TORAH FOR THE NATIONS
The weekly Torah portion and its lessons for all people
Ki Seitzei, Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
The Home Front
Our portion of KI SEITZEI opens with the words: "When you go out war against your enemies." (Deuteronomy 21:10).
Which war is this talking about? An earlier section of the Torah in the previous portion began with the very same words: "When you go out to war against your enemies and you see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you." (Deuteronomy 10:1). In that section the Torah is obviously speaking about how to conduct military war literally on the battlefield.
But in our present portion the Torah addresses a different kind of war. This is the war that takes place after the battle against military enemies has been won. "When you go out to war against your enemies and HaShem your God delivers them into your hands and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a woman of beautiful form and you desire her and take her as your wife: YOU SHALL BRING HER INSIDE YOUR HOME." (Deut. 21:10-12).
The "warfare" that is the common denominator in almost all of the many varied laws contained in our present portion is on a different level from that of military war. In our portion, the war is INSIDE THE HOME and inside our very selves. Even in times of peace, we are constantly confronted by an enemy that is not an obvious military enemy. Rather, this is the enemy that dwells in the heart of each one of us from very childhood, an enemy that even poses as our friend! This is the "evil inclination" that God implants in each one, which at every juncture in life prompts, urges and nags us to follow our selfish materialistic desires for perceived personal gain and gratification rather than to do what is right and proper in accordance with the Torah. If we show strength and discipline in restraining and controlling this enemy, God may grant us victory so that we bring our lives under the rule of the "good inclination" in order to merit His great reward in the life after life for all who follow His laws.
The "beautiful captive" who is the subject of the first law in this portion may be seen as the embodiment of beautiful and alluring aspects of the wider materialistic world that surrounds us. We may desire to "capture" them and bring them inside our homes and incorporate them into our lives in the hope that we may enjoy them while still keeping them under control so as not allow them to deflect us from our true purpose of serving the One God. However, the rabbis urged great caution, teaching that such "marriages" may lead to disastrous consequences, as when things go sour (symbolized in the domestic strife and hatred and the rebellious child that are the subjects of the ensuing verses in this section, Deuteronomy 21:14-21).
In our times, one of the ways the "enemy" can invade our homes and penetrate our very minds and hearts is through the television, newspapers and magazines, and Internet - which expose us to all the allure of the surrounding world inside our very living rooms, consciously or unconsciously influencing our minds, thoughts, feelings and opinions in all areas of life.
The rabbis enumerated a total of 72 separate commandments given to Israel in our present portion of KI SEITZEI. The earlier portions in Deuteronomy contain many laws relating to the prohibition of idolatry, the Temple, festivals, judiciary, kingship and government. In marked contrast, almost all of the commandments in KI SEITZEI relate to the lives of ordinary men and women in the home, at work, in business, in marriage, raising children and dealing with all kinds of matters that come up in everyday life - from returning lost property (Deut. 22:1-3) to standards of dress (ibid. v. 5) and general safety (ibid. v. 8).
Some of the specifics in the laws in this portion may appear to relate to an agrarian world that has largely gone by for those concentrated in today's mammoth urban agglomerations, where it is most unlikely to find someone's lost ox or lamb (Deut. 22:1) or to be picking grapes in their vineyard (23:25).
Yet while cast in terms of life in the ancient Biblical world, many of these laws have important applications even in our slick, sophisticated modern world, which suffers too much from cases of adultery, rape and seduction (Deut. 22:13-29), kidnapping (Deut. 24:7), physical assault (Deut. ch 25 v 3 & 11-12) and other evils. The Torah forbids exploiting wage-laborers and other poor people or delaying payment of their wages (Deut. 24:14-15). It forbids creditors from confiscating vital possessions from defaulting debtors (Deut. 24:10-13). On the contrary, the Torah teaches that we must keep in mind the needs of the poor and underprivileged even as we reap the gains we have earned through our own efforts (Deut. 24:19-21). We must be scrupulously honest at work and in business, and the weights and measures we use in buying and selling must be accurate (Deut. 25:13-16). If we are prohibited from employing "double standards" in business, the same must surely apply to the standards with which we "measure" and judge people's behavior. It is wrong to apply stricter standards to those we dislike and more lenient standards to those we favor.
Each area of life presents its own challenges, with opportunities to follow the Torah in the way we respond or fall into possible pitfalls if we follow the promptings of the evil inclination. In strengthening ourselves in the daily war against the evil inclination, we must exercise the greatest caution in who or what we admit inside our own homes and within the inner sanctum of our minds and hearts lest we allow negative influences to hold sway over us and deprive us of the rewards that come from following the path of God in our lives.
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