Parashat Ki Tetze

All Is Not Fair In Love And War

By linking the incident of the female prisoner of war to the hated wife and rebellious child, Rashi encourages us to consider the consequences of treating others as objects.

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Rashi links this passage, concerning the captured woman, with the next two, in verses 15-20. These laws concern the "hated wife" (whose children must be treated fairly) and the "rebellious son" (who could be put to death--but don't worry, the rabbis say this never actually happened.) Rashi says that taking a woman in war will lead to her becoming the "unloved wife," and any children from this union will become "rebellious sons":

"'You may take her as your wife...' The Torah speaks here only to oppose the Selfish Inclination [Yetzer Hara], because if the Blessed Holy One did not permit [it], he would marry her against the law. But if he does marry her, she will in the end be 'hated,' as the verse says, and eventually they will beget a 'rebellious son.' That's why all these sections are connected."

By linking these three strange laws, Rashi seems to be saying that we are to learn the consequences of acting on our shallowest urges. Yes, it's theoretically permissible to marry the woman captured in war, according to the letter of the ancient law, but look where it gets you: You end up hating that which reflects back to you your own worst side, and you end up with family difficulties across the generations. One who sees in another human being only a way to gratify personal desires--even in a more restrained, "permitted" way--ends up without even the respect of others, not even of his or her own children.

Because the law of the "rebellious son" is usually assumed to be only theoretical, never applied, I think Rashi is saying the same thing about the "captured woman." Maybe it's only a parable for the destructive consequences of seeing others as means, rather than as holy ends in themselves. Maybe the emphasis on the woman's beauty is a way of warning us against focusing on external appearances, rather than spiritual qualities--even in wartime.

As the ancient rabbis like to say, if in war one should recognize the essential humanity of each person, and never use them or abuse them, how much more so in everyday life, when we have daily opportunities to affirm the best in ourselves and others.

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Rabbi Neal J. Loevinger

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger is currently the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie, NY. A former student at Kolel, he served as Kolel's Director of Outreach from late 1999-2001. He was ordained in the first graduating class of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the University of Judaism, and holds a Master's of Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto.