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by Jacob Solomon

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 'When you go to war against your enemy… and you see a beautiful woman taken captive, and you desire her...' (21:10-11).)


In permitting a soldier to sleep with a married woman from the enemy captives, the Midrash (Sifri 212) states that the Torah spoke only in response to the evil inclination. Thus, the Torah acknowledges the often-inflamed passions of a soldier in battle. Whether or not he may cohabit with her just once, before putting her through the long process described in the subsequent verses, is debated by the Medieval Authorities. Most (for example Tosefot on Kiddushin 22a) permit it; but others, notably Rashi and the Ramban, understand the plain meaning of the text as saying that he may not do so until he has put her through that lengthy ordeal. According to either interpretation, the purpose of the long delay is so that his desire will evaporate in the interim, and that he will set her free (implied in Tanhuma 1).

Why does the Torah set aside the laws of adultery for the soldier in battle? Surely, a man should exercise self-control at all times! Many other situations occur where a normal healthy man experiences extremely strong physical urges. Why does the Torah's leniency only extend to this specific case?

One suggestion may be found by considering the famous passage from the Talmud (Berachot 5a) where R. Hama said in the name of Resh Lakish that a person should always be on guard against the Evil Inclination. Basing himself on Psalms 4:5, he recommends that if a person finds himself unduly tempted, he should occupy himself with studying Torah. If that fails, he should read the Shema. And if that does not manage to subdue the Evil Inclination, he should remember the Day of Death (- he will not live for ever, and one day he will have to give account for all his actions).

Does this three-point prevention plan apply to the soldier? Unlikely, for the following reasons. When on the field of battle, he can scarcely enter the House of Study to learn and contemplate Torah! Likewise, he is unlikely to have the peace of mind to consider and appreciate the admonitions contained in the Shema at the moment when he is physically fighting for his life. And finally - the Day of Death - for him, seems so close that he is virtually living it; not viewing it from afar. In the heat of battle it is unlikely to hold the same terrors: indeed, a tender-hearted soldier would not be on the battlefield in the first place (20:8).

This therefore should help to explain the uniqueness of the soldier's situation. He is severely tempted by the beautiful captive woman, but the Torah does accept that the spiritual resources available to temper his passions are just not available in his circumstances...

'When you reap your harvest in your field, and you forget a single sheaf (of produce), you shall not return to collect it, but it shall be for the proselyte, the widow, and the orphan; so that the L-rd your G-d will bless you in whatever you do' (24:19).

The 'forgotten sheaf' is one of the gifts the Torah gives to the poor. The forgotten sheaf, the corners of the field and the gleanings of the harvest, all appear to be 'the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table'. With all these items, the Torah supports the needy without unduly taxing the rich - if he is wealthy enough to own his own field, he would be unlikely to reap it to the last grain.

Elsewhere (15:8-10 - see Rashi ad loc.) the Torah seems to demand far more from those that have to those who do not have. The Mitzva of Tzedaka - being required to give a substantial slice of one's legally acquired wealth, extends to having to restore a recently impoverished person to his former status. It also requires a person to grant loans even where there is a high probability that the debt will have to be written off because of the Sabbatical Year.

In both cases however, G-d promises Divine reward. In the case of Tzedaka - often involving considerable sacrifice, the Torah assures blessings in all your deeds and in whatever you undertake. By contrast, going without the forgotten sheaf would not bite into the owner's finances. Yet the Torah assures him a similar Divine reward: so that the L-rd your G-d will bless you in whatever you do. What is so special about the forgotten sheaf that it merits the same blessing as Tzedaka?

The situation may be compared to a child who asks for a kilogram of chocolate nuts and raisins at the marketplace. The seller pours them out liberally on the scales - too liberally in fact. So he slowly puts the surplus back. The child sees his beloved pile of chocolates going down and down, before he can even get the bag between his hands. No child could get through a whole kilo! But nevertheless, he set his heart on all those chocolates, including the very ones that were taken away from him.

That is the case of the forgotten sheaf. In binding the corn to make the sheaf, the owner set his heart on it as being part of his property. A parting, as in the case of the chocolates, is painful…. The Torah therefore recognizes this by granting the same Divine reward as Tzedaka - which likewise involves parting with money on which he set his heart.



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