This week’s alumni Dvar Torah is by Batsheva Leah Weinsten
At the beginning of this week’s parsha, Parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah gives a scenario in which a soldier at war desires a female captive. The Torah then gives the laws of how it is permissible for him to take her as a wife. While reading through this passage, there are many words and phrases that appear to be extra, or not necessary to get the point across. The Or HaChaim has an interesting way of explaining these phrases by understanding this section of law as a parable of a person coming into the world. The war symbolizes that when a person enters this world, he has to be prepared to do battle with the Yetzer Hara, as it says in Pirkei Avos (4:1) “Who is strong? One who conquers his Evil Inclination.” The pasuk specifies that the war is “al oyvecha” – against your enemies (Devarim 21:10). In a general war, an individual can theoretically walk away from the fight and the other side, caught up in the battle, might not notice. However, if one is fighting with a specific enemy, he has to struggle constantly to maintain the upper hand – if he puts down his guard for even an instant, his adversary will gain control. Life follows the second scenario – we must always guard against the influences that will arise in our lives and tempt us to do wrong, even when we might feel secure in our spiritual standing. Thus the Or HaChaim rereads this passage about physical desires to be discussing the spiritual struggle of the individual human in this world.
The Or HaChaim also rereads the issur of not leaving a body hanging overnight to be a command about respecting talmidei chachamim. The physical hanging of a body shows that Hashem will not send down a lighting bolt every time someone sins, rather the courts must judge the people in order to create a stable society. The pasuk says, “If a man sins and is sentenced to death and is killed and is hanged on a tree” (21:22). Or HaChaim interprets “tree” as a talmid chacham, saying that it was his responsibility to rebuke the sinner and return him to the proper path; since he turned his eye away and let him die, the sin is hung, or blamed, on him. Nevertheless, “lo salin nivlaso al ha’etz” – you shall not leave his carcass hanging on the tree (21:23). “Nivlaso”, says the Or HaChaim, is a sin – you should not dismiss the sage for his sin, for perhaps he has done teshuva. The pasuk continues, “And you shall not defile the land that HaShem is giving to you as an inheritance.” The Gemara in Shabbos (119b) states “Lo charva Yerushalayim ela al she-hayu mevazim bah talmidei chachamim” – Yerushalayim was destroyed because people were not respecting the sages. His point can, however, be learned regarding all people – one perhaps should not hold people responsible for past wrongs when there is no proof that they have not regretted and resolved to change their former actions.
These are two examples of how the Or HaChaim interprets some of the many mitzvos in our parsha dealing with the physicality of society to be hinting about more spiritual matters, and he does it with others as well. Why does he feel the need to add extra meaning to these mitzvos?
Bnei Yisrael are on the brink of entering Eretz Yisrael and will, for the first time, have to live in a physical society which lacks open miracles. For the first time they will have to work the land to produce food in order to eat and fight battles for themselves without the obvious Divine intervention that they had in the desert. Somehow they must do this and not forget that it is all from Hashem. These mitzvos are meant to make even the most mundane of circumstances holy, such as obligation one to put a railing around one’s roof to prevent people from falling, thus showing that Hashem is present in ordinary lives and activities. Or HaChaim adds underlying spirituality to these mitzvos to emphasize that everything can be infused with spirituality and Hashem’s presence – we just have to find it. Even laws regarding material things have a deeper spiritual meaning. And if we search hard enough and find that spirituality in our everyday life, we can, in Rabbi Sacks’ words, bring Heaven down to earth.
During Elul, Rosh Hashanah, the Aseres Yimei Teshuva, and Yom Kippur, we constantly pray and repent, strengthening our relationship with Hashem. The greatest struggle, however, comes afterwards when we must attempt to keep this deep relationship that we have created with Hashem during the everyday rush of life. By remembering that we can cause every activity that we do to be infused with holiness, we can maintain the spiritual level that we reached during these days.
Batsheva Leah Weinstein (Midreshet Avigayil 2015, 2016) is a rising senior at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School.