Yifas Toar: The Beautiful Female Captive
Rabbi Israel Chait
Transcribed by students
The Torah teaches us many interesting halachos with respect to wartime situations. One of the most intriguing areas is that of the Yifas Toar, the female captive. These halachos are applicable when God grants the Israelites a victory over their enemies and they capture female captives. The Torah tells us that when an Israelite soldier sees a beautiful woman captive who he desires, he is permitted to marry her. However there are many requirements prescribed in Deuteronomy 21:10-15 that must be undertaken prior to marriage. He must shave her head, pare her nails, and wait one months time. After adhering to all these requirements he can consummate the marriage. Rashi tells us that these prerequisites are required in order that she should no longer be appealing to him. In fact Rashi tells us that eventually he will hate her.
This entire incident in the Torah raises many puzzling questions. The most bothersome problem is how does the Torah permit a marriage to a gentile. Rashi on verse 11 attempts to eradicate these difficulties. Rashi tells us that the Torah is only speaking with respect to man’s evil inclination. If God would not permit him to marry this captive, he would ultimately disregard the halacha and marry her anyway. Rashi continues and states that if he does marry her, it will invariably eventuate in his hating her and ultimately they will have a child who will be a stubborn and rebellious son. Rashi is obviously bothered by the notion that the Torah grants a reprieve to the warrior and allows him to enter a relationship, which is strictly forbidden under normal circumstances. However there are many nagging questions which remain. Why does the Torah grant a reprieve and allow the person to indulge his evil inclination? A Torah Jew must raise his level of conduct to function on a higher spiritual level of sanctity, whereby he uses his intellect to live a life of wisdom. Simply because a person may fail is not sufficient justification to allow a person to surrender to his desires. What does Rashi mean when he states the Torah is only talking against man's evil inclination? Many of the laws of the Torah address the evil inclination. A person cannot always indulge his appetitive desires. Before a person eats meat he must perform ritual slaughter. The Torah recognizes man’s instinctual desires, his evil inclinations, but teaches us to control them. Why is Yifas Toar so unique that the Torah allows us to surrender? Furthermore how does Rashi know that he will ultimately hate her? Perhaps he will have a happy marriage. Rashi continues his prognostications and states that they will eventually have a son who is the “Rebellious Son.” But maybe their son will be a prince in Israel. This Rashi seems incongruous to Rashi’s typical method of interpretation, as Rashi seems to be more concerned with future events. However upon closer scrutiny we can appreciate the beauty of Rashi’s psychological insights into human behavior.
Gemara Nedarim 9b provides insight. The gemara quotes Rabbi Shimon the Tzaddik wherein he exclaims that he never ate from the trespass offering of a nazir who was defiled, except for one time:
There was a nazir who came from the south country and I saw that he had beautiful eyes, a handsome appearance, and had thick locks of hair. I asked this nazir, “Why did you destroy your beautiful hair?” He replied that he was a shepherd for his father. One day when he drew water from the well he gazed upon his reflection whereby he recognized that his evil desires were driving him out of this world. The nazarite exclaimed to himself, “Wicked one, why are you so haughty in a world that is not yours? Your ultimate destiny is to become worms and dust.” The nazarite swore at that moment that he would shave his beautiful locks of hair for the sake of heaven. Rabbi Shimon thereby states that he arose and kissed this nazarite’s head and exalted, may there be many nazarites like you in Israel.
Rabbi Shimon taught an interesting insight into human behavior. His reluctance to eat from the sacrifice of a defiled nazarite was because he recognized the impetus behind a nazarite’s vow. Most people are guided by their emotions. Therefore a nazarite usually feels compelled to enter naziros because he feels guilty. He is sensitive to the temptations of the physical world and feels that he cannot control himself under his own free will. He therefore undertakes a vow to become a nazir to repress his urges. Rabbi Shimon is teaching us that this is not the proper way for an individual to become a nazir. Mesilas Yesharim teaches us that a person cannot jump into righteousness. Righteousness is not an overnight transformation resulting from an emotional frenzy. Rather, it requires hard work and the inner discipline to change oneself based upon one’s intellectual conviction. The Jerusalem Talmud teaches us this concept by telling us that a person who does not enjoy certain fruits of this world is punished. A person cannot deny his instinctual nature and aspire to attain perfection by simply repressing his urges. Change is a gradual process which demands greater knowledge. A person must appreciate that he has physical desires and must satisfy them in accordance with halacha, but only as a means to help him to live life based on his true essence. Therefore, Rabbi Shimon, as a general, principle refrained from eating the sacrifice of a nazirite. Change cannot occur through the denial of one’s emotional makeup. It requires recognition of one's nature and a harnessing of his energies to better himself.
However Rabbi Shimon did eat from the sacrifice of this one particular nazir. He recognized that this individual was unique. He undertook the nazirite vow because he possessed the intellectual conviction to realize that the world was not his. He recognized the lure of the physical was transitory and that God, the creator of the world, is truly the source of reality.
