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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


When you go out to war against your enemies… and you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form… If a man will have two wives… If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son. (21:10,11,15,18)

Chazal explain the confluence of the first three topics of this parsha as part of a pattern. Indeed, they serve to dispute the notion that a liaison between a soldier and a captive woman can work. It is an improper obsession to which the Torah acquiesces, but warns them will only lead to tragedy. This woman will never be properly loved once the infatuation dissipates. Her son, the product of this relationship founded in uncontrolled lust, will be a ben sorer u'moreh, a wayward and rebellious son. Interestingly, the Torah continues by presenting a number of social laws which enjoin us to demonstrate sensitivity towards our fellow man, when we see his animal lost or if we discover a lost article. The Torah continues with our obligation to assist our fellow man when his animal is weighted down in burden. We are then instructed concerning the mitzvah of Shiluach ha'Kein, sending away the mother bird. Once again, we are to be sensitive to a mother bird's maternal feelings for her offspring and not to take advantage of these emotions. Is there some connection between these mitzvos and the laws of yefas toar, captive woman, shtei nashim, two wives, and ben sorer, rebellious son?

Horav Eliyahu Schlesinger, Shlita, suggests a noteworthy relationship and message to be derived from these passages. He first cites an inspiring story that occurred a short time ago. A yeshivah student from one of the well-known yeshivos became engaged to a girl who was the product of one of the distinguished seminaries in Eretz Yisrael. The boy was serious and sincere about his learning, his character and ethical standards were exemplary. His kallah was of a like character, her head straight, her goals and objectives in life true to the Torah perspective of which she was a product. Everything seemed fine, with all systems go in anticipation of their wedding. Suddenly, a few weeks prior to the wedding date, the chassan began complaining about his health. He could not pinpoint anything specific. It was just that he did not feel right. After meeting with his family physician for a complete physical workup, he was given the somber news: he had a dread disease that was ravaging his body. He would need serious treatment that might cure him.

If matters were not bad enough, the terrible news had to be shared with his kallah and her family. He was no longer a single boy whose decisions concerned only himself. He now had a responsibility towards his kallah and her family. He decided that in order to spare his intended from any undue pain, he was breaking the shidduch, matrimonial match. His kallah would be free to look for someone else.

His kallah absolutely refused to hear of this. Her chassan had enough on his mind with the inevitable treatments he would have to undergo. He needed a wife to support him during his travail. She looked forward to their marriage. She would not listen to any nonsense about breaking the shidduch.

The parents on both sides were astonished with the exalted character of these two special young people. Such selflessness as evinced by the two was atypical of society's norm. They spoke to a number of rabbanim, questioning the halachah, seeking procedure, asking for guidance, but could not arrive at a concrete statement concerning which path to choose. Finally one Rav said, "Let us go to Horav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita. He is erudite in every area of Torah literature. Surely, this gaon will be able to decide on the proper course for this couple."

The families went to Rav Chaim, who, after listening to the episode, declared, "They should get married! It is a perfect match!"

All who were there were dumbfounded. While they accepted the Rav's sage advice, they needed some clarification as to why he had rendered his decision in favor of their marriage.

Rav Chaim smiled, and said, "Bring me a Midrash." He opened the Midrash to Parashas Noach where Chazal relate an incident concerning Alexander the Great. The great warrior arrived in a country that was on the other side of the world, with the singular purpose of meeting its king whose reputation as a brilliant judge had preceded him. He simply wanted to sit in and listen to his judgments, so that they would serve to enhance his own ability to render justice.

One day, two litigants approached the king to decide between them concerning a parcel of land. It seems that the seller had sold a field to the buyer for an agreed upon, fair price. Upon digging in the ground, the buyer discovered a hidden treasure. The question was: Who gets to keep the treasure? The buyer felt it belonged to the seller, since he had had no idea that there was hidden treasure on his land, when he had agreed to sell it for that price. The seller felt that he sold the field as is, and, therefore, the treasure belonged to the buyer! The king of the country asked Alexander, "What would you do in such a situation?" Alexander immediately replied, "I would kill each of them and take the treasure for myself."

The wise king said, "Well, we do not do things that way in our country." He then turned to the litigants and asked one of them, " Do you have a son?" The man replied, "Yes." The king turned to the other one and asked, "Do you have a daughter?" "Yes," he responded. "If this is the case," said the king, "then let your daughter marry his son, and the field should be the dowry. Since each of you claim the treasure belongs to the other person, it should be given to your children who will share it accordingly."

Rav Chaim turned to the parents; "This Midrash teaches us that when the two sides care only about the other one, not about themselves, then we have the foundation for a perfect shidduch. Mazel Tov! Your children exemplify the finest and most critical qualities intrinsic to a successful marriage."

Let us now return to our parsha: the episode with the yefas toar is a lesson in self-gratification. It is about someone succumbing to his overwhelming passion. What about his family? What about his wife and children back home? Does he not care about them? What are they going to say when he arrives home with this beautiful captive that is permitted to him by a halachic dispensation? Regrettably, he is so involved in satiating his own physical desires that he does not think of anyone else - only himself. This is why the Torah follows up with laws that address our sensitivity towards others. Yes, yefas toar is a dispensation, but it is not the way life should be. One should think of others - not of himself. In order for the shidduch between man and Hashem to work, one must learn to give Hashem priority in the equation.

