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There are two types of battle, which involve the Jewish people. One is inevitable the other is not. TheChovos Ha Levovos, tells the story of Alexander the Great’s army when it was returning from the successful conquest of what was thought to be an impregnable city. They passed a Rabbi and were of course feeling extremely exhilarated and proud of themselves. The Rabbi asked some of the soldiers if they had never considered fighting a real battle. They mocked him and asked what could be a greater battle than the one they had just won? He looked at them pensively and replied, “The battle you have to fight with your Yetzer Ho Ra, with yourself !”

The Sedra reports on the strange procedure, which must follow if a soldier becomes infatuated with a battlefield captive…

“When you go out to war against your enemy and the L-rd you God gives him into your hand and you take captives. And you see amongst the captives a woman of exceptional beauty and you desire her…”

The Torah prescribes what must happen next. He must take her into his house. She must shave off her hair. She must trim her fingernails. She must replace the garments of her captivity with ordinary clothes. She must weep for her parents for an entire month. After all this he may marry her.

Of the two types of warfare the Sedra seems to be clearly addressing the inevitable one, “When you go out to war.” HaShem is telling the Jewish people of the two types of warfare one rests in his hand. “HaShem Ish Melchomo HaShem Shemo” G-d is a G-d who controls the “Art” of war. We control ourbattle with our Yetzer Hora, our negative side. Even though HaShem will not let us down and will deliver our enemies into our hands, we will abandon our commitment to him at the first glance of a beautiful woman.

To underline His love for the Jewish people, HaShem ignores the insult and actually allows the soldier to take the woman as a wife…on certain conditions.

The removal of her most attractive dress, the shaving of her hair and the cutting of her nails all display HaShem’s purpose. She had made herself as attractive as possible in order to attract a soldier. The situation is now reversed. A Jewish soldier would probably never have seen any woman who looked or dressed quite like this woman and the most attractive word in the language is “New.” Anything new is almost automatically enticing. (That is why Car manufacturers change the outward appearance of their cars each year. The slightly slimmer bumper serves no purpose whatsoever except one; a crucial one. The slight modification declares that this model is the “New” one and even worse, your one is “OLD!”) She must therefore be in his house for an entire month. Her “newness” will wear off.

How though can the Torah demand that she cries for her parents for an entire month? She may well detest her parents. Idolatrous societies like those at the time of the conquest of Israel engaged in child sacrifice. Being captured by a Jewish soldier with the chance of becoming his wife, may well be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to her in her life.

The answer lies in the Torah’s instruction that he must take her “Into his house” He has a house! He is already married! He will return from war to the wife who has been anxiously and nervously been waiting and praying for his safe return. Instead of a gift he produces a potential second wife. His first wife is guaranteed to make the newcomer’s life and his life, a total hell. She will guarantee that the exhilaration and happiness he felt at having survived a battle and been part of a victory is replaced with misery. There is no doubt, no matter how horrible the captive’s parents were, they will be missed and she will cry for them over a full month.


After this process has taken place the Torah then asks (surely with tongue firmly in cheek) Chpt. 21 Vs. 14….

“And it will be, if he no longer desires the captive, then she will be set free!”

We may have ignored HaShem’s commitment to us and the victory he granted us in battle. We may have actually gone on to insult him by taking a non-Jewish captive as a wife. He refuses to ignore his commitment to us and instead prescribes a process that will eventually bring us back to him.

In these Sedras before Rosh HaShona, the Day of Judgement, it is worth remembering this, especially those who feel that they have behaved too badly ever to be accepted if they tried to return. HaShem’s door is always open and he will actually make it easy for us to return.

Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein has thrilled audiences from Jerusalem to Manchester and Johannesburg to Los Angeles. There are two reasons for his success. One is a mastery of sources in Jewish philosophy and his understanding of contemporary events. The other is his unique delivery…If you have the opportunity to benefit from his wisdom…do not miss it!

Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb

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