Parashat Ki Teseh- The Yeser Hara Strikes When Man is Distracted: Eshet Yefat Toar
This week’s parasha, Parashat Ki Teseh, discusses a very difficult halacha: the law of eshet yefat toar. The Torah describes the Jewish soldier who goes out to war and desires a non-Jewish woman. He is permitted to have a sexual encounter with her, but must then bring her home, and if they wish to be married, he must convert her.
Why does the Torah allow the soldier to have relations with this non-Jewish woman? The Torah usually demands restraint. Why in this case is the soldier permitted to succumb to his yeser hara?
In previous years, we discussed the interpretation of the Or Hahaim Hakadosh, which exemplifies the depth with which the Torah must be studied to avoid reaching incorrect conclusions. He explains that the soldiers who went out to war were righteous and holy sadikim, and thus when one of them felt attracted to a captive woman, there was good reason to suspect that this was due not to her physical appearance, but rather because of the spark within her soul. If indeed, this woman had such a holy spark within her, he was encouraged to convert and marry her. Before he did so, however, he was required to first ascertain that his feelings of attraction were indeed spiritual, and not physical. The soldier would therefore bring the woman to her home and spoil her attractive appearance. If he still experienced desire for her, then it could be assumed that he was drawn to the spark within her soul, and he would thus marry her.
This year, I would like to make another point. The simple understanding of this parasha is that the yeser hara, the evil inclination, is relentless, and its most successful tactic is to prevent a man from thinking. Men and women run from place to place, without ever thinking about why they were created. If a person would stop and think, ‘why did God create me,’ he would conclude that he was created to serve God. And eventually, he will realize that he must follow the manual, the Torah, which offers us instructions for life. Just like every machine comes with an instruction manual, so too, man was created, and was given an instruction manual- the Torah.
This life is a vestibule; it is a bridge between this world and the next. People are not supposed to stop on a bridge. The only way to get to eternity is through this world. However, people treat this world, the bridge, as if it is an eternity. Those who do not prepare in this world will not pass through the corridor into the next world.
The soldier who went out to war is completely focused on fighting. He is unable to think about other issues. God says that in this case, since he is completely pre-occupied, God does not hold him responsible, and he is given permission to have relations with her, and then decide whether they are to be married. It is from this unique halachic dispensation that we learn a very important lesson about the strength of the yeser hara.