Torah Portion of the Week – Ki Teitzei – Fight for Your Life – The War Against Passion – A Powerful Parable about the Captives – A Great Story about Rav Shach – Peace in Your Home – Your Spouse Comes from Heaven
The Torah Podcast 071 –– Fight for your Life – The War against Passion
Torah Portion of the Week – Ki Teitzei
The verses start out in this week’s Parsha, “Ki tetzei lemilchama,” when you go out to war against your enemies, “And Hashem your God will deliver him into your hands, and you will capture its people as captives. And you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form and you will desire her, and you would take her for yourself as a wife. You shall bring her into the midst of your house and she shall shave her hair, and she shall do her nails, and she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon her. And she shall sit in your house, and she’ll weep for her father and mother for a full month. Afterwards, you will be able to come to live with her, and she shall be a wife to you.” Then a couple of possukim later after this all happens and you’ll wind up having a child with her, you’re going to wind up with a child who’s a wayward son, a ben sorer u’morer. Like it says, if a man will have a wayward and rebellious son who does not listen to the voice of his father and to the voice of his mother, and they discipline him but still he doesn’t listen to them, then his father and mother shall grasp him and take him out to the elders of his city and to the gate of his place. They shall say to the others of the city, “This son of ours is wayward and rebellious, and he doesn’t listen to y our voice. He is a glutton and a guzzler. All the men of the city shall pelt him with stones and he shall die. And you shall destroy the evil from amongst your midst and Israel shall hear and they shall fear.”
So, you have this whole sequence of events. A man goes to war, sees this beautiful woman. He has to wait for 30 days in order to marry her. Then what’s going to happen, he’s going to have this wayward son and they’re going to have to kill him. So, many of the meforshim and specifically the Ohr HaChayim explain, this is talking about the war against the yetzer hara, the war against a man’s inclination. He goes out to war and he sees this beautiful woman. This is the war against passion. So, what does the Ohr HaChayim say? As long as the Jewish people acted according to the Torah precepts, the universe remains intact, and there’s joy in heaven and earth. Even God Himself is happy and rejoices in the fact that there’s a Jewish people. The proper conduct of the Jewish people in turn depends on the ability to vanquish its evil urge. This verse when it says that a man should go to war comes to remind man that when his soul leaves heaven and it goes into his body, he must be prepared for the struggle with his evil urge. He should not believe that no special value is needed in order to overcome the spiritual negative forces. On the contrary, this struggle is called a milchama, it’s called a war. We are at war with our passions. This is what the sages had in mind in Pirkei Avos when it says, “Mi hagibor,” who is the true hero? The person who conquers his yetzer hara, who wins in this war. And that’s why in the possuk it didn’t say to war, it didn’t say just any war. It said, “la milchama,” to the war. What is the war? The war against the yetzer hara. The war that every human being has. He continues and he says, “Rather it’s a war which if the victory relaxes his guard even momentarily, even after having scored a victory, his enemy is liable to revive and destroy him a minute later.” But the Torah assures us that even though the evil urge is extremely tough, and his resources are much greater than ours, God will give this adversary into our hands. That’s what the possuk says, if we are actively engaged in fighting him. But the best we can hope is that he’ll disappear for a while. What does it mean, that He’ll give him over to your hands, you’ll be victorious? You will reclaim your soul. You’re fighting for your own soul, your control over your own life. That you’ll be able to live in a holy and a pure way. What does the Chofetz Chaim say on this? He brings a Gemara in Brochas 5A, “A person must always stir up his yetzer tov, his good inclination, against his yetzer hara.” It has to be a constant process. We have to be proactive, and we have to be preemptive. We have to be using the good against the tov in a very active way.
