Parshas Ki Seitzei: Protecting Our Spiritual Selves

This week’s parsha, Parsha Ki Seitzei, begins with the unusual and remarkable mitzvah of the Eishes Yefas To’ar, the woman of beautiful appearance.  When the Bnei Yisrael go to war, and the Jewish soldier sees an attractive female among the enemy, the Torah outlines the process whereby such a woman can actually become his wife (Devarim 21:10-14).  Rashi explains that the Torah speaks to the evil inclination, for if he would not be permitted to take her halachikally, so strong would the passions and heat of battle be, that he would take her in a forbidden fashion.

While this is a most interesting mitzvah, and there is much to be learned from it, Rabbi Shalom Rosner teaches a fascinating chiddush (unique and novel insight) regarding the Jewish soldier and the woman (from the enemy nation) that he desires. 

“Rabbi Eliyahu Schlesinger, in the sefer Elah HeDevarim, highlights a crucial point.  In the previous parsha, Parshas Shoftim, we are told of certain individuals that are exempt from going to battle due to their current life stations and situations.  Chazal in the Gemara (Sotah 44a) add that one who was afraid could join those who were exempt and return home as well.  Chazal explain that this condition “one who is afraid”, refers not to people who are afraid of battle, but rather, it refers to people who fear that they may have committed sins and therefore, would not merit Divine protection to save them during the war.  The Gemara goes so far as to say that this includes the seemingly slightest transgression of talking between laying tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh.  

“If individuals who committed the slightest transgressions went home and were exempt from fighting, then the remaining soldiers must have all been the most righteous individuals, the most learned and pious amongst the people!  We can therefore deduce from here that the entire sugya of the Eishes Yefas To’ar is addressed to the lusts and passions of the tzadikim in Klal Yisrael, the most righteous of men who remain as soldiers on the battlefield!” (Shalom Rav, v.II, p.424-425).

What an incredible chiddush Rabbi Rosner quotes!  We might think anyone interested in the Eishes Yefas To’ar would be the Jew on the lowest rung of the spiritual ladder!  Surely anyone interested in taking a woman of the enemy nation must not be a G-d fearing, Torah living, mitzvah-practicing Jew!  It must be, rather, a Jew who has fallen far in his avodas Hashem.  

And yet, once we put these two different sugyos together – those who are exempt from battle and those who desire the Eishes Yefas To’ar – we indeed realize that it was the greatest tzadikkim in the nation who went to war!

With this fascinating insight, it behooves us to ask ourselves what we can learn from the Eishes Yefas To’ar and the Jewish soldier who desired her.

“This teaches us a very significant lesson,” Rabbi Rosner continues.  “No matter how great we are and how strong we are in our beliefs and commitment to Torah, if we are placed in the wrong environment, we risk being influenced by it.  Once a tzaddik enters the chaotic battlefield, where disorder, mayhem and killing reign, he can be adversely influenced by his surroundings; no matter how exalted he was when he entered the battle!

“What one experiences on the battlefield is very different from normal life.  The Torah had to carve out a halacha to address what transpires when an individual is in this environment.  If it is essential to go to battle, the ramifications of that experience are taken into consideration in the parsha of the Eishes Yefas To’ar.”

In a wider, more global realm, this teaching holds great significance for each and every one of us.  It is a particularly relevant and timely lesson for Chodesh Elul as well, as we prepare for Yom HaDin and engage in teshuva, return and repentance unto Hashem. 

“In a broader sense, we should be careful to place ourselves in the proper environment.  To fully observe Jewish tradition, one has to be part of a Jewish community.  Prayer, tefillah, is best fulfilled with a minyan, tzibbur and Rav.  Certain mitzvos can only be fulfilled communally, with others… It is essential that we select the proper community and educational institutions where we and our children can flourish as yirei Shomayim, G-d fearing, Torah-living and practicing Jews.  

“If pious people could be adversely influenced on the battlefield, going so far as to desire, and take, a woman captive from the enemy, we should not place ourselves in the spiritual line of fire.  We should take special care in protecting the environment in our homes so that we can strengthen our commitment and appreciation of Torah and mitzvos” (Shalom Rav, v.II, p.425-426).

No matter how much one has grown over the past year, no matter how many challenges we feel we have successfully conquered, no matter how much we have learned and how much chizuk we have given others, and received for ourselves, we can never be too sure of our successes.  The battle field of the yetzer harah (evil inclination) is the strongest one of all, and one who conquers it is more mighty than one who conquers a city (Pirkei Avos 4:1).  For as great as our potential for goodness is, so too is the potential to stumble and fall.  

A grandson once asked Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman zt’l (1914-2017) “Since you learned in several different yeshivos in Brisk and elsewhere, as well as with R’ Simcha Zelig Riger, whom do you consider your primary rebbe?”  R’ Aharon Leib sighed deeply and replied, “Unfortunately, for me, my primary rebbi is the yetzer harah, but I’m always trying to get rid of him” (Reb Aharon Leib, Artscroll, p.45).  

Let us be on guard from the ever present yetzer harah on the battle fields of life, so that we can come close to Hashem this Elul in kedusha and tahara (holiness and purity) and merit, b’ezras Hashem, a shana tova u’me’suka!

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום, 


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