Torah Thoughts for Today
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Weekly Torah Portion of KI TEITZEI
Redressing the Balance: Restoration of Equilibrium in the Torah
By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin, Director www.jpi.org | Weekly Torah Portion of KI TEITZEI
Teitzei means “to go out” in Hebrew. It is in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy 21:10 – 23:26).
What many do not realize or appreciate is that the Torah is based on connecting principles. Not just that, but that the world is based on connecting principles, and that ultimately God Himself, so to speak is consistent and runs the universe consistently based on connecting principles. Thus, is something at some point seems disconnected or dissonant at any given point in time, it will be redressed and reconnected and the final consequence will be such that not matter what seemed out of shape at one point, it will be straightened out or “reconnected” at the end.
Therefore when first reading many of the seemingly novel or inexplicable events that take place especially as the Torah commences, once must realize that “justice will be done” and “wrongs will be righted” and what was made crooked or even destroyed will be restored. That is true when it comes to the principles of justice, that when lines are crossed and crimes or sins are committed, it will not go unnoticed and forgotten. There is a kind of divine system of “NO returns for faulty items” which is after all what a system of justice is about, to rectify what has gone wrong.
There are so many examples of this in this week’s parsha that would fill volumes. Perhaps the most bizarre outlandish case of the so-called “Eishet Yefat Toar” literally the “beautiful female” captive who is a GENTILE, that in spite of the fact that the Torah warns not to marry or succumb to the whiles of gentile women and forbids marrying them, yet in this case the Torah says that if a front-line soldier comes across such a woman and is overcome with irresistible passion and a desire for her, then, he may take her as his wife. The rabbinic commentaries have various opinions on this. (Sources listed in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah). The Talmud and Maimonides maintain that he can marry her immediately if she agrees to convert to Judaism. While others maintain that he must still wait three or up top twelve additional months before being intimate with her. The commentaries then vary greatly if this applies to a willing convert or if the gentile female is converted to Judaism even against her will, which is a very radical view.
Without getting into even more details, there is a huge question that bothers me and perhaps you as well. And that is, exactly what is the Torah trying to “redress” or “straighten out” what is mystically known as a “tikkun” or a “correction” or “rectification” here? I am not a mystic and I am not privy to that world. But I do know that when similar or even exact words are used in the Torah, especially in very similar contexts, then there is a connection there and it’s worth figuring out.
What struck me was that I recall that there is another famous case of a “teitzei” of a “going out” but it was by an Israelite female that resulted in a major catastrophe, as recorded in the beginning of the Torah in the Book of Genesis: The episode of the seduction and eventual rape of Dinah by the Canaanite prince Shechem Ben Chamor (Genesis 34) who then wanted to marry her, starts with the Hebrew words “VaTeitzei Dinah” she “went out” to visit some girls, but along the way she was seduced and raped (no, not by the big bad wolf like little red riding hood, which is probably what that story is based on as a cautionary tale) but a human “wolf” an overly zealous suitor who was smitten by her looks and could not resist himself, overpowering her and then as the Torah tells it, he was willing to be circumcised and CONVERT in order to legitimately marry her. There are many more details here, but it does sound a lot, almost exactly in fact that Jacob’s daughter Dinah was fated to become an “eishet yefat toar” of Shechem during the times when they were at a stage of still conquering the Land of Canaan. The story did not have a happy ending because when Shechem and his people agreed to be circumcised, Dinah’s brothers Shimon and Levi took up their swords and slaughtered all of them as “revenge” for the rape of their sister that they regarded as an abomination.
Now fast forward hundreds of years to when the Torah was given in the times of Moses and the Children of Israel after the Exodus, and even further millennia into the future when the Israelites would be conquering the Land of Canaan and confront such issues, and even in our own times in modern Israel when Jews are confronted with the challenges of how to deal with “beautiful” gentiles on the way to taking possession of the Promised Land, there is a challenge there.
The Torah clearly states that in the case of conquering the Land of Israel, there can be a possibility of an “eishet yefat toar” although no one really knows how many times it actually happened. But in our parsha it depicts a situation that is the polar opposite of the case of Dinah who was entrapped and overpowered by a Canaanite prince. Whereas Dinah was an Israelite woman the daughter of Jacob, the latter-day gentile eishet yefat toar female Canaanite captive is the one who is now faced with an arduous Israelite warrior who is overcome with a passionate desire for her that he cannot control and is granted permission by the Torah to “marry” her.
Notable too is what the additional commentaries say, that this is only a concession to the “yetzer hara” (evil inclination) and will not have good results. Likewise the attempted union between Shechem and Dinah did not have good results. But the important point to note is how the Torah sets up a kind of divine system of redressing balances. There are many other obvious and less obvious examples of how this can be learned. The fundamental principles of reverting to the equilibrium meant for the world expresses itself through many episodes and mechanisms.
“VaTeitzei Dinah” in one direction looks like a mirror image in reverse of “Ki Teitzei a beautiful woman” that puts the shoe on the other foot, and seemingly, the balance, whatever it may be in the divine scheme of things, is somehow or other redressed.
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