Strength to Overcome

August 26, 2012

5 min read


Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 )

The parsha begins by discussing the y'fas toar - woman of beautiful form. The Torah permits a soldier who becomes infatuated with a non-Jewish woman during battle to marry her (Deut. 21:11). This concept is difficult to comprehend. The Torah is replete with warnings against becoming too familiar with the non-Jewish inhabitants of the land, yet it explicitly permits a soldier to take a non-Jewish woman home and marry her.

Rashi explains that this apparently counter-intuitive permission was granted as a concession to the evil inclination. God recognized that if He didn't allow the soldier to marry this woman in a permissible fashion, he would do so illegally, so He made an allowance for this exceptional case.

Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky derives from here an inspiring lesson. Judaism is such an all-encompassing religion, with laws governing virtually every aspect of daily life, that a person will almost surely encounter mitzvot that run counter to his nature. Although which mitzvah seems insurmountable will vary from person to person, it is likely that there will be laws that upon learning of them, one's instinctive reaction will be to declare their observance beyond his capabilities.

From the fact that the Torah permitted a soldier to marry a y'fas toar as an acknowledgement that forbidding him to do so would represent an impossible task, we may conclude that our Maker clearly understands our human limitations. If He nevertheless commanded us regarding a particular mitzvah, it must be that He knows that we have within us the strength to overcome the evil inclination by properly observing that mitzvah.

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The Torah prohibits a person who is born to proper Jewish parents to marry an Ammonite or Moabite because they failed to give the Jewish people bread and water after the Exodus from Egypt (Deut. 23:4-5). Why was there a need for them to do so when the Manna and well provided them anything they wanted to eat or drink?

Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that although the Jews were not lacking anything to eat or drink, it is still appropriate conduct to greet travelers and offer them food and drink, and Ammon and Moab were punished for neglecting to do so.

The Paneiach Raza maintains that the Manna only fell when the Jewish people were in the wilderness. When they passed through an inhabited area, it temporarily ceased falling, thereby requiring them to purchase food from the local residents. He adds that the Torah alludes to this when it records (Exodus 16:35) that the Jews ate the Manna until they arrived in an inhabited land.

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The Vilna Gaon explains that a divorce document (Deut. 24:1) is called a Get (spelled gimmel-tet) because these two letters are not found next to each other in any other word in the Hebrew language and aren't pronounced with the same part of the mouth. This name therefore symbolizes separation.

Based on this concept, the Margalios HaTorah - a student of the Vilna Gaon - notes that in the section in the Torah (Genesis 49:29-32) which details the final instructions of Yaakov to his sons immediately prior to his death, every letter in the alphabet is used except for gimmel and tet.

As long as Yaakov remained alive, unity reigned between his children, as symbolized by the fact that the letters which connote separation aren't used to describe his final moments with his sons. However, the following verse (Genesis 49:33), which relates Yaakov's death, contains both the letter gimmel and the letter tet to hint that upon the death of the unifying figure who inspired peace, the brothers immediately began to have feelings of distrust (see 50:15).

Similarly, the section in the Torah (Numbers 28:1-8) which discusses the Korban Tamid, the continual offering which was brought twice daily on the Altar, contains every letter in the alphabet except for gimmel and tet. This hints to the Talmud (Gittin 90b), which teaches that when a man divorces his first wife, the Altar sheds tears. As a result, the portion which describes the sacrifice which was most regularly brought on the Altar omits the two letters which are used to describe a Jewish document of divorce.

Though the letters gimmel and tet aren't found next to each other in any other word in the Hebrew language and therefore symbolize separation, there are four other two-letter combinations which also never appear together. How many of them can you identify, and why is a divorce document called a Get as opposed to one of these other combinations?

Demonstrating the encyclopedic mind for which he is renowned, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky (Taima D'Kra) points out that the letter combinations zayin-tet, zayin-tzaddik, gimmel-kuf, and samech-tzaddik also never appear together in any word in the Hebrew language. To explain why a divorce document is called a Get as opposed to one of these other combinations, he cites Tosefos (Gittin 2a), who explain that a divorce document contains 12 lines which is the numerical value of the word Get, something which isn't true of any of the other letter combinations.

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Why is the mitzvah of keeping honest weights and measures (25:13-16) specifically rewarded with long life? (Yalkut HaGershuni)

Rav Elazar Fleckeles explains based on the teaching of the Gemora (Sotah 9a) that God doesn't punish a person for his sins until his "Heavenly cup" becomes full of sins. However, God judges people measure-for-measure, and somebody who sins by using inaccurate weights and measures runs the risk of having his Divine quota unfairly adjusted, which could result in him being punished prematurely. Only a person who is careful to use honest weights and measures will be guaranteed that God will treat him in the same manner, which will enable him to live a longer and fuller life.

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