Friday, August 16, 2013

"A Woman of Beautiful Form"

By Rabbi Chaim Richman

(Deuteronomy 21:11)
Elul 10, 5773/August 16, 2013
"When you go out to war against your enemies, and HaShem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives, and you see among the captives a woman of beautiful form and you desire her, you may take her for yourself as a wife." (Deuteronomy 21:10-11) 

The Torah then goes on to describe a thirty day process, in which the captive woman is brought to the man's house, and must shave her head and refrain from cutting her nails. In other words, she must allow her outward appearance to become unadorned and unattended to. If, after the thirty day trial, the warrior who captured her still desires her, then"after that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you." (ibid 21:13) Thus begins this week's Torah reading,parashat Ki Teitzei. Our sages traditionally have understood that Torah is describing a situation in which the dehumanizing reality of war has gotten the better of our warrior. Flush with victory over his enemies, raw physical desire overcomes him. To completely forbid him to act on this in any way might be more than he can abide. So Torah acts wisely, creating a series of steps designed to bring our warrior back from the moral precipice that he has entered. If, after thirty days he has returned to himself, then the captive woman can be released, minimal harm done. If, after thirty days his desire has evolved into love, then he may marry the captive woman. In this we witness the wisdom of Torah. Intended to be a way of life than man can live by, Torah needs to accept man as he is, with all his strengths and weaknesses, in order to guide man to perfection.

The eighteenth century Torah sage, the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, (The Holy Light of Life), understood this same passage differently. Our warrior has bravely and successfully performed the commandment of going out to war against the enemies of Israel, risking his life to do so, and has emerged victoriously. Uplifted spiritually by the greatness of his endeavor, he is granted a spirit of prophecy. It is this spirit of prophecy that enables him to see in the helpless and hapless captive woman a hitherto hidden but now overwhelming inner beauty of purity and holiness. Torah allows him to bring the woman into his household, where, for the duration of one month she will allow her outward physical beauty to lapse. In this way our holy warrior can verify the truth of his prophetic moment, and allow his soul to attach to her soul.

These two views expressed by our sages could not be more divergent, yet both express the truth. How that truth is manifest in our lives is, as always, our choice. Torah recognizes that at that moment, whether it is a moment of physical lust or a moment of prophetic enlightenment, our warrior has no choice, He is overcome by what he feels. What he does next, however, is his choice, and this is where Torah steps in to guide him.

Forty six years ago the brave warriors of Israel captured, on behalf of the entire nation, a woman of beautiful form. The entire nation was immediately overcome with desire. But was it a desire grounded in base physical impulses, or was it a desire based upon prophetic vision and a yearning to fulfill G-d's will? The captive woman we are speaking of is, of course, the Temple Mount, the place of the Holy Temple. Israel immediately ordered that the captive woman remove all her adornments and make herself ugly. Israel needed to test her own intentions. The Israeli flag, hoisted high above the Dome of the Rock immediately upon capturing the Mount , was now removed. The keys and the authority to the Temple Mount were now returned into the hands of the Muslim Wakf. Jews were forbidden from praying on the Mount. In time the physical degradation would only grow worse. Israel allowed two thousand and three thousand year old archaeological remnants of the Holy Temple to be uprooted, crushed and removed. Mosques were allowed to be built, anti-Israel and anti-semitic incitement was allowed to flourish on the Mount, the flags of Israel's most detestable enemies were allowed to be raised and Jews who enter the Mount in purity were allowed to be verbally and physically abused.

Having allowed this woman of beautiful form, this place where theShechinah of G-d still resides, in spite of all the physical degradation of the site, to become so manifestly a place of repulsive ugliness, Israel arrives at her moment of truth. Was our initial love affair with the Temple Mount immediately after its capture/liberation in June, 1967, nothing more than a momentary dalliance with nostalgia? Nationalism? Imperialism? The intoxication of sudden and unexpected victory? Have we since grown weary of the Mount? Has it become an unsightly burden that we want only to rid ourselves of?

Or has our love for this forsaken beauty only grown deeper and more profound, even as she has been systematically stripped of all her outward beauty. Do we still see in our mind's eye and in the prophetic stirrings of our heart, the eternal and enduring beauty and holiness of this one place on earth that G-d chose to rest His Divine presence?

Thank G-d, that while there are still persistent elements within Israel that see the Temple Mount, shorn of all its glory, as nothing more than a burden, a ticking time bomb to be divested of as soon as possible, a grotesque and unwanted woman, the love that the vast majority of Israel possesses within their heart for the Temple Mount is only growing stronger, even as her outward beauty continues to be degraded by the endless wanton and vile machinations of our enemies.

Unwanted burden or the ultimate love of our lives? The choice is ours and whatever we choose will be the truth. Are we common foot-soldiers temporariy overcome by our most base desires? Or are we the holy children of G-d, who, even through the often cruel and seemingly chaotic vicissitudes of history, have remained true to G-d's trust in us? Forty six years ago, far longer than the "yerach yamim," (30 days of the moon cycle), which Torah prescribes, G-d placed within our hands a woman of beautiful form, held captive for two thousand years. Is it within our hearts to liberate her at last? To bring her home and make her ours?

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