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PARASHAT KI-TETZE 5757
This week's Parasha begins with a discussion of the curious laws of the Yefat To'ar. If, during battle, a soldier's heart is caught by one of the non-Jewish girls of the conquered nation, the Torah surprisingly permits her to the soldier before she has undergone proper conversion. Why does the Torah take this startling stance, after warning us earlier (Devarim 7:4) that such an act constitutes a serious transgression which will "incite Hashem's anger and cause the sinner to be destroyed?" Rashi explains: Hashem "permitted" the soldier to yield to his Evil Inclination in this instance, had He not permitted the woman to him, the soldier would take her anyhow. (Rashi Devarim 21:11)
Hashem knows every person's capabilities and He does not demand from them more than they can endure. In the heat of battle warriors are overcome by the fervor of war, which is often accompanied by a general mood of license and lust. In such an environment the Torah imposed a special set of laws upon the soldier, in order to coax him into curbing his unbridled desires. Before taking his captive for a wife, he must shave her head and let her grow generally unkempt, in terms of physical hygiene and attire, for 30 days. During that time period, the combined effects of his cooling passion and her waning beauty will hopefully allow the soldier to reconsider his choice of a wife and let the captured woman return home (Rashi 21:12,13). The Torah goes on to guarantee that if the soldier does not change his mind and goes through with the marriage, no good will ever come of it (Rashi 21:11,14).
It is understandable that the fervor of war is often accompanied by license, for the two are driven by the same force: pride. Nations at war are driven by the proud vision of subduing others and imposing their will upon them. Similarly, by reproducing a person bestows to his children, to some measure, his own will and personality (Eduyot 2:9) , thereby "extending" himself through another generation, in a sense. During a war, when the enthusiasm for the former is at a peak, the enthusiasm for the latter peaks as well.
This outlook adds to our appreciation of why the Torah bade the soldier to shave his captive's hair and allow her to become unkempt. The captive's sorry plight serves to remind the captor of his own impermanence in this world and to instill in him a feeling of humility. Once humbled, he certainly will be able to regain control of his unchecked passions.
We find a similar connection between war, lust and pride in the Torah's description of horses. In biblical times, it seems that horses were primarily put to use in war. "A horse is prepared for times of war" (Mishlei 21:31). "The horse is not able to provide a person salvation (when Hashem is not with him)" (Tehilim 33:17). As the Gemara describes, Six things were said of a horse: It is promiscuous; it loves war; and it is a proud creature... (Pesachim 113b)
It is appropriate that we find the Egyptians being described as the best horse-breeders in the civilized world (Devarim 17:16). Due to the exceptional beauty of their land (Bereishit 13:10; Rashi Bamidbar 13:22), the Egyptian nation was especially arrogant (Shmos 15:1, and Targum Onkeles). In fact, the Torah refers to Egypt as "Rahav," (Tehilim 87:7), meaning "Arrogant" (as in Tehilim 40:5). Along with this, the Egyptians were known throughout the world for their promiscuity (Rashi Bereishis 13:10; Vayikra 18:3; Aggadic literature also point to Bereishis 42:9). With regard to horses, the arrogant of nations perfecting the breeding of the arrogant of creatures.
The fact that horses represent war and conquest answers a number of riddles. In Bereishit 32:15,16 Yakov sends a generous gift to his brother, Esav, in order to appease his anger. Yakov's gift includes all sorts of animals -- goats, sheep, camels, cows and donkeys. I was once asked, why didn't Yakov send Esav any horses? The answer obviously is that he did not want to send the angry Esav weapons for war, nor did he wish to hand him a sign of conquest.
The prophet (Zecharyah 9:9) describes the Messiah as "a poor man, riding upon a *donkey*." The Gemara (Sanhedrin 98a) describes how King Shevor of Persia scoffed, "Why doesn't your Messiah come riding on a horse? If he lacks one, I'll be glad to provide him with one of my best!" Why, indeed, should the Messiah come on a donkey? Isn't a horse a more appropriate sign of military victory?
The answer may be learned from the words of the Gemara earlier on that same page (ibid.). A poor man on a donkey is a description of how the Messiah will appear if the Jews are *not* found deserving of a spectacular salvation. Whether we deserve it or not, we will eventually be redeemed; however, if we are not deserving the Messiah will only arrive riding on a donkey. A horse is a sign of proud conquest; this Messiah will provide but a humble Exodus. As the Gemara says in Shabbat 152a, "One who rides a horse is a king; one who rides a donkey is but a freeman."
Similarly, when the 72 Elders translated the Torah for King Ptolemy (Megilah 9a), they changed the meaning of a number of words in order that he should not misunderstand them and scoff at them. One of the words they change involved the donkey that Moshe rode his family upon, on his way to Egypt to free the Jews. Instead of "donkey," they used the broad term "beast of transportation," lest King Ptolemy ask them, "Did Moshe not have a horse to ride upon?" Moshe, too, rode upon a donkey because the Jews were not being redeemed from Egypt on their own merit, but rather out of Hashem's mercy. He was not the proud conqueror.
On a deeper level of meaning, in the above-mentioned Gemaras the gentile kings were not able to grasp the concept that Hashem will redeem the Jews even if they are not worthy of it. "How can that be?" they thought, "If the Jews are not worthy of being redeemed, let Hashem leave them as they are, under our domain. If they are worthy, let him redeem them proudly, with flourish and fanfare!"
What these kings did not know was that the Jewish People are Hashem's chosen nation. Out of His love for our virtuous ancestors, who embedded their desirable traits deep in the hearts of their descendants, Hashem promised to always come to our rescue and to eventually redeem us from exile. Whether he comes on a horse or on a donkey, the Messiah is on his way -- may he arrive speedily in our days!
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