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See the Future

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

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman

Our parsha begins: "When you go out to war..." (Deut. 21:10). This describes a strange arrangement in the Torah: When a soldier goes out to war and meets an attractive non-Jewish woman, he is allowed to bring her back home. She then mourns for her family, and makes herself appear unattractive and unadorned. If he still wants to marry her, and she wants to convert, they can go ahead and become husband and wife.

While this arrangement may seem somewhat immoral, it's a far cry from how many nations treat women in battle. But still, is this what we'd expect of soldiers from the holy nation - even in battle, when our baser instincts are aroused? Sure, the soldiers are away from home and don't have all the anchors of their relationship with the community. But you'd still think that holy people wouldn't behave this way.


There's a phrase in the Talmud which has many applications and addresses one of mankind's core personality traits. It's called "pas besalo," translated as bread in his basket. The concept is that when a person has bread, they aren't as hungry, even if they're not eating the bread. The fact that they can eat if they want makes them feel satisfied. On Yom Kippur, I feel hungry as soon as I wake up. Why? Because I know I'm not going to eat all day. On a non-fast day, I might not eat for several hours after I wake up. And if I'm very busy I might not even eat until lunchtime. At some point my body will say, "Hey let's have some food already!" But the fact that I could eat anytime I want, gives me peace of mind and my hunger pangs are not as loud.

Similarly, with a soldier at war, the Torah is trying to teach us a principle. Whenever you have a situation that could potentially cause your lower self to act, throw it a bone. Tell it: "You can if you want, but let's not."

The Sages say that a wise person "sees the future" (Ecclesiastes 2:14). We always need to look at life's situations and ask what outcome is likely. If I go to a nightclub, will I be with a crowd that may bring me down, or bring me up? When I was younger I went to a bar called "Dirty Frank's." As the name implies, it's probably not going to be a spiritually uplifting experience. A wiser person would pick a different place to spend his time.

Sometimes, however, you don't have a choice. You are obligated to be in a situation that contains moral dangers. In that case, you need to bring along some protection. One strategy is our "pas besalo" concept.


This applies to raising children, too. If you force a child to do something, they sometimes rebel. A teacher of mine growing up had some friends who's parents let them watch TV, and some friends whose parents didn't let them watch TV. He noticed that the ones who were forbidden to watch TV, when they grew up, all had a TV in their homes.

Spouses, children, friends, employees - everyone wants to be independent. Everyone wants to make their own decisions. Whenever you want someone to make a decision, you have to be careful not to force them. You can entice, bribe, cajole, encourage and plead, but don't force. It probably will have future ramifications that you don't want.


After describing the soldier at war, the Torah mentions the case of a man with two wives, one he loves, and one he doesn't (Deut. 21:15). Here the Torah also hints to looking into the future. If a man marries a woman he finds at war, it's an attraction based on superficiality. He didn't get to know her. He didn't meet her at a Torah class or a community service project. There isn't a shared life goal. This can surely cause problems later.

Sometimes I meet people who are dating, and one party wants to convert. While this can happen organically as both parties grow in appreciation of one religion, if the impetus for conversion wasn't there before the relationship, there is real cause for concern.

By the way, even though the Torah allows a man to have more than one wife (if the wife doesn't mind), this is one of several places in the Torah that discourages it.


The next section in the Torah deals with a rebellious child (Deut. 21:18). Again, looking into the future, if a couple marries for superficial reasons, there is likely to be disharmony. If there is disharmony, most probably there will be troubled children.

Some couples are selfish and only thinking of themselves in the relationship. If you look into the future and ask yourself, "Will this person be a good role model for my children? Will s/he want the same kind of family and household I do?" you will have a better idea of the person you're dating.

When you start to look into the future and think about the ramifications of your actions, you become wise. That's one reason a wise person can "see the future."

Spiritual Exercise:

Think of one or two decisions that you've made in the past, and the ramifications of those decisions. Ask yourself if you could perhaps have better foreseen the outcome.

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