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The Woman of Beautiful Form

The Woman of Beautiful Form 

One of the most puzzling commandments in the Torah, is the commandment regarding the “Woman of beautiful form”, which opens this week's Torah portion. The Torah commands that when a Jew goes to war and captures a beautiful Gentile woman, and desires her, he may marry her providing that he follows the conditions placed by the Torah. He may cohabit with her once, he then has to bring her to his home, she should then be in a state of mourning for her family for a full month, and then, if the Jew still desires her, he may marry her. If he does not want to marry her, he must set her free.

When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands, and you take his captives. And you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, you may take [her] for yourself as a wife. You shall bring her into your home, and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house, and weep for her father and her mother for a full month. After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you. And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her [1] 

This law seems strange. Isn't the purpose of the Torah to lead us toward greater moral heights, to elevate us to a life of spirituality and holiness? Yet, this commandment seems to give permission for man to follow his most animalistic instincts?  

The conventional answer is,  the Torah understands the nature of man and “is speaking to the evil inclination” of man. In other words, the Torah recognizes that the person's evil inclination is so powerful that if the Torah would prohibit all possibility of marrying the beautiful woman, the person would disregard the prohibition, ignore all morality and would exploit the vulnerable woman. Instead the Torah prefers to give a “road map” to a kosher marriage, thus ensuring that the beautiful captive woman would be given the protections of marriage and would be protected from exploitation.

There are, however, mystical explanations to this law, which interpret this law, not as a concession to Human weakness, but as a deep lesson into the nature of a Jew’s spiritual journey on this earth.   

The Kabbalists teach that to understand this law’s mystical meaning one must think about these verses as an analogy. What if the “woman of beautiful form”, who is in captivity, is none other than one's soul? What if this commandment teaches  how to appreciate the pain of the soul, who is often trapped and unable to self express, while in the body? What if this commandment is teaching how to set the captive free?

Then, the verses would read as follows:   

When you go out to war against your enemies - when a person enters this world, he or she must know that the journey he or she is embarking upon is not a spiritual cruise, but rather it is a spiritual battlefield. Every step of the way the person will be challenged by his evil inclination, the enemy of spirituality. 

and the Lord, your God, will deliver him into your hands - the first thing the person must know is that although at times it seems that the evil inclination is exceedingly powerful, nevertheless, G-d gives him or her the strength to be victorious over the evil inclination.

and you take his captives, And you see among the captives a beautiful woman - the beautiful woman is the soul, which was taken captive by the evil inclination. When the evil inclination entices a person to do something wrong, the person invests the energy of his soul into the negative act, which in turn places the soul in captivity in the hands of the evil inclination. 

and you desire her - the key to releasing the soul from spiritual captivity is desire. The person must awaken a passion and desire to connect to and bond with his own soul. The desire, which was previously directed toward earthly pleasures, must now be directed toward his inner soul.  

you may take [her] for yourself as a wife. You shall bring her into your home - the soul will then enter the home, meaning the soul will now be able to express herself in the person's body and in the person’s life [2].

After that, you may be intimate with her and possess her, and she will be a wife for you - once the soul is freed from captivity, you may be intimate with her; you may enjoy the great spiritual pleasure of bonding with a soul [3]. 

Perhaps the greatest lesson the Torah can teach us is to be sensitive to the pain of the beautiful soul which is in captivity within our body. Only we have the power to release her from captivity and allow her to express herself. Only we have the power to set her free [4]. 


[1] Deuteronomy 21:10-14.

[2] [once the soul has been freed from captivity, it can work on purifying  itself from the unholiness of the captivity:

and she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. And she shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself, and stay in your house - the soul will then remove the negativity attached to the soul from the time of the  captivity in the hands of the evil inclination.

and weep for her father and her mother for a full month - The soul experiences the pain of being distant from it's father, G-d, and mother, the collective Jewish people].

[3] And it will be, if you do not desire her, then you shall send her away wherever she wishes, but you shall not sell her for money. You shall not keep her as a servant, because you have afflicted her - Every person must remember that even if he or she does not feel a desire to bond with the soul at that very moment. One must still make sure to set the soul free and not send it back to spiritual captivity.

[4] Based on the writings of the Or Hachaim Hakadosh. 

Why the Soul Loves the Body

Why the Soul Loves the Body

Body and soul are opposites. The soul wants nothing more than to escape heavenward, to escape its existence in this world and reunite with its infinite source. The body, on the other hand, seeks to experience an earthly life full of earthly pleasures. The body is not interested in abstract spiritual concepts. The body craves instant, tangible, gratification.

How then do the body and soul unite so smoothly to become the human being? Why is the soul not at war with the body's gravitational pull? Why does the soul not escape the confines of the body?

The Kabbalists teach that the divine energy that creates the world, the soul of the world, is comprised of two parts: light and vessels. The light is the undefined energy and the vessel expresses the energy in a limited and defined way.

Just like the human body and soul, the vessels and the light are opposites. The light seeks to escape upward, and reunite with its infinite source; while the vessels are happy to maintain their own distinct personality. Why then does the light bond with the vessel? Why does the light not retreat to its source?

A brilliant professor taught in graduate school, where he had many brilliant students who understood the depth of his teaching, and who appreciated his profound insights. One day, the professor invited his students to join him on a visit to a first grade classroom where he would explain his latest discoveries to the children of the first grade. Understandably, the graduate students declined to join him. They preferred to experience the teaching of their great professor in graduate school, not in grade school. They had no desire to limit their learning to the intellectual capacity of a first grader.