Perhaps this is another way to view the connection between yefas toar and the ben sorrer u'moreh. Parents must give of themselves, placing their children far before themselves. One whose desires take precedence over his family is destined to fail as a parent. It is no wonder that one who falls for the allure of a yefas toar plants the seeds that nurture the growth of a rebellious son. After all, the apple does not fall far from the trees. The son has from whom to learn.

If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son. (21:18)

Chazal tell us that the ben sorer, wayward son, is judged according to his (inevitable) end… Rather he should die while he is still innocent than be put to death as punishment for a capitol crime that he will (likely) commit. In a remarkable statement, Chazal describe the impending path to doom that this rebellious son will certainly choose for himself. He will first be a glutton manifesting a complete lack of self-restraint concerning his parents' possessions. After he has exhausted what is available at home, he will sit at the crossroads and rob people in order to satisfy his unrestrained, insatiable needs. If he does not get what he wants, he will have no qualms about resorting to murder. Last, he will forget his learning. Therefore, the Torah says that he should die now, while he is yet innocent.

Upon perusing Chazal's words, one is taken aback with the way they view the ben sorer's digression. He will steal; he will murder; he will ultimately forget his Torah learning! Unquestionably, Torah study is the lifeblood of our People, but is forgetting one's learning to be considered worse than murdering a fellow Jew? What are Chazal teaching us?

Horav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, Shlita, gives a noteworthy explanation. The Torah is about to pass judgment on a young boy, to have him executed while he is yet innocent, because of an inevitable future that will bring tragedy and death to others. To do this, the Torah must be certain that this boy's future of evil is inevitable. It is something that is irrevocable. Thus, Chazal teach us that as long as there is some connection to Torah, there is hope that he will change the course that he has chosen for himself. As long as the bond with Torah has not been severed, regardless of how thin is the strand that binds him, there is still hope for teshuvah, repentance and return. Once that bond has been irremediably disconnected, his lifeline to his faith has been broken. He no longer knows how to return. The cord that leads him to freedom has been torn. He is lost.

This is the meaning of our daily prayer in Shemonah Esrai, Hashiveinu Avinu l'Torasecha… v'hachazireinu b'teshuvah sheleimah lefanecha. "Bring us back, Our Father, to Your Torah… and influence us to return in perfect repentance before You." One depends on the other - without a return to Torah, there can be no complete teshuvah.

Torah is the lifeblood of our People, the lifeline from which the entire Jewish spectrum of observance is nurtured. A noted philanthropist once asked Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita, an interesting halachic question: He was used to giving the majority of his Maaser, tithe money, to support the various yeshivos throughout the world. Recently, he had come under pressure to help sustain the efforts of various bona-fide kiruv, Jewish outreach, organizations. While he conceded that he was a wealthy man, everything has its limit. Should he shift his priorities to kiruv, since, after all, the talmidei, students, of the yeshivos would continue learning regardless of his contribution? The kiruv organizations could accomplish more and reach out further, if they had greater support. What should he do?

Rav Shteinman replied that the inspiration that baalei teshuvah have today is a direct result of the merit of Torah learning that goes on in the yeshivos. The growth of the teshuvah movement is commensurate with, and attributed directly to, the level of Torah learning in the yeshivos. To lower the standard of support for yeshivos will have a direct and negative impact on kiruv. One must realize the efficacy of Torah and its powerful impact on the Jewish People.

That he happened upon you on the way. (25:18)

Rashi translates asher karcha, he "happened" upon you, using the word mikreh, happening/chance as the root of the word karcha. This was Amalek's ploy. He would assert that everything which occurred was neither by design, nor guided by Hashem. It was all mikreh, chance, an occurrence, a happening. He sought to disassociate Hashem with the world. The Hashem factor did not exist in Amalek's lexicon. Their whole perspective of cause and effect is perverted, because they remove the primary component: Hashem. Thus, what we, simple humans, view as the cause might not necessarily be true. Indeed, the cause as we see it could quite possibly be the effect! Amalek would take the most impressive miracles and attribute them to being nothing more than an occurrence, while our perspective is not to ignore even the most rudimentary incident by attributing it to chance. Everything has a reason; everything has a purpose. It is all a part of Hashem's master plan.

The following story related by Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, supports this idea, as it demonstrates that as we take every step in this world, we are accompanied by Hashem. The story is about an American boy who grew up in an assimilated family, a family that over the years had become very distant to the religion of their ancestors. The boy never attended Hebrew Day School. His only memory of a relationship with Judaism was his weekly Friday night visit to his grandfather's home. His grandfather had remained observant, something he was, regrettably, unsuccessful in transmitting to his son. Out of respect, his grandson would come by as Zaidy returned from shul and spend about fifteen minutes discussing his week. One thing that the boy always remembered was the white challah cover on the table and something else - a song that Zaidy sang every Friday night. The tune became embedded in his mind, as he would hum it on his way home. Over the years, he fell in love with the tune of Eishes Chayil.

