This week's parsha
The Inner Woman of Beautiful Form
One of the most puzzling commandments in the Torah is the commandment regarding the “woman of beautiful form,” which opens this week's Torah portion. The Torah states that when an Israelite goes to war and captures a beautiful gentile woman, and he desires her, he may marry her providing that he follows the conditions stipulated by the Torah.
When you go out to war against your enemies, and the L‑rd, your G‑d, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives. And you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife. You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month. After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you. And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her.
This law seems strange. Isn't the purpose of the Torah to lead us toward greater moral heights, to elevate us to a life of spirituality and holiness? Yet, this commandment seems to give permission for man to follow his most animalistic instincts?
The conventional answer is that the Torah understands the nature of man and is “speaking to his evil inclination.” In other words, the Torah recognizes that the person's evil inclination is so powerful that if it would prohibit all possibility of marrying this woman, the person would disregard the prohibition, ignore all morality and exploit the vulnerable woman. Instead the Torah prefers to give a “road map” to a kosher marriage, thus ensuring that the captive woman be given the protections of marriage.
There are, however, mystical explanations that interpret this law, not as a concession to human weakness, but as a deep lesson into the nature of a Jew’s spiritual journey on this earth.
The Kabbalists read these verses as an analogy. What if the “woman of beautiful form” who is in captivity is a metaphor for the soul? What if this commandment is a lesson in appreciating the pain of the soul, which is often trapped and unable to express itself while in the confines of the body? What if this commandment is teaching how to set the captive free?
Then the verses would read as follows:
When you go out to war against your enemies: When we enter this world, we must know that the journey we are embarking on is not a spiritual cruise, but rather a spiritual battlefield. Every step of the way we will be challenged by our evil inclination, the enemy of spirituality.
the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands: Although at times it seems that the evil inclination is exceedingly powerful, nevertheless, G‑d gives us the strength to be victorious over the evil inclination.
you take his captives, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman: The beautiful woman is the soul, which was taken captive by the evil inclination. When the evil inclination entices us to do something wrong, we invest the energy of the soul into the negative act, which in turn places the soul in captivity in the hands of the evil inclination.
and you desire her: The key to releasing the soul from spiritual captivity is desire. We need to awaken a passion and desire to connect to and bond with our own soul. The desire, which was previously directed toward earthly pleasures is now directed toward the inner soul.
you may take [her] for yourself as a wife . . . You shall bring her into your home: The soul will then enter the home, i.e., the soul will now be able to express herself in the body and in our life.
After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you: Once the soul is freed from captivity, you may be intimate with her; you may enjoy the great spiritual pleasure of bonding with the soul.
And so, according to the mystics, this puzzling commandment is a lesson in being sensitive to the pain of the beautiful soul which is in captivity within the body. Only we have the power to release her from captivity and allow her to express herself. Only we have the power to set her free.