Rabbi Yitzchak Neria
Former Rosh Kollel in Montreal
One of the most difficult problems facing today’s youth – as they begin their yeshiva studies or when they buckle down and think about where they’re heading – is “connection”. By this I mean the connection that they have with the Torah and the mitzvot, as opposed to the connection they should have with their commitment to the Torah and the mitzvot.
Occasionally, adolescents feel that Torah and mitzvot are far-removed from their lives as young adults in a modern, permissive society. This culture clash leads to the confusion and the doubt which seems to be the primary focus of today’s educational system.
By delving into this week’s parsha, we can hopefully find a way out of this murkiness. The parsha opens with a somewhat astounding topic which nevertheless contains an important and profoundly relevant educational message.
“When you go out to war against your enemies… And you will see in the captivity a woman who is beautiful of form and you will desire her… and after that… she will be a wife for you.” (Devarim 21:10-13)
A man goes off to war, sees an eishet yefat to’ar (a beautiful woman) and desires her. The Torah, in turn, permits him to marry her under specific guidelines and conditions.
Chazal (BT Kiddushin 21b) explain that the Torah was speaking “in recognition of the yetzer hara (evil inclination).” The Torah Temima, in turn, wonders about Chazal’s statement. Are mitzvot cancelled each time someone can’t control himself? What does this mean?
Rav Epstien, author of the Torah Temima, provides a fascinating answer. Eishet yefat to’ar, he notes, is a leniency that’s only permissible during wartime, when a person needs utmost emotional strength. At that point, when soldiers have to make supreme efforts, the Torah, kiv’yachol, waives the usual requirement for self-control in order to achieve victory in the war. Rav Epstien adds that we see a similar dispensation permitting wartime soldiers to eat normally forbidden foods.
Yet, there’s more to the Torah Temima’s words than initially meets the eye. Rav Epstien’s answer contains a lesson that is highly applicable to our own time.
Our holy Torah is a Torat chayim (a living Torah), which was given to every generation and which understands the depths of a man’s soul. Therefore, the Torah realizes that normally, people are fully capable of self-control. One can and must respond with a resounding “no!” to the yetzer hara. However, during times when temptation is overwhelming, the Torah itself permits that which is usually forbidden.
Thus, the issue of yefat to’ar is an exception that proves the rule. This topic teaches us that when it comes to every other mitzvah, issur, obligation, and custom, we must confront the yetzer hara with determination, faith, holiness and purity.
In Masechet Avoda Zara, Chazal say that HaKadosh Baruch Hu doesn’t try to find fault with His creations. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that a person isn’t challenged if he can’t overcome and withstand that specific test. In other words, the leniency of yefat to’ar and the Gemara’s statement that the Torah was speaking “in recognition of the yetzer hara” comprise a siman (a sign or indication) for the entire Torah.
Hence, each and every individual must recognize that if the Torah doesn’t permit something, we are completely able to face the challenge – despite the difficulties; the daily confrontations; the ongoing struggle against permissiveness and the yetzer hara, and even the occasional failure. After all, when we are truly incapable, the Torah speaks “in recognition of the yetzer hara.”
Be strong, have courage, and may Hashem be with us.