The boy grew into a man - a man totally unaware of, and alienated from, the religion of his grandfather. He met a nice Jewish girl and after a while they decided to marry. Prior to the wedding, the "boy-turned-man" asked his fianc?, "We are not observant, and we will not lead an observant lifestyle. There is one custom, however, I would ask you to share with me: Could we spread a white cloth on the table every Friday night and sing together a melody that has great meaning to me?" His fianc? readily acquiesced to his request, especially when she heard the tune. Slowly, it impacted her as well, but she wanted to go a step further. She had to know the meaning of the Hebrew words. Since they could not pronounce the words very well, it was difficult to find them in any translation. So they decided to go to a Jewish bookstore in Boro Park and sing the melody. Perhaps someone would recognize the song.

One can imagine a young, non-observant couple entering a bookstore in Boro Park and singing Eishes Chayil to the owner. Well, that is exactly what happened. They sang the song, and the owner said, "You are looking for a translation of Eishes Chayil. No problem." He gave them a Shabbos Zemiros book, fully translated and explained, and the couple appreciatively paid and left.

End of story? No. They read the Zemiron, and when the young woman realized that this was a song dedicated not only to the Shabbos bride, but also describing all the virtues and attributes of the Jewish woman, she was moved. She looked at her husband and said, "If the Jewish tradition so eminently venerates a woman, then I would like to observe the rest of the Torah."

The young woman had made her point, and, in a short while, she had so influenced her husband that they both became baalei teshuvah. Today their children are to be found in the finest yeshivos and Bais Yaakov schools. Now, can one suggest that the boy's weekly ritual at his grandfather's house was just an "occurrence." Maybe, however, it was a part of Hashem's design to give him the opportunity to return.

It shall be when Hashem, your G-d, gives you rest from all your enemies all around,… you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek. (25:19)

The pasuk implies that the command to erase the memory of Amalek applies primarily after Klal Yisrael is settled and at ease, with no fear of its enemies. This is substantiated by Ibn Ezra. In the Talmud Sanhedrin 20b, Chazal teach that the Jewish People were commanded to carry out three mitzvos when they arrived in Eretz Yisrael: inaugurate a king; destroy the descendants of Amalek; build the Bais Hamikdash. We wonder why it is necessary to first establish monarchy before we set out to destroy Amalek? There were many battles imposed upon the Jewish People when they entered Eretz Yisrael, battles in which they were to inflict permanent damage upon every member of the seven nations. Why was there no prerequisite to establish kingship before going to war with these nations?

Horav Tuvia Lisitzen, zl, explains that the fear of Amalek's impact upon our nation is specifically when we are at rest. We are enjoined to remember when Amalek struck us. He came right after Krias Yam Suf, the Splitting of the Red Sea, prior to the Giving of the Torah, when we were at the apex of our spiritual development. We were on an incredible spiritual "high." It was at a point when "the simple maidservant at the sea saw a greater revelation of the Almighty than what was seen by the great prophet Yechezkel." The entire world feared and trembled from us. It was specifically at this unique time, at the zenith of our spiritual stature, that Amalek chose to attack. His goal was to "cool" the water, to downplay Klal Yisrael's position, to make it easier for others to do the same.

Our greatest fear of Amalek is when there is peace and serenity, when calm and prosperity reign. That is when Amalek attacks. His goal is to shatter the calm, to demonstrate to others that Klal Yisrael can be taken. Furthermore, it is at such a time when we are at ease, that we tend to forget Who our Protector is.

Likewise, when monarchy has ben established and there is a symbol of power in conjunction with the throne, then there is greater reason to fear Amalek's incursion. His goal is to mitigate the fervor, to destroy the calm, to rally others against us. This is when we are to see to it that his plan is not allowed to materialize.

Va'ani Tefillah

Baruch chai la'ad v'kayam la'netzach. Blessed is He Who lives forever and endures eternally. The phrases chai la'ad, lives forever, and kayam la'netzach, endures eternally, seem redundant. The Maase Nissim explains that chai is a reference to Hashem sustaining and giving life to every creature. This is not because He is alive, since the term "alive" is a physical term not applicable to the Almighty. Kayam means that He remains the same, unchangeable and immutable. Thus, the word chai, which alludes to the lives of the world's inhabitants, is coupled with la'ad, forever, a term implying the existence per se of the world that is in its present state. Once the world ceases to exist, it is past the la'ad stage. In contrast, the term netzach, which describes eternity, is used in consonance with kayam, implying that Hashem is above time and will endure eternally.

This blessing follows after the blessing that praises Hashem for compensating "good reward" to those who fear Him. This reward is truly good, since one can be assured of its imminence. As Hashem endures forever, so does His word. His ability to repay those who serve Him transcends time, as does He.

l'zechar nishmas
haisha Yetta Raizel bas R' Chaim Yosef Aryeh HaCohen a"h
Rosalyn Greenberger a"h
The Greenberger Family

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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