Gleaned from the Sfas Emes

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Parshas Ki Seitzei

The Ties That Bind

This parsha begins with laws regarding an “eishes yefas to'ar”, a woman captured in war...

“And you will see among the captives a beautiful woman. And you will desire her, and you may take her for your wife.” (21:11)

Rashi comments, “The Torah says this only because of the evil inclination. Had G-d not “matirah” (permitted the marriage), he would have married her "b’issur” (in sin).

”Rashi appears to be explaining G-d's reasoning for allowing such marriage. But if this is indeed the reasoning, then why didn’t G-d simply present the Jewish soldier with a lesser temptation that he could overcome - rather than present him with such temptation, and then make it permissible?

Rashi is not attempting to second-guess G-d's Ways. His meaning is as follows:

All our actions draw us in one direction or other - mitzvos draw us towards holiness and attachment to G-d; sins draw and attach us to unholiness, and keep us away from G-d.

Rav Shneur Zalman of Ladi, zt”l, explains that “issur” (prohibition) literally means tie. Not only are we bound and restricted from doing what the Torah has prohibited, but if we do sin - the sin will bind and tie us. Sins are chains and fetters, restraining us from approaching holiness. (Liqutei Amorim, 'Tanya', Chap. 7)

Permissible matters (deeds which are classified neither as mitzvos nor transgressions) also affect us in one of these two ways. If the eating, for example, is intended for a holy purpose (such as to honor Shabbos, or to give us strength to do mitzvos), then eating becomes a means of attachment to G-d. But if our only intention is to eat for the pleasure of eating, this has a binding effect.

Though the Torah allowed marriage to an “eishes yefas to'ar”, a question remains regarding the less than holy motivation for this (now permissible) act. Would not these unholy intentions also bind? Would the Torah legalize something which prevents us from approaching holiness?

The Jewish soldier originally had no intention to transgress, to become glued to unholiness. On the contrary, he risked his life fulfilling G-d's commandment to wage war. He sought to come closer to G-d. But when faced with temptation, he was overpowered. Due to his original good intention, the Torah not only lifted the prohibition of marriage to a heathen (making it a permissible act), but also accommodates his desire for closeness to G-d. The Torah makes an exception in the case of the “eishes yefas to'ar”, and untied the restraints that the unholy intentions would otherwise have caused.

This is Rashi's meaning: “The Torah says this only because of the evil inclination (of unholy intentions). Had G-d not “matirah” (untied that bond to unholiness), he would have (even as a permissible act) married her “b’issur” (with a bond that would have prevented attachment to G-d).” (Sfas Emes, Seitzei 5632)

On the gravestone of Rav Shimon Schwab, zt"l, are engraved the following words “...and on one who admits and forsakes (sin), G-d will have mercy.” (Mishlei, 28:13). He had chosen this verse early in his life, but no one understood why.Rabbi Schwab had kept a diary in which he recorded his experiences and thoughts. After his son, R’ Meir Yerucham, read through it, he realized the appropriateness of this particular verse. “It reflected my father's outlook about his life. Everything is recorded there on the same day it happened. His mistakes and shortcomings are recorded - and his amendments. Never did he allow his mistakes to linger, but repented fully, on the same day. He started each new day unfettered by past misdeeds. My father felt that was why G-d had pity on him.” (As heard from Rabbi Meir Yerucham Schwab's son, R’ Aaron Schwab).

"Gleaned From the Sfas Emes"- excerpts adapted from a soon to published book, G-d Willing, by Simcha Leib Grossbard.Rabbi Grossbard is author of "The Sfas Emes Haggadah"(Targum Press) and "Kasheleg Yalbinu", a two volume (Hebrew) work based on Sfas Emes.

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