For the week ending 29 August 2015 / 14 Elul 5775

Parshat Ki Tetzei

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Torah describes the only permissible way a woman captured in battle may be married. If a man marries two wives, and the less-favored wife bears a firstborn son, this son's right to inherit a double portion is protected against the father's desire to favor the child of the favored wife. The penalty for a rebellious son, who will inevitably degenerate into a monstrous criminal, is stoning. A body must not be left on the gallows overnight, because it had housed a holy soul. Lost property must be returned. Men are forbidden from wearing women's clothing and vice versa. A mother bird may not be taken together with her eggs. A fence must be built around the roof of a house. It is forbidden to plant a mixture of seeds, to plow with an ox and a donkey together, or to combine wool and linen in a garment. A four-cornered garment must have twisted threads tzitzit on its corners. Laws regarding illicit relationships are detailed. When Israel goes to war, the camp must be governed by rules of spiritual purity. An escaped slave must not be returned to his master.

Taking interest for lending to a Jew is forbidden. Bnei Yisrael are not to make vows. A worker may eat of the fruit he is harvesting. Divorce and marriage are legislated. For the first year of marriage, a husband is exempt from the army and stays home to make rejoice with his wife. Tools of labor may not be impounded, as this prevents the debtor from earning a living. The penalty for kidnapping for profit is death. Removal of the signs of the disease tzara'at is forbidden. Even for an overdue loan, the creditor must return the collateral daily if the debtor needs it. Workers' pay must not be delayed. The guilty may not be subjugated by punishing an innocent relative. Because of their vulnerability, converts and orphans have special rights of protection. The poor are to have a portion of the harvest. A court may impose lashes. An ox must not be muzzled while threshing. It is amitzvah for a man to marry his brother's widow if the deceased left no offspring. Weights and measures must be accurate and used honestly. The parsha concludes with the mitzvah to erase the name of Amalek, for, in spite of knowing about the Exodus, they ambushed the Jewish People.


The Evanescence of Desire

“And it will be that if he did not desire her…” (21:14)

Nothing is as transitory as desire.

Really, there are two kinds of desire: There is the lust of the feelings for immediate gratification — a craving, doomed to the law of diminishing returns; and then there are the true deep-seated desires of the soul — the aspirations that express who we really are.

In this week’s Torah portion there is a grammatical anomaly that captures these two kinds of desires precisely.

The Torah permits a one-time relationship with a beautiful captive woman in the heat of battle. In order to marry her, however, the soldier must bring her into his house and make her unattractive. She shaves her head and lets her nails grow; she changes from the clothes that she wore in the battle to entice her captors; she sits in the house of her captor for a full month, weeping for her father and her mother. After that the soldier may marry her.

But, the Torah says: “If you did not want her, then you shall send her out on her own.” From the context here the tense of the verb seems wrong. It should be future, “If you will not want her…” not “If you did not want her,” just as it is at the beginning of this section, “and you will see… a woman who is beautiful and you will desire her…”

The Torah uses two different verbs to describe two kinds of desire: “cheshek”, which is the momentary rush of physical desire, and “chefetz” — the true desire of the soul.

After a month of her dwelling in his house, the captor may well realize that he never had a true chefetz for his captive, just a momentary cheshek that has long since evaporated.

  • Sources: based on Ohel Mo’ed in Mayana Shel Torah

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