He brings a moshul, parable that if you have two business partners and one partner steals against the other one, and the other partner says, “Hey, where’s the money?” and he knows the guy stole it, and he knows the money’s gone. Even though the money’s gone and there’s no way for him to get it back, he still has to yell at the guy. Why? Because of for the next time. Okay, he lost that time, he lost the money. But he has to yell at the guy to make sure the guy understands that he’s on top of the situation. The same story with the evil inclination. You have to constantly have your eyes on him. He’s always setting up traps for us. He can even get us to do mitzvos. He looks like he’s a good partner. But you always have to have your eyes on him, because he’s not a good partner. The Chofetz Chaim continues and says, “He’s our constant associate in life, and his main goal is to stop us from observing Torah and doing mitzvos. And sometimes what he does is, he tricks us. He even allows us to do mitzvos but in the end he’s going to trip us up.” So, what does the Chofetz Chaim say to do? He says, “The best course of action is to spur on one’s yetzer tov. How do you strengthen your good inclination? It’s through Torah study. When a man studies Torah Hakadosh Baruch Hu distances the yetzer hara from him. That’s why it’s a mitzvah for every Jew to constantly learn Torah. Torah is the antidote against the yetzer hara. But if the situation gets so bad that that doesn’t work,” the Chofetz Chaim says, “So then he should say Shema, and he should accept upon himself the yolk of heaven, that he has to serve God. And if it gets even worse and it doesn’t help, he should think about his day of death. That’s what it means, to go into war against your enemy. You have to have a pre-emptive strike. You’ve got to get him before he gets you.”
I just want to read from the Ramchal in the book, “The Way of God,” Chapter four. He speaks on human responsibility. He says, “As discussed earlier, man consists of two opposites – a body and a soul. It is obvious however that the physical is the dominant in man, and its influence is very strong. When an individual is born, he is almost completely physical, with the mind having only a very small influence. And as he matures, his mind continues to gain influence, depending on the individual’s nature. However, the physical does not automatically relinquish its influence and stop inclining the individual towards his nature. The only way he can overcome the physical is by growing in wisdom, becoming versed in it, abiding by its ways. And then he will be able to overcome his physical nature, keep his desires firmly bridled, and fortify himself to follow his intellect. Even though the soul is intrinsically pure and lofty, as soon as it associates itself with the physical body and becomes entangled with the material world, it becomes divorced from its true nature and influenced towards something that it is its precise opposite. As long as the soul remains in the body it is imprisoned by restraining power. Unless they can overcome this power, it cannot act freely. The soul must therefore be able to work, strengthen itself and gradually weaken the power of the physical and thus bring enlightenment to the body. The body then becomes able to elevate itself together with the soul, so that both can experience the highest life.” So, we see from the Ramchal, this is our predicament – a body and soul, and who’s going to win? If we strengthen our intellect the intellect will win. But if we do not actively work on it, the body’s surely going to win. So, you’ll say, “Let the body win. What could I do? What’s the problem, do I have to be such a tzaddik? Do I have to be such an intellect? So, I go after my body.”
Rabbeinu Bachye explains and he brings the verse from Proverbs 23-27 that says, “For a harlot is a deep pit and a foreign woman is a narrow well.” And he suggests that one who approaches the entrance of the house of a harlot will not escape the trap and damage which harlotry entails. And just as someone who falls into a narrow well will not escape some damage, the same happens to anyone who gives in to the dictates of his eyes and his heart. What’s the problem exactly? He wants to explain, “The example of the alien woman is compared to a narrow well” means that even if the alien woman is not engaged in promiscuous sexual activity, the fact that someone has his eyes on her, all the time it’s like he draws from the well. And the nature of things is that the more water you draw from the well, the water that’s going to fill the well and it never ends. That’s the problem. People should devote their hearts and their eyes to the spiritual part of life, to God, and not to the material part of life characterized by our cravings. It is these cravings, or rather our giving in to them, which results in people forfeiting both their life on earth and the hereafter. Why? The brief enjoyment resulting in indulging in one’s cravings is not worth what we have to give up in exchange. This is unbelievable. He says, “And that’s why even an army of the Jewish people in the middle of war, they still had to maintain standards of sanctity, so they shouldn’t run after their passions because it’s a bottomless pit. That’s the problem. Once a person starts to draw from the waters of the passions of this world, he wants more and more and more and his whole focus on life is on those things. He can’t get enough. And this is not the way that a person’s going to be happy. If you want to be happy, you have to build your inner world. If a person draws from the outer world, he’s going to draw more and more, and his whole focus is going to be out. And it’s a davar bli sof, it’s something without any end. The more you have, the more you want. Anybody who has meah wants matayim. If he has matayim, if he has 200 he wants 400, and it just keeps going on and on. Therefore, the Torah is telling us we have to fight against this yetzer hara. We have to build our inner world, our intellect. And that’s why all of Judaism is involved with books, with learning, thinking. The inner world, the spiritual world. That’s why religious Jews are constantly in the beis medrash, in the hall of study, and they go to daven, pray in the beit knesset. We’re always inside. We’re building our inner world.
