should learn from the Torah's compassion for creatures and apply at least the same to our interpersonal relationship with humans.

In his sefer Min Ha'Meitzar, Horav Michoel Ber Weismandel, zl, relates a poignant story about a Hungarian Jew that demonstrates the true distinctiveness of the Jewish People. The Nazi war-machine invaded Hungary, and with meticulous precision the soldiers proceeded to round up the Jews from the villages and cities throughout the country. In one of the small towns in the lower Carpathian Mountains, the train was being "loaded" with the hapless Jews of the town. Its destination was by now well known - the Nazi death camps. The gentile supporters of the Nazi murderers made good use of this tragic moment to exhibit their age-old hatred of the Jewish People. As families were being torn apart, as Jews were being dragged to the death transport, the anti-Semites would stand in a crowd jeering and laughing, adding their insult to the tragedy. As the train began to pull out of the station, the murderers and their accomplices began to clap and shout in joy.

On the other side of the tracks, a small group of Jews upon whom the death sentence had not fallen, stood. They watched silently with tears streaming down their faces, attempting to give some support to their frightened brethren. Suddenly, one of the Jews opened the window of the train and yelled to one of his friends on the street, "Chaim! I forgot to feed my chickens. Please go to my house and feed them."

How vast is the chasm that divides the Jew from the gentile. On one side, a group of Nazi collaborators stands, clapping and laughing as the Jews are being sent off to their death. On the other side, a Jew on his way to the gas chamber calls out, "Please feed my chickens." This is the definition of rachamanim bnei rachamanim, compassionate ones/sons of compassionate ones. This is the way a Jew understands the concept of tzaar baalei chaim. His compassion for Hashem's creatures transcends even his worries about his own predicament.

When you make your fellow a loan of any amount, you shall not enter his home to take security for it. You shall stand outside; and the man to whom you lend shall bring the security to you outside. (24:10,11)

Rashi explains the term "masaas meumah" as referring to a loan of an insignificant amount. For a loan of very little or no value, one must remain outside and not infringe on whatever self-image the poor man has left. Incidentally, this halachah applies equally to a loan of significant value. Why then does the Torah select a term that emphasizes a loan of very little worth? The Chafetz Chaim, zl, explains this pasuk as teaching us an important lesson in interpersonal relationship. Hashem also lends us something, which by its very nature is of immeasurable value. Yet, to Hashem it is nothing. Indeed, to take it back would be very simple. This loan/gift is our neshamah, soul, which is our life source. Every night, we go to sleep and our soul rises to Heaven. How easy it would be for Hashem to retain it "up there." He does not. He grants us back our life on a daily basis.

We should derive a lesson from Hashem's beneficence. He "waits outside" patiently until we arise, and then He returns the "mashkon," security. So, too, should we wait outside the borrower's home, not taking his security from his house. If the borrower has the security at home, he obviously needs it. He should be left alone. When the sun rises, the borrower will probably need the security so that he can earn a living. In other words, it is never correct to badger the borrower for a security or even repayment of the loan. If he has the money, he certainly will reimburse it. To pester him will only result in demeaning the poor man's self-esteem, which might be one more blow than he can handle. If Hashem has the compassion, shouldn't we?


1) Does the law of yefas toar apply during a milchemes mitzvah?

2) Does the law of yefas toar apply to a married woman?

3) Do all brothers inherit an equal portion?

4) Does the law of Shiluach Ha'Kein apply to chickens in one's back yard?

5) May one plow with an ox and a horse together?

6) What happened to Miriam when she spoke _________against her ______Moshe?


1) No.

2) 2) Yes.

3) No, the first-born receives a double portion.

4) No.

5) 5) No.

6) Lashon hora. B) Brother. C) She was stricken with tzaraas.

In honor of the marriage of our granddaughter
Becky to Yaacov Mayer Briskman
"May we all share in continued simchos from them and all of our other grandchildren."
Izsak & Eva Keller


Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first five years have been published in book form.

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