Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. — Deuteronomy 21:12–13
The Torah portion for this week is Ki Teitzei, which means “when you go out,” from Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 54:1–10.
This week’s Torah portion opens with one of the most difficult commandments to understand in the Bible. If an Israelite is in the heat of battle and he comes across a beautiful woman, he is not allowed to forcibly take her (so far, so good). Instead, he is to take her captive to his house, shave her head, wait 30 days, and then he is allowed to forcibly take her. Huh? Why is that OK?
The Jewish sages explain that in this scenario, the Israelite soldier will almost definitely not take the captive woman to be his wife at the end of 30 days. In fact, when Scripture says, “If you are not pleased with her, let her go . . .” (v. 14) the original Hebrew is literally translated as “When you were not pleased with her . . .” – in the past tense. This is because the soldier was never, ever really pleased with the woman. He was in the middle of battle, adrenalin pumping, passion flowing, and he found a beautiful woman. He loved the way she looked, not who she was. After 30 days with this bereaved woman in his home, the soldier would have a clearer head. He would see that it wasn’t really love-at-first-sight after all and would release her.
The sages teach that this interesting war protocol actually has much to do with our everyday life. The principle of this commandment is that the best way to combat passion is with time. When we try to go head-to-head with our passions and emotions when they are at their height, we are more likely to lose. But if we wait it out until things cool down, we will be fighting on more level ground.
So where does this rule apply in our lives? The answer is everywhere! I like to call it “stop, drop, and roll.” Whenever there is a dangerous fire – anger, desire, or passionate emotions – stop what you are doing, drop the issue for a while, and roll on with your life. You can revisit it later with a clearer head.
How many relationships could have been saved if a conversation could have been put off for a day or two. How many less regrets would we have if we took time to cool down when things heated up? Angry? Try writing a letter to the person you are angry with. Don’t send it, but revisit it the next day. Tempted to eat something that is bad for you? Go for a walk, take a drink of water, and then think about what you really need at that moment.
God only gives us challenges that we can overcome – sometimes we just need to level the battleground.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President