But Rav Wolbe explains that the possuk is telling us, “Even a person who’s building his inner world, he has to be careful, because what did the verse say? ‘Ki teitzei le milchama,’ when you go out to milchama, when you go out to war.” He explains that every time in the Torah it says yetzia, it’s a bad thing. Why? It said, Dina the daughter of Leah went out. She went out and then she got raped. And then it says, “The son of the Jewish woman went out, and he cursed Hashem,” that’s in Vayikra. He also went out. Then it says Korach and Korach went out. Dasan and Aviram went out. All these bad guys, they went out and as soon as they go out, that’s where the trouble begins. We do have an exception to the rule – it says Yaakov went out, he went out from Beer Sheva. Why is it that by Yaakov when he went out everything was okay, and when everybody else went out it was bad news? The answer is that Yaakov was an exception to the rule. Yaakov was an adam hashalem, a complete person, a totally spiritual person. He had control over his yetzer hara, so his going out was not a problem. But the average person, even tzaddikim, we know that who went out to war? Only the righteous people went out to the war. If he wasn’t righteous, he couldn’t go out to the war. Rav Chetzkel Levenstein asked a question, “What, these guys are spiritual giants. Why do we allow a non-Jewish woman in such a case, is because we’re worried that maybe they’re going to go against the Torah so we allow a heter, we matir such a thing. We allow it, to leave a place for the yetzer hara. Why do we do such a thing? These people were tzaddikim? The answer is no, they went out and when you go out, it’s a bayati, it’s a big problem because when a person goes out into the world into unknown territory,” he says, “He becomes vulnerable to the temptations that lurk outside of the home, outside of the beis medrash in the world. He broke his regular routine. A guy who breaks his regular routine, he’s susceptible to all kinds of situations.”
The answer is that we should try not to go out. We should try to be in the beis medrash. We have to build our inner world that’s the focus of our lives. But the question is, why would a person want to do that? The nature of man is to go out and to run after the taivas of the world and to be drawn after them more and more and more. How does a person switch gears? The Ohr haChayim wants to explain the verse said, “Ish beshivas ish yafeh toar,” when you see a beautiful woman. What does it mean, “When you see a beautiful woman?” On one side it can mean you see really a beautiful woman, and you’re running after the physical world. But if you look at it entirely, the beautiful woman is who? Is your own soul. When you see your own soul you will be drawn after that light. He says, “This is the woman who has been captured. The soul that’s been captured, but all of a sudden he sees in it beauty.” He says that the satan, the yetzer hara is only able to take the soul into captivity once it’s become inseparable from the body. And this nefesh is called an isha, female. And beautiful, why beautiful? It’s because the soul is intrinsically very beautiful indeed. And it’s only disheveled herself by the means of the sins that were body it inhabits. Once man conquers his evil inclination, he will realize how truly beautiful his nefesh really is. And the verse said, “And you will desire her.” What does that mean? This means the time will come where you will truly desire her, your soul, instead of the desire you have previous displayed for the seductive inclinations of your evil urge. If a person keeps plugging away day after day to work on himself and to learn and to introspect and to build his intellect, and to build his inner world, soon eventually will come, he’ll start to see the beauty of spirituality. He’ll feel the light inside of his soul. And then the desires for the world drop. You don’t need to go to the mall. You don’t need to go shopping. You don’t need to go running around. You become happy internally. You see the beauty of the Torah, the chiddushim, the wonderful things that are written in the Torah. The Gemara, the Talmud. You start to have a drive, you want to run to the beis medrash. You’re happy. It’s someach. It’s chiddushim, it’s new ideas. It’s expanding your mind and your soul. You desire it.
