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The Torah portion of Ki Teitze begins (Deut 21:10-14) with the law of one who captures a beautiful woman on the battlefield and how, under certain circumstances, he may take her as a wife.
The Ohr HaChaim explains this section homiletically as referring to the battle with the Yetzer HaRa, the evil inclination. The “beautiful woman” is referring to one’s G-dly soul which has been captured by the Yetzer HaRa and must be restored to its state of holiness. Here is how he interprets some of these verses:
If you go out to war – כִּֽי־תֵצֵ֥א לַמִּלְחָמָ֖ה
This refers to the soul’s descent to this world and its being born in a human body. The purpose of our existence here in this world is to battle our Yetzer HaRa. This gives pleasure and honor to our Creator.
against your enemies – עַל־אֹיְבֶ֑יךָ
The battle against the Yetzer HaRa is one that lasts throughout a person’s life. One may never let down one’s guard as the Yetzer Hara will remain one’s enemy until the end.
וּנְתָנ֞וֹ ה׳ אֱלֹקֶיךָ בְּיָדֶ֖ךָ – and the L-rd, your G-d, will deliver him into your hands
Although this enemy is stronger than our innate capacity to overcome, if one puts forth the effort, G-d will assist him to be victorious. See Sukkah 52b.
and you will capture the captives -וְשָׁבִ֥יתָ שִׁבְיֽוֹ
The Yetzer HaRa itself cannot be captured (as only true tzadikim can completely vanquish their Yetzer HaRa). But what is important is to recapture our soul which has come under the influence of the Yetzer HaRa.
and you see among the captives a beautiful woman אֵ֖שֶׁת יְפַת־תֹּ֑אַר
Everyone’s G-dly soul is essentially beautiful and precious. It has merely been sullied by evil deeds. When one overcomes the Yetzer HaRa, one realizes how beautiful and pleasant one’s soul is.
and you desire her, you may take her for yourself as a wife וְחָֽשַׁקְתָּ֣ בָ֔הּ
The desire one had previously used for the indulginces of the Yetzer HaRa can now be invested in the G-dly path that leads to Eternal life.
You shall bring her into your home וַֽהֲבֵאתָ֖הּ אֶל־תּ֣וֹךְ בֵּיתֶ֑ךָ
A person’s body can be referred to as one’s home (see Ta’anit 11a) as that is where their soul is supposed to reside. But if one sins, one can cause the soul to be exiled from the body which then falls under the control of the Yetzer HaRa. When a person overcomes the Yetzer HaRa, however, he brings his soul back into his body (i.e., the body will be under the control of the soul). At that point a person is called a בעל נפש – a master of his soul.
and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow וְגִלְּחָה֙ אֶת־רֹאשָׁ֔הּ וְעָֽשְׂתָ֖ה אֶת־צִפָּֽרְנֶֽיהָ
At this point one must cleanse the soul of the negative effects that sin had upon it. These are symbolized by the hair of the head as well as the nails.
The Avodat Yisrael (by the Kozhnitzer Maggid) adds that the shaving of the hair signifies that one who does teshuvah should separate himself from unnecessary physical indulgences. This is symbolized by the hair which is “extra,” i.e., not really necessary.
And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from herself וְהֵסִ֩ירָה֩ אֶת־שִׂמְלַ֨ת שִׁבְיָ֜הּ מֵֽעָלֶ֗יהָ
By cleansing one’s sins, doing Teshuvah and gaining knowledge of Hashem, one can remove the garments of impurity – i.e., the effects of the sin on a person’s soul.
and stay in your house וְיָֽשְׁבָה֙ בְּבֵיתֶ֔ךָ
This is referring to the special house granted the Jewish people – the Beit Midrash – the house of Torah study.
and weep for her father and her mother for a full month וּבָֽכְתָ֛ה אֶת־אָבִ֥יהָ וְאֶת־אִמָּ֖הּ יֶ֣רַח יָמִ֑ים
A person should tearfully confess one’ssins which affected one’s father, i.e., G-d and their mother, i.e., the souls of the Jewish community (see Brachot 35b). A month is the appropriate time to do a proper Teshuvah.
In addition, the month of crying alludes to the month of Elul which is the month of Teshuvah.
Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Justman of Ger, Pilcia, and Chestechov, in his work Siftei Tzadik, points to the teaching in the Talmud (Niddah 31b) that there are three partners to man: his father, mother and G-d. What causes a person to sin is his physical body which is attracted to physical matters. This is the portion provided by his parents. Thus, when the verse says that the woman (i.e., the soul) should cry for her father and mother, it means that one should cry for this spiritual handicap. This weeping will help correct this.
Source – the Zohar Chadash
This idea is originally found in the Zohar Chadash on this week’s Parsha which explains that the battle in the verses is referring to the battle with the Yetzer HaRa. The Zohar explains that the month of crying refers to the month of Elul as this is the month Moshe Rabeinu went up on the mountain to beg mercy from G-d that He forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf.