One student, however, decided to go along with his professor. The student understood that for a theory to be projected to the distant world of a first grader, the Professor must reach far deeper within himself. In order to communicate with people so intellectually distant from himself, he must search and discover the essence of the idea. The student understood that the first grade classroom was the place where the professor’s true brilliance would be expressed, the ability to communicate with a distant reality comes from the deepest resources of one's intellect.

And so, as the first graders were listening to the older gentleman talk, they were oblivious to the greatness of his wisdom. They would have preferred to play with the toys piled up in the back of the classroom. Yet the graduate student marveled at every word which emerged from his teacher's mouth. Never before had he experienced this element of the professor's awesome intellectual power. Never had he heard ideas so deep expressed in words so simple. Interestingly, the first graders were the cause of this revelation, yet they were not mature enough to appreciate it. It was the graduate student alone who appreciated the lofty nature of what was transpiring in the first grade classroom.

Similar to the graduate student appreciating the lecture given to the first grade, the soul appreciates the greatness of the body. The body, like the first graders, does not understand that the body is a deeper expression of G-d’s greatness than is the soul. In order to create a body, in order for G-d to express his energy in a spiritually distant place, G-d must express an even deeper part of himself. And yet, it takes a soul to understand the great spiritual source of a body.

And so it is with the divine lights. They too feel that the vessels, specifically because they are limited and defined, are rooted in a higher place within the divine. The undefined abstract light senses that the the creation of vessels is G-d projecting a deeper part of himself.

This then illuminates Judaism's attitude to all things physical. Physicality, left to its own devices, is empty of spiritual light, and is a distraction from one’s purpose in life. Yet, when the soul engages with the physical, the soul reveals the truth, that physicality is a greater expression of the awesome power of G-d. It is an expression of the infinity of G-d that enables G-d to express himself anywhere, even in the physical realm.

Thus, in this week's Parsha, the Torah describes the Jew’s ultimate spiritual experience. The Torah describes the Jew’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem “in order to learn to fear G-d your G-d for all time”. How does the Jew reach the epitome of spiritual heights? By celebrating and eating his grain, wine, oil, cattle and sheep! As the verse1 states:

And you shall eat before the Lord, your God, in the place He chooses to establish His Name therein, the tithes of your grain, your wine, and your oil, and the firstborn of your cattle and of your sheep, so that you may learn to fear the Lord, your God, all the days.

For light feels the superiority of the vessels. The soul feels the superiority of the body and the Jew senses that if while engaging in delicious meat and wine he can simultaneously experience a spiritual joy, he has reached the essence of G-dliness.


 1 Deuteronomy 14:23.

The Limits of Love

The Limits of Love

Love is powerful. Love is passionate. It allows strangers to overcome great distances, both physical and spiritual, it allows them to come together. It fuels the overcoming of great obstacles in the path of two distinct beings who want to become one. It is the glue that binds families, friends and all relationships. It is the force that brings a person to oneness with G-d.

Love is the focus of the first paragraph of the most important prayer in Judaism, the Shema, taken from the words of Moses to the Jewish people in the book of Deuteronomy[1]: “And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might”.

Western culture and society preach love. They told us that a relationship can endure exclusively on love.  They told us that ideally we should be in love every moment of our life. They told us to follow our hearts and fall in love.

And yet, they did not tell us the entire story.

They failed to mention that love is a torch of fire. Like fire, it keeps jumping, first up then down, never staying in one position.  They failed to teach us that love's fiery passion, the force that overcomes great distance to bring people together, will have ups and downs just like a torch of fire. They failed to tell us that anybody who tells us that we can constantly experience a fiery love is lying to us.

They failed to tell us that in order to have a healthy relationship we must experience not only the love described in the Shema but also the fear-awe-respect described by Moses in this week's portion[2]: “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your God, demand of you? Only to fear the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul”.  

To have a balanced relationship one needs to experience love as well as awe.

Say we love our job. If we were to go to work only on the days we feel the burning love, we would be fired. For it is impossible to feel the love constantly. So what do we do when we don't feel the love? We go to work because we respect. We respect the needs of others. We respect that there are people counting on us, and the question of whether our heart is in the mood is beside the point. 

Love is about me. My heart loves what makes me feel good. “All love returns to the lover”, means that the lover loves because the subject of his love is desirable to him.

For a relationship to survive there must be respect. Respect means that we are not focused on “what’s in it for me?”, but rather, we respect that there is another person with a differing point of view. While love is about the self, awe is about respect for the other.

This, parenthetically, is why the Hebrew word for awe - Yirah - is comprised of the same Hebrew letters as the Hebrew word for seeing - Reiyah. Love’s center of gravity is internal; I look to my heart to see what it wants. On the other hand, awe, the ability to acknowledge and respect the other’s existence, personality and point of view, is predicated on the ability to see outside of one’s frame of reference and relate to the perspective of the other. 

G-d created the world with opposite forces, the force of expression and the force of restraint. The world was created by the expression of Divine energy, yet the divine energy is concealed within creation.  These two forces are reflected in humanity. To connect is to express your love, express the fire burning in your heart. When the fire subsides, and it absolutely will, it is time to show respect. Hold back from expressing your own love, it is time to listen and feel the perspective of the other. Understand that your beloved is a distinct person entitled to their own personality and space.  

And then, when your heart feels that you respect the boundaries of your beloved, when it senses that there are two distinct beings that respect each other despite not being in love at this moment, only then, the fire hidden in the soul will do what it was designed to do. It will surge into a flame of passion.

Moses is teaching us that, like any relationship, our relationship with G-d can only be supported by the two pillars of love and awe, of passion and respect. 



[1] Deuteronomy 6:5.

[2] Deuteronomy 10:12. 

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