Reflections – Ki Teitzei
There used to be a man who walked up and down Oxford Street carrying a banner, which said, “Avoid peas, beans and lentils for they cause passion”. I always wondered, firstly, whether it was true and, secondly, what was wrong with passion.
In this week’s sedra, we are introduced to the concept of yefat to’ar – a beautiful woman that you see among captives taken by your side in a war. We are told that, after you have brought the captive to your home and she has trimmed her hair, cut her nails and discarded her captive’s clothes, she can spend a month in your house and, after that, “she will be your wife”.
Naturally, there were many commentators who were troubled by this law, so they analysed it in order to understand whether you did actually have the right to have sexual relations with a captive woman.
The law of the rebellious son is found four verses further on. This states that, if the son in question doesn’t listen to his parents, even after they discipline him, they should take hold of him, bring him to the elders of the town and make this declaration, “This son of ours is disloyal and defiant. He does not heed us. He is a glutton and a drunkard” (the Torah does not state, “delete as appropriate”!). Once this declaration has been made, the men of the town should stone him to death.
The proximity of these two verses leads the Mishnah (in Tanhuma Ki Tetze 1) to infer that whoever takes a beautiful captive will eventually bear a rebellious son.
This prophecy came true in the case of King David. He desired Ma’akhah, the daughter of King Talmi of Geshur. The subsequent union produced Absalom, who tried to kill King David, slept with his wives and killed tens of thousands of Israelites.
According to Rabbi Natan Levy, the principle to be derived here is that, if you engage with the outside world, you must be aware of the consequences. Certainly we have to engage in battle sometimes but we are aware of the dangers. Life is a constant battleground but the battle is usually worth fighting.
Ramban, commenting on the yefat to’ar, quotes the Sifre, “You may take her for you as a wife” (my underlining). Thus, if the one who finds the captive has no passion for her, he may not marry her – neither can he pass her on to someone else.
The difficult concept of the yefat to’ar therefore has a lesson to teach us in everyday life. If you’re going to venture into the outside world, you must have passion. The passion could manifest itself as lust for a beautiful woman or it could be a passion to fight for what you believe in. The example of the yefat to’ar proves that you will not succeed in your adventures without it.
In fact, the man parading in Oxford Street with the sandwich board also had passion – he just didn’t realise it!
Allan Myers is a member of Kol Nefesh Masorti Synagogue