Teshuvah through Studying the Oral Torah
At the end of his time on the mountain, Moshe Rabeinu came down with the second set of Luchot (tablets). The Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 47) and Talmud (Nedarim 22b) say that the oral Torah was given with the second set of luchot. This alludes to the fact that a true and lasting Teshuvah can be achieved by studying the oral Torah (Pri Tzadik).
after that you may come to her and possess her- וְאַ֨חַר כֵּ֜ן תָּב֤וֹא אֵלֶ֨יהָ֙ וּבְעַלְתָּ֔הּ
The Ohev Shalom (by the Kaminka Rebbe), quoted in the Pardes Yosef, explains that the continuation of the verse which says וְאַ֨חַר כֵּ֜ן תָּב֤וֹא אֵלֶ֨יהָ֙ וּבְעַלְתָּ֔הּ – “after that you may come to her and possess her” can be referring to Shemini Atzeret which is when the Jewish people reach a state of unity with Hashem. The word בעלתה is a Rashei Teivot (acronym) for ביום השמיני עצרת תהיה לכם – on the eighth day it shall be Atzeret for you.
The Pri Tzadik (by Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin) explains the end of the verse slightly differently – that “after that you may come to her and possess her” is referring to Yom Kippur which is when the Jewish people achieve deveikut (cleaving) to G-d. This is symbolized by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) who would enter the Holy of Holies on this day. This interpretation is given by the Zohar Chadash as well.
And it will be, if you do not desire her וְהָיָ֞ה אִם־לֹ֧א חָפַ֣צְתָּ בָּ֗הּ
The Avodat Yisrael (by the Kozhnitzer Maggid) points out that people very often do Teshuvah in the month of Ellul and then regress after the High Holidays. The verse alludes to this by saying, “And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away… because you have afflicted her.” This indicates that if one “disappoints” his soul by sinning after doing Teshuvah, he should not expect that his soul will return to him, i.e., it will be more difficult to do Teshuvah and restore his soul once again to its pristine state.
Teshuvah leads to the Redemption
The Talmud says (Sanhedrin 97b) that if the Jewish people do Teshuvah they will be redeemed, but if not, they will not be redeemed. This must be understood. After all, what if there is a generation that is righteous and does not sin? Why can they not merit redemption without doing teshuvah?
The Alter Rebbe (Likutei Torah, Parshat Ki Teitze, page 40a) explains that there are three general aspects in the service of G-d. These are Torah study, prayer, and acts of kindness (see Pirkei Avot 1:2). Acts of kindness relate to G-d’s attribute of kindness (Chessed), prayer corresponds to G-d’s attribute of strength (Gevurah), and Torah study corresponds to G-d’s attribute of compassion (Tiferet). These correspond to the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Avraham excelled in performing acts of kindness, Yitzchak represented the aspect of strength while Yaakov represented compassion. (See Gen. 25:27 that Yaakov spent time in tents i.e., the tents of Torah.)
There are different types of Jews who each excel in one of these aspects of serving G-d. For example, there are Kohanim, Leviyim (Levites) and Yisra’elim (Israelites). In the time when the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) stood in Jerusalem, the Jewish people were generally in a state of unity. Thus we find that in the Beit HaMikdash the Kohanim served, while the Levyim guarded and the Yisra’elim oversaw the service. Since they were in a state of unity, each group was considered to have served G-d with all of the above-mentioned aspects of Divine service. As such the generations were considered perfectly righteous.
In exile, however, the Jewish people are in a state of disunity unfortunately. Just as we are dispersed physically, we are also dispersed spiritually. As such, even a generation that is righteous would not merit Moshiach as they are considered deficient since they do not share the merit of each other’s Divine service.
The solution to this is to do teshuvaha. As teshuvah means that one devotes oneself to Hashem in a limitless manner, in a manner in which the devotion is so great it connects the person to G-d in a general way that is beyond the specific paths mentioned above. This is why it is necessary to do Teshuvah in order to merit the redemption.
The Merit of the Patriarchs; Exhausted or Still Available?
This interpretation also explains an argument expressed in the Talmud (Shabbat 55a) and Midrash (Vaykira Rabbah 36:6). Many opinions say that the merit of the patriarchs has been used up whereas Rabbi Acha says that the merit of the patriarchs lasts forever.
In light of the above, these opinions are both correct. In order to access the merit of the patriarchs, one must behave in the ways that they behaved as explained above (Torah, prayer, and acts of kindness). person excelling in a different path of Divine service was sufficient in the era of the Beit HaMikdash as through unity all of the Jewish people shared in all of these merits. Nowadays, however, when we are in a state of disunity, although we still access the merit of the patriarch in whose path we excel, we do not receive the merit of the other two patriarchs.
Another interpretation that can reconcile both of these opinions is that, although the merit of the patriarchs is still with us, in the time of Moshiach we will have a much deeper connection to G-d that will be achieved through Teshuvah. At that time, the merit of the patriarchs will pale in comparison to the deeper revelation that we will then experience.
May We Merit to this Time Speedily in Our Days!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!