It is interesting to note the question that this nazirite asked of himself. He questioned his haughtiness. This question seems to be misplaced. It would appear that his question should have been phrased in terms of his instinctual desires. Why did the nazirite question his arrogance?
The question was an astute one and is a reflection of the nazir’s appreciation of the forces that were overwhelming him and causing him to lead a life pursuing the instinctual pleasures. Most people do not commit sins simply because of their physical desires, albeit extremely powerful. A person is blessed with the intellectual capacity to recognize the good and live his life accordingly. However there is another major component of sin. This stems from man’s ego. Every individual has an image of himself or an image of what he professes to be. This image or ego-ideal is a powerful ally of the evil instincts and many times entices the person to adopt a particular lifestyle. A person is constantly aware, although perhaps unconsciously, of his transitory existence and he takes refuge and security in this ego-ideal. Therefore this nazir questioned his arrogance. He was extremely good looking and found security in his image as a playboy. The compelling force in his life was this false image as a handsome and suave gentleman. It is only after he contemplated regarding this image was he capable of appreciating that it was a false perception stemming from his ego. He therefore questioned his arrogance, recognizing that the world is not his. The world is a reflection of wisdom of the Creator, and man is ultimately destined to be nothing more than dust and worms. Rabbi Shimon concluded that this nazir had undertaken his commitment in the ideal framework.
We can now appreciate Rashi’s insights into the Yifas Toar. The Torah is speaking with respect to man’s evil inclination. However the Torah is not just addressing itself to man’s innate physical lust. That part of the evil inclination man must attempt to control, as in all cases, must be guided by the precepts of the halachic system. The Torah is dealing with the lure of man’s ego. The soldier at the height of his conquests on the battlefield is enraptured with his own image as a great warrior. Thus, his desire for the beautiful captive is not merely an expression of his physical lust, rather, the result of the ego-ideal as the “all-powerful conquering warrior” self-image. Normally, man can partake of the physical in the proper halachic framework. He recognizes it merely as a means enabling him to continue his struggle in achieving perfection as a Torah Jew. Our forefather Isaac enjoyed the animal that his son prepared for him. However, this enjoyment did not detract from his perfection. On the contrary, it comforted him and allowed him to continue his essential existence as a Talmid Chocham, a wise man. In contrast, the warrior cannot justify ravishing the Yifas Toar as a means for his perfection. This is an absurdity. Obviously, he was drawn to her as a captive, as an expression of his image as the omnipotent conqueror. Therefore the Torah was speaking only with respect to the evil inclination. The Torah recognized the compelling force of this image and realized that if it were to forbid the Yifas Toar, he would still sin. Thus, the Torah allows him to take the Yifas Toar as his wife. However, the Torah was cognizant that the image that a warrior possesses is amplified on the battlefield amidst the ravages of battle. After the war is over and the sweet smell of victory has dissipated, this ego-ideal will not be such a coercive force. Thus, the Torah commands to shave her head and pare her nails. These requirements are necessary prior to your taking her as a wife. They are required in order to make her disgusting to him. The Torah appreciated that by the time one is allowed to marry her, one will no longer be overwhelmed by the image of the ego-ideal. Hence, Rashi teaches us that ultimately you will hate her. The warrior, after he returns home to his wife, will feel guilty returning with the Yofas Toar. She will resent him and mourn her family that he killed on the battlefield. He will likewise resent her sudden intrusion into his family life. His guilt will not be expressed consciously as a wrongful action on his part, but rather, will serve as a basis for his projection of hatred and resentment upon her as a wrongful intruder. Therefore, Rashi is not attempting to prophesy by predicting his eventual enmity toward the Yifas Toar. Rather, Rashi is teaching us a valuable insight into human psychology and the workings of the instincts.
Rashi further comments that the child of such a union will be a Ben Sorer U’Moreh, a rebellious son. The Torah teaches us to respect one’s father and mother. The respect of one’s father is mentioned first because it is more difficult for the son to respect the father. The father represents the authority figure; he teaches his son Torah. However, the son will naturally respect the mother as she is the one who comforts him. In contrast, the father’s relationship with the son is often characterized by the son’s rebellion. This rebelliousness is usually quashed by the mother, whom he naturally respects, since she stands together with her husband in a united front. She will likewise demand that he respect the father. In the situation of a Yifas Toar, the son will rebel against the father as the authority figure and as his Torah teacher. The mother will not bolster the father’s authority, since their relationship as husband and wife is one of resentment and hatred. Besides, she will not respect the father as a teacher of Torah because she does not appreciate the Torah life. Their hatred will serve to foster the rebelliousness of the son as he attempts to play off one parent against the other. Their unstable family life will induce the son’s rebelliousness and it will eventually become his standard mode of behavior. Therefore, Rashi teaches us that the offspring of this marriage will be a Rebellious Son.
We can now appreciate the Torah’s remarkable insight into human behavior as elucidated by Rashi's insightful remarks. The Torah’s logic is compelling by demonstrating that if one succumbs to the temptations of a Yifas Toar, this will ultimately cause him much travail.