Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The lesson of the beautiful woman

Have you ever heard anyone dismiss certain halachos as "that's for people on a really high level?" I have.  In fact, I read someone's expression of that sentiment quite a number of months back. That's when I thought of this parsha but waited until we came to its weekly reading to write about it.


This week's parsha touches on a unique halacha that seems quite inconsistent with the accounts we read about earlier in the war against Midyan. This halacha of eshes yifas toar permits a Jewish soldier who is smitten by the beauty of one of the women taken captive to marry her. There's a whole procedure that extends for a month to allow her to adjust and be seen as she is without adornment, and after that time, she either becomes his wife or is set free.

It seems so contrary to the Jewish ideal of union, which is supposed to not be a response to mere physical attraction. (See http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2012/07/the-persistent-prostitute.html )There is a mystical interpretation of what the beauty is really about according to the interpretation of the Or haChaim, as explained here:   http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/57211/jewish/The-Cry-of-the-Holy-Sparks.htm. However, I would like to look at this in the plain sense to appreciate another very profound lesson from the Torah.

Chazal explain that the permission granted in this unique case during a time of war when emotions tend to run high is to counter the yetzer hara. In such a situation, one may find himself unable to resist what he normally can. It's like passing Dunkin' Donuts when you haven't had time for breakfast and lunch. Though you may normally be able to tell yourself that the empty calories are not the best nutritional choice, your brain's rational arguments will be overshadowed by the desire to put hunger to rest delicious carbs. It's really not the best thing to do, but the temptation can be just too strong for some people to resist.

That's the way this is taught to children in school.  But there is something even deeper here. It demonstrates that the Torah is truly designed with human frailty in mind. It does not demand anything that is beyond the average person's capability.

The law of eshes yifas toar  proves that their assumption about certain mitzvos being beyond one's reach to be faulty. The fact that something that seems so far off the norm for relationships within Jewish circles is permitted just for the sake of some individual failing to resist temptation proves that the Torah laws were not made only for those on really high spiritual levels but for all of us.



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