So, instead of drawing waters from this bottomless pit of women and desires and passions and shopping and consumerism, and who knows what, you change gears. You change directions. You start to draw from the waters of your soul. And there’s no comparison to the life that you will have, a life of spirituality, of ruchnius, of happiness. But it’s not a simple transformation, and that’s why it says that this woman’s going to sit in your house for 30 days, and she’s supposed to mourn over her family. She has to mourn over her avoda zara, her idol worship. And why 30 days? Because it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens little by little. The Ohr haChayim says the 30 days apply to what? This is the 30 days of Ellul. This month, the month before Rosh Hashana, these 30 days are the 30 days where we can let go of our old life. Let’s mourn over it, let’s forget about it. Okay, we’re attached to it and that’s why we need to mourn over it, and that’s why we need 30 days to get over it. But let’s get over it now during Ellul, that we can come to Rosh Hashana before the Melech, before the King and say, “No, I want to change directions. I want to go towards spirituality. I want to draw from the wells of ruchnius, the waters of my soul.” But it doesn’t just mean that I’m going to be happy while I’m in the beis medrash, why not? No. Why? Because the Sefas Emes says – look what he says, “Ki teitzei, when a man goes out to war, ki be kol devar yeish nekuda chiyus me Hashem Yisborach, rach she nistim ne’elam.” In every single thing there is a dot, a nekuda of life from Hashem, only that it’s hidden and you can’t see it. “Ve tzarich milchama ve avoda kol yemos,” and you need to make a war and work hard all your days in order to bring out this spirituality. So, once a person starts to go in this direction according to the Sefas Emes, he starts to see spirituality in everything. In everything there’s holiness. Nothing could exist if there wasn’t a chiyus, the life force that Hashem is putting into it. So, at that point your whole life becomes infused with spirituality.
I just want to end off with the Shem mi Shmuel who has a problem. We know the continuation of this story. If the man goes to milchama and then he takes this foreign woman, and he lives with her and he has a child, it’s going to come out to be a soar umara, there’s going to come out to be this rebellious son. He asks a difficulty, “This kid just starts out, 13 years old, and he’s a rebellious son. And his parents are going to take him. They see this kid is completely off the derech. They’re going to take him and have him killed. It never happened, by the way, and it never will happen. But let’s say you had all the conditions that you need to meet to have this rebellious son. He asks, “What happened to teshuva? Wait a second, why is he killing this kid? He’s only 13 years old. How do you know that this kid, Chazal says is going to wind up stealing all the money of his father, and he’s going to wind up in the crossroads. He’s going to wind up killing people. Who knows what he’s going to do. But we don’t kill people – right now, what did he do now? He drank some wine, he ate some meat? He’s not listening to his parents, we kill him? What happened to teshuva? Every person could do teshuva. Every person could come back to God. At a certain point you could change your mind, change direction and come back. Why are we killing this kid off now? And we don’t judge people on their future. We know, Chazal tells us for example, by Yishmael that he was almost dead. Why did we save Yishmael, could you imagine if we didn’t save Yishmael? All the problems, all the Arabs, we’d have no problem today. Why didn’t we kill him based on his future? Chazal tells us, “No, you don’t kill a person based on his future. You judge the person right now. At that point, Yishmael was zoche, he had the merit to live so he lived. So too with this boy. Why are we killing him? So, he wants to answer from the verse itself. It said, “If a man will have a wayward and rebellious son who does not listen to the voice of his father and to the voice of his mother, and they discipline him but he doesn’t listen to them, then they should grab him and take him to the elders.” What’s the story with this kid? He has no relationship with his parents. He broke his relationship with his parents. That’s what this kid did.
