Eshet Yifat Toar, Sin, & G-d’s Unity

By Rabbi Dovid Markel


In this week’s parsha, Ki Teitzei, the Torah expresses the curious law of the Eshet Yifat Toar, saying (Devarim 21:10-11):

“If you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, 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.”

While there are many curious things about this mitzvah, there is as well an interesting question, posed by the Orach Chaim

He asks: “How can it be that at the time when they are going out to war and are experiencing G-d’s miracles, they can have such a desire to sin?!”

He answers, explaining, that this is in fact the litmus test for one to know that their actions are positive. The verse (Kohelet 8:5) states: “Whoever keeps the commandment shall know no evil thing.” If so, when the individual is drawn towards a woman at this tremendous time, it is not for an outer beauty, but rather that his soul senses a certain holiness in this woman.

Chassidism embraces the axiom that there is nothing apart from G-d, which raises a fundamental question on the nature of good and evil; if there is nothing apart from G-d than what is sin? Why are some actions deemed proper and others illicit when in essence there in nothing besides Him?

However, the answer to this question is embedded in a story of R. Mendel of Kotzk. Once, an individual asked him where G-d was and he responded “where you let Him in.” This seems like a somewhat awkward response as G-d is everywhere. In truth though the only place that G-d is not is where you don’t let Him in—the only place where G-d is not present is in our ego.

With this in mind we can explain the nature of sin. The purpose of the world is that we should appreciate and reveal that there is nothing besides G-d. So although G-d is found in each aspect of creation that is from His perspective, in a manner that man cannot appreciate.

By way of example this can be appreciated in reverse psychology. When a child disobeys his father’s wishes to ultimately do what the father wants, from the child’s perspective he is disobeying his father and transgressing his desire.

The same is the case with sin; although ultimately all that is being expressed is the G-d’s desire, the child—us—do not appreciate that we are expressing G-d; for in our perspective we are hiding Him.

The creation of the world is like a master class where G-d is the teacher and we are the students. Although from the teachers perspective he sees how unrelated content is connected to the essential thought of the lesson, the student does not. When he involves himself in unrelated material, he prevents himself from understanding the point of the lesson.

The point of the creation of the world is that (Devarim 4:39) “you shall know this day and consider it in your heart, that the Lord He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth below; there is none else.” To appreciate this we need to go through the proper channels, appreciating this point through the vessels of the mitzvoth. Although, in truth G-d is expressed in each point of creation, by sinning we prevent our appreciation for G-d and therefore are in opposition of the entire point of creation.

There are moments though—as with the case of the Eshet Yifat Toar that man can reveal the G-dliness that is in sin. This is done, not through his intentional actions, but in moments that are not in his control. At such times he has the ability to reveal the G-dlly spark that is embedded in impurities and transform it to holiness. This is similar to the notion that although in general wearing a garment with an admixture of wool and linen is forbidden, in the temple it is a commandment.

Indeed, the holiest souls are embedded in the souls of gentiles and the only manner to redeem them is is in manners that seem unseemly but are ordained from G-d. It is for this reason that the soul of King Dovid, King Shlomo and many other great figures of Jewish history were born out of relationships that were rather odd. For in the depth of impurity resides the greatest spark.

However, while this is true, an individual can never choose to sin—G-d forbid! For in choosing to sin, as expressed above he is negating the very point of creation and strengthening the concealment—from his perspective—of G-d’s presence and unity. Only after sin has occurred, due to a spirit of folly can man transform the sin into positive. However, there can be no act of concealing G-d, greater than man’s intentional act of sinning; for as the Kotzker intimated, the only place where G-d is not found is in a persons own ego.

While today there is no practical war where this commandment can have implication, there is nevertheless relevance in our lives.

The Sifrei (21:1) states concerning this war that it is “referring to an optional war.” In our lives too there are the “optional” wars, when a person involves themselves in physicality for the sake of Heaven.

At times, a person can lust after the physical. While the assumption is that “Scripture [in permitting this marriage] is speaking only against the evil inclination (Tanchuma 1),” in truth, the lust for the physical is that there is a spark of holiness that is awaiting redemption.

This is expressed in the Bal Shem Tov’s explanation of the verse (Tehillim 107:5) “Hungry as well as thirsty, their soul enwraps itself in them.” The reason that one has a desire for food is because one’s soul feels that there are sparks within it that await redemption.

Indeed, our focus in the physical should be with this perspective of keeping in mind our ultimate goal.

When we do so, we will indeed be able to elevate the world until ultimately in can be a dwelling place for the Almighty-with the coming of Moshiach Now!


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