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   by Jacob Solomon

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'When you go to war against your enemy… and you see a beautiful woman taken captive, and you desire her...' (21:10-11).

The Torah continues by recognizing and coming to terms with the reality of the inflamed passions of a soldier in battle. He sees a woman among the enemy captives and cannot control his desire for her. He may sleep with her just once (most commentaries, excluding Rashi and the Ramban who understand the text as forbidding even that), and may not cohabit again until she goes though a lengthy process which extends though an entire month. That procedure should cool down the man's fervor. He loses interest.

And unlike other captives the woman may never be sold into slavery, but she entirely regains her freedom 'because he afflicted her' (21:14).

Elsewhere, there is a similar law for those involved in conquest, where the Torah permits what is normally absolutely forbidden:

'When you come to the Land which… G-d swore to… Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give you - with great, high-quality cities that you did not build, houses filled with every good thing that you did not fill, hewn stone cisterns you never labored on, orchards and olive trees you never planted - you shall eat, and you shall be satisfied' (6:10-11).

Based on previous authorities, the N'tziv of Volozhin in Haamek Davar (to 6:10) elaborates that in the act of conquest of the Promised Land it is permitted to eat whatever you find the previous inhabitants have left behind. That even includes food items prohibited under the penalty of karet - excision. It would certainly appear to include shrimps, lobster, and bacon. 'You shall eat and be satisfied' - with the contents within 'houses… that you shall not fill'. (Once only - afterwards all is forbidden: the text immediately follows with 'Be careful not to forget the Lord your G-d…'[6:12])

That brings out the way the Torah comes to terms with basic human nature. This was not a war-mongering culture. Just hear the Israeli male's expletives as yet another envelope comes though with a reserve-order call up. And it appears that it was the same in Moses' day: fighting was an option only to be used in the last resort (c.f. Num. 21:22-23, also 19:10-18, following the Ramban).

Therefore Torah places a pot of gold at the successful end of the battle that not just appeals to the Israelite program of conquest, but to the individuals that make it possible. It goes to heart of the deep personal cravings of many people, which they are scared to admit to themselves - let alone to others. At the top of the list - depending on the individual - are beautiful women and prawn cocktails (not necessarily in that order).

As Rashi quotes: dibra Torah neged yetzer hara - the Torah speaks in harmony with evil inclination of the person. It recognizes it, and also utilizes it to create the pot of gold which gives the soldier the will and desire to fight, even bearing in mind the risk of his life…

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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