Just Say No – Ki Tetze 5783

D'var Torah | Deuteronomy

The sages assert (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 25a and parallels) that “the Torah was not given to ministering angels.” The implication is that human beings, unlike the angels, are creatures with desires which can sometimes motivate bad behavior. Given this condition, human beings need ways of taming their urges. For Jews, this means that the Torah and its commandments serve as a tool for restraining the impulses of Jews. 


Both the presumption that human beings are in need of restraint and that the Torah is intended to achieve that purpose are embedded in the laws concerning taking captives in war. The Torah (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) describes the aftermath of victory. Should an Israelite soldier see among the captives a beautiful woman “he desires” (v. 11), when he takes her as a wife he must grant her a period of mouning and provide her with new clothes before he can be intimate with her. The Torah concedes that soldiers have desires. But these desires must be tempered with respect for the dignity of the captive as well as her emotional needs. Hence, the soldier’s gratification must be delayed.


In fact, Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman (1843-1921) explains that the entire purpose of this passage is not intended to summarize the laws of warfare – a kind of early version of the Geneva Convention – but to control the “evil impulse” which, if unchecked, would satisfy base desires at the expense of treating others with dignity.


Important to note is that the Torah does not condemn sexual desires or demand that they be stifled altogether. The Torah allows for the fulfillment of sexual desires but only in the context of respectful personal relationships. It is a concept worth knowing and teaching today.



Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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