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Avoiding Tests

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


Devarim, 21:10-11: “When you will go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem, your God will deliver him into your hand, and you will capture his captivity; and you will see among the captivity a woman who is beautiful in form, and you will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife.”
Rashi, Devarim, 21:11; Dh: Velakachta: The Torah only spoke in response to the negative inclination, because if the Holy One, Blessed is He, would not permit her, he would marry her in a forbidden manner…”

Ki Seitsei begins with the unique mitzvah of the Yefat Toar, the woman of beautiful appearance. The Torah addresses a possible scenario that could take place during war. The Torah recognizes that if a Jewish soldier sees a non-Jewish woman in the midst of a battle, he may feel an uncontrollable desire for her. Rather than risk him acting in a sinful manner with her, the Torah provides an avenue for the lustful soldier to satisfy his desire.

This appears to be the only situation in which the Torah acknowledges that the negative inclination is so powerful that the Torah actually gives a permitted way to fulfil its desire. The question arises as to why is this situation considered more difficult than the myriad other possible scenarios where a person can be put under immense pressure to sin by the negative inclination?

One Torah scholar answers that in almost every instance of where a person faces a test where he is at risk of succumbing to the negative inclination, the person must strive to avoid the test as much as possible, and if he unavoidably finds himself subject to the test, then he must escape as quickly as possible to protect himself from the danger of failing the test. However, these are not feasible options in the case of the soldier doing holy battle – he must go to battle, and once he is there, it is forbidden for him to leave, because of the prohibition to run away lest it adversely affect his fellow soldiers. Since he has no option but the face the test head-on, the Torah acknowledges that it may be too difficult for him to overcome it. This does not apply in any other case, because there is no other similar situation where it is forbidden to run away.

There are many Rabbinic sources about the importance of avoiding tests. One is if a person has to go somewhere, and has two possible paths to take, but there are immodest images on one path, then he must go the other way. If he nonetheless takes the path where there are images, then he is called a wicked person even if he overcame the test and did not look at the forbidden sights. This is because he should not have unnecessarily placed himself into such a difficult situation.1 Likewise, we ask God every day in the morning blessing of ‘Hamaavir sheina’ (‘one who removes sleep’) not to bring us into the hands of a test, because we are fearful that we will fail.2

Our great rabbis, despite their great self-control, went to great lengths to avoid facing tests. Rabbi Shalom Shwadron used to tell the following story about Rabbi Aharon Kotler.

“When Rav Aharon lived in Kletzk, his home was some distance from the yeshiva: using the main streets would entail shemiras einayim risks [risks pertaining to seeing forbidden images]. So, he went instead by way of the backyards, though he had to vault over fences and other such inconveniences. It once happened that two students were at his home discussing Torah until it was almost time to be back in yeshiva. He offered to escort them along his usual, quick route behind the house. They couldn’t refuse. However, when they reached an alleyway with big, fierce prowling dogs, they were simply too scared to proceed. Rav Aharon instructed them to take hold of the hems of his coat and walk beside him. Trembling, they obeyed, and lo and behold! Those dogs ignored the trio.”3

Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Goldschmidt notes that Rabbi Kotler would happily negotiate tall fences and dangerous animals rather than streets where he could see forbidden images.4 This was how important it was to him to avoid test.

Needless to say, the extent to which Rabbi Kotler avoided tests is beyond us, but the lesson is relevant to many aspects of our lives. One obvious application is with regard to technology. Many people feel they need internet access and various modes of communication for various reasons5, but it is well-known that there are numerous, inappropriate sites and modes of communication that can cause great spiritual (and other damage). It is well-know that many people have failed this test, and so it is essential to install effective filters and blocks that can reduce the temptation to enter such sites.

It is inevitable in life, that a person will face many difficult tests, yet it is incumbent upon a person to avoid deliberately putting himself in a position where he will face a tests. By doing this, he will greatly reduce the power of the negative inclination tempt him into wrongdoing.

  1. Bava Basra, 58a, Brachot, 61a.
  2. Needless to say, we will face numerous tests regardless of our efforts, and overcoming such tests enables us to grow. However, these sources teach us that we should not choose to face tests of our own volition.
  3. ‘Enlighten our Eyes’, pp.38-39, written by Rav Yosef Shlomo Goldschmidt.
  4. Ibid.
  5. It is advisable to consult with a competent Torah authority as to the appropriate use of technology.

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