So, he wants to explain when a person does teshuva it means he goes back to the avos – Avraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov. His teshuva comes from inside of his soul. He wants to return to his roots, to his source. And if someone broke that he won’t do teshuva. If the boy goes off the way and the parents have the ability to keep the relationship with the kid, then the kid will come back. But if the kid gets to a situation where he has no connection to his parents, which means no connection to the avos, the forefathers, which means no connection to Judasim, he’s not going to come back because it was Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, they opened up the wells of spirituality, the waters of spirituality comes from them. So, if this person is drawing from the waters of the physical world and he’s in this bottomless pit, how can he get out? He has to return to Judaism. He has to draw from the waters of spirituality, from the Gemara, from the Talmud, from the Chumash, from all of our books, our holy books and our beis medrash, house of study, and our house of prayer. That’s what we’re going to draw ruchnius from. If this person has lost connection to Judaism, he won’t come back and he won’t be able to do it. He won’t be matzliach. He won’t be successful. So, what do now need to do it before Rosh Hashana? First of all we have to turn our eyes and our hearts away from our avoda zara, from drawing after the physicality of the world We have to turn towards ruchnius, and it will take us 30 days, the 30 days of Ellul, to mourn over all of our nonsense, and to start to reconnect. Then we’ll start to see the light of our soul. When we see the light of our soul we’ll want to come back more and more. The closer you get to the goal, the more desire you have to get there. And then we’ll start to see spirituality in everything, a nekuda, point of holiness in every single thing, and we’ll start to come close to God. And then on Rosh Hashana we’ll be ready to re-accept the Torah, to connect with the Avos, Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, and to do teshuva sheleima, and to stand before the King in purity and in holiness; to be blessed with a wonderful and great and holy and prosperous year, filled with all the blessings that God wants to give us.
A Powerful Parable
The Maggid mi Dubno brings the same verse, “If you should go to war against your enemies.” He wants to explain it with a moshul, parable. He says, “Two brothers are on this long journey. Along the way, these bandits capture them. What’s going to be? They want to take them, they’re going to sell them as slaves. So, they don’t know what to do. They’re at the back of this cart, and they’re taking them. So, as they’re going one of the brothers noticed that they were about to go through a town. He says, ‘Let’s jump out. Let’s save ourselves.’ The other brother says, ‘No, what are you kidding me? If we jump out we could break our leg, or we could break our hands. We don’t know what’s going to happen.’ The other brother says, ‘Fool. Who cares if that happens? It’s still 10 times better than being sold as a slave.’”
What’s the nimshal, conclusion? He says, “The war against the evil inclination is painful. It’s difficult, it takes discipline. And the yetzer hara, your evil inclination, your teva, your nature ties you to your physical, like the guys were tied to the cart. So, it’s hard to break the ropes and jump out of the cart. And you might even get hurt. It’s painful. It’s painful to become spiritual. But how can that be compared to the eternal suffering of a lifetime of the soul that didn’t jump out on time.
