Ki-Tetzei: Is That What You Really “Want”?

This week’s portion, “Ki Tetzei” is filled with a series of laws and regulation that again, seek to establish the moral and legal order of the land that the Israelites are about to enter. There are a wide variety of laws that form the legal foundation for society, even today. We have a famous passage about what to do if you come across a birds nest with eggs of new born, with the mother sitting with them, it is permissible to take the young but let the mother go (22:6). Likewise, one of the most famous proof texts for medicine and doctors is 22:2 which accounts the situation when someone looses his ox and the command that “you shall return it to him”. Commentaries deduced that if you are sick you have lost health and that it is commanded that we attempt to restore that which has been lost; in this case health, and this has been used as a major proof text for people becoming doctors and the permission to heal. There are laws about lending and also the major Biblical proof text allowing for divorce (24:1)) So much, and more , in this portion
But I would like to return to the beginning of the passage. In 21:10-14, we read of Moses instructing the people that when they go war and the people take captives and one sees a beautiful woman, and wish to take her to wife, she is to perform rituals of mourning for the los of her family, rituals of cleanliness and purification and then is allowed to become a wife. However, if after a while “you should no longer want her” the command is to release her as a free person.
There is much to unpack here, not the least is the issue of taking women captives. There is discussion, of course, on the passage and some look at the words used to describe desire her in verse 11 (the Hebrew is v’chashaktah”) and then in 14, the word used to describe when the person no longer desires the woman (cha’fatz’tah). Why two different words? He desired her in 12 but does not desire her in 14.
In a comment that looks at the psychological aspects of the portion, Vivian Skolnick, PhD sees the passage in verse 10 describing a person going out against his enemies as really being symbolic of each of us going to war within our inner impulses. She writes that “the natural unconscious desire of man is to take what he wants when he wants it without regard for others, especially from those who are weaker than he”. (“The Biblical Path to Psychological Maturity” p. 231)
That desire often leads us to “desire” something in the moment and then, once we have it, we come to not want it any more. Do we, as a High Holiday prayer book states, confuse “lust with love”? Is the “enemy” we war against this inner conflict between satisfying a temporary desire and something that grows over time into something we “need”? How interesting that the Torah uses the image of desire for a woman? Have some of us walked this path in our life? I imagine we know people who have, be it a relationship or a position, we sometimes confuse what we need for our souls with a temporary desire. One of the gifts, we hope, of longevity is the ability to understand the temporal versus the lasting. It is an understanding that we hope we can pass down to those we love and care for. ]
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Richard F Address

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