Great Stories – Rav Shach
The verse in this week’s Parsha says, “Ki yikach ish isha,” when a man marries a woman. We learn from there the mitzvah to get married. One time, when Rav Shach was Rosh Yeshiva in the Ponevitz Yeshiva he noticed that during Ellul the month before Rosh Hashana, that the night seder, learning, was not very strong. He realized there were a lot, a lot of weddings happening in the Yeshiva. So, the yeshiva bochurs used to go to the weddings, they used to miss their night seder. And this is right before Rosh Hashana. Rav Shach was greatly distressed by the situation. He got up before the Yeshiva and he said, “Perhaps you’re going to make fun of an old man like me, who needs God’s mercy every day. I’m talking about next year,” he says. “Nevertheless, I feel I cannot keep silent. I am warning you, I’m letting you know in advance that next year not a single student will attend a single wedding in the month of Ellul. This is an absolute ruling, with no excuses and no exceptions.” Afterwards the students asked, “No matter what the good reason is not to get married, how can you push off the mitzvah of getting married? This is a mitzvah from the Torah.” Rav Shach answered, “I didn’t say that no one could get married. I just said that the Yeshiva guys can’t go to their wedding.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Moshe Aaron Stern explains that a spouse comes from heaven, says the Gemara Moed Katan. From the Torah and the Prophets and the Writings we see that a spouse comes from heaven. You say, “Why specifically a wife? Everything comes from heaven. Everything’s min hashamayim, everything that happens to a person, God sent them. He says, “No, it’s obvious what’s the difference, is when a man meets his spouse it’s obvious that Hashem was behind this whole story.”
He brings a raya, we know that Yisro saved Moshe. Yisro was an advisor to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh wanted to kill Moshe. All the advisers said, “Yeah, kill him.” But Yisro said, “Yeah, let’s do a test. We’re going to put in front of him gold, and we’re going to put in front of him fire, whatever he chooses. If he chooses the gold it means he’s a rasha, wicked, and if he chooses the coals it means he’s okay.” It happened to be he chose the coals, we know that’s why Moshe had a speech impediment. But basically, what he did, he wound up saving Moshe. Yisro, that was Moshe’s father-in-law. In the end this boy was his daughter’s husband.
Not only that, when Moshe Rabbeinu got there the shepherds were about to kill the daughters of Yisro. They were going to throw them in the water, that’s what the Midrash says. And Moshe Rabbeinu saved them. Again, Moshe Rabbeinu saved his own wife. In every story of how a person met his wife, or how a wife met her husband, there’s a lot of hashgacha pratis This one knew that one and he bumped into that one, he spoke to this person. It’s all min hashemayim. It all comes from heaven.
One time they asked the Chazon Ish, they said, “Listen. It doesn’t make any sense. How could a person find his zivug? If the person asked the girl’s friend, the girl’s friend is going to say something good about the girl. But if the person asked the girl’s enemy, she’s going to say something bad. So, how does it all work?” The Chazon Ish explained, “No, Hashem will make it, when they’re making shidduchim, that the people are the friends of the girl, and they’ll hear only good things.”
One time he brings a story of the Sefas Emes, that they asked about the shidduch. The Sefas Emes says, “No. This shidduch is min hashemayim.” They thought it was strange because the Sefas Emes never spoke like that, that the shidduch was min hashemayim. The Sefas Emes explained, “I know. You know what? Yesterday a man came to me and he says, ‘I have grown daughters, and I have no money. And everybody in the town opposes me. I only have one friend in town. How’s my daughter going to get married?’ The Sefas Emes said, “And today, what happened? Another man came and said, ‘There’s a girl in town here that somebody said she’s a very good girl. And that was that guy’s daughter.” The Sefas Emes understood, this guy must have spoken to the one friend of that family. Is that min hashemayim? Obviously, it’s min hashemayim. How could it be out of the entire town that the guy spoke to the one friend of that other guy. But the one thing that can’t stop it is the person themselves, lo aleynu. He brings down, he says that some people have demands for wealth and wisdom, and yichus. They’re waiting for that special one, and they could wait and wait, and wind up not getting married at all.
He brings an example that the Yalkut said, “And this is when Nadav and Avihu, that was their sin. They failed to get married. What did they say? They said, ‘Our uncle is the king. Our maternal uncle is the nassi. Our father is the Cohen Gadol. Why, are we going to get married to any girl?” What happened, because they were arrogant they wound up never getting married and they got punished because of that. So, even though we know that shidduchim are min hashemayim, you have to be careful not to be arrogant and to accept the person that’s for you.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast, I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it with your friends. And please check out the free course that I’m giving at the Global Yeshiva on the essentials of Torah logic.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff