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Home » Family Life, Ki Tetze, Marriage

Ki Tetze: The Consequence of Selfishness

Submitted by on August 26, 2012 – 4:31 amNo Comment | 6,496 views

A Trilogy

The following three subjects are presented in the Torah in succession. When a Jewish warrior lusts after a beautiful maiden in war, he may cohabit with her only if they marry. If a man married two wives and loves the first, but loathes the second he cannot abandon the children of the loathed one. The third subject is that of the rebellious child. [1]

These three subjects, lusting after a maiden, marrying two wives and giving birth to a rebellious child, appear to have little connection between them, but because they appear in the Torah in rapid succession we search for just such a link.

The Lustful Warrior

Human nature is such that male warriors lust after the women they conquer in battle. Rather than fight this decadent tendency, the Torah wisely provides an avenue of satisfaction that minimizes the frequency of such objectionable behavior. The Torah tells the Jewish warrior that he may sleep with the woman, but only as his married wife, not as the object of his lust. [2]

To that end he must keep her in his home for thirty days. During this time he mustn’t compel her to dress up and look her best. On the contrary, she will sit and mourn her family in his home. What man can see a distressed woman shed bitter tears over her painful loss, know that he is responsible for those tears and still lust after her? The vast majority would come to perceive her as a human being victimized by her captor’s unbridled lust, quickly realize the cruelty of their behavior and liberate her.

Yet if the man is still moved to sleep with her, he is required to accord her the dignity of marriage with all its commitments and obligations. She might not be inclined to marry him and it is surely cruel to compel her into such marriage, but the Torah permits it because if this opportunity were not offered to the warrior, he would likely force himself on her on the battle field.

It is a trade off of sorts. Most men would release her and for the few who won’t, it is better that she receive the dignity and commitment of marriage than be violated on the battlefield. [3]

Two Wives

In ancient times it was common practice for men to marry two women. [4] With one they built a family and the other was kept for lust. When the Torah speaks of a man married to two wives, one whom he hates the other whom he loves, it might in fact be alluding to this kind of marital arrangement. He loves the woman with whom he builds his family, but not the woman he maintains for lust. She is the object of his desires, but not the woman of his dreams. He uses her, but he doesn’t respect her.

The man who maintains a woman merely for his pleasure and does not see her as his partner in life is consumed by lust and cannot acknowledge the impact of his actions on others. So too, the savage, who ignores the pitiful state of his prisoner and is not moved by her wretched tears, is obscenely self absorbed. This supreme narcissism forms the link between the first two subjects, the warrior who forces himself on his captive and the man who maintains two wives.The Consequence of Selfishness - innerstream

In fact our sages taught that if a man sleeps with his captive he is not likely to ever love her. The foundation of his relationship with his captive is not mutual respect and admiration, it is lust. Without respect he cannot come to love her. This man is likely to end up with two wives (in Biblical days polygamy was permitted) one whom he will love and the other whom he will hate. [5]

Not wanting to legitimize the issue of his captive, the consequences of his lust, he will want to acknowledge only the children of his beloved wife, the seeds of his affection. But the Torah comes along and says, stop this despicable attitude.

In life we are summoned to rid ourselves of the noxious disease called self absorption. You cannot cut off an innocent child and treat him as if he is not part of your family merely because he is the product of your lust. You are responsible for this child; he is your first born, whether you like it or not. Wake up and realize that you don’t live in a vacuum. Your actions have consequences and others cannot be made to bear the burden of your shortcomings. The Torah won’t permit you to abandon this child.

Rebellious Child

This brings us to the third subject in our trilogy, the rebellious child. The Torah begins this discussion with the words, “When there will be [born] to a man a wayward and rebellious son.” The Torah notably traces the rebelliousness to the father rather than the mother because in many ways it is his fault.

This rebellious child is the son of the captive woman; the product of his father’s lustful union. This is also the child of the second episode in the trilogy, the one whose father wanted to cut him off. [6] That this child grew up to rebel against his father and later his mother is not a surprise. A child conceived in selfish lust is likely to inherit these traits from his father. That he is raised by a self absorbed father who wants little contact with him will only cement these traits and make them dominant. [7]

Surely the child has free choice and is responsible for his own behavior, but the father must take pause and recognize that he stacked the deck against this son. He triggered the events of the present with his actions of the past. The son is ultimately required to take ownership of his behavior, but the father must acknowledge that selfishness left unchecked has disastrous consequences. It begins with lust, it leads to indulgence, from there we come to abuse of a wife, neglect of a child and in the end, the corruption of the next generation. It is easy to see that the son’s rebellion is a mirror of the father’s indulgence.

The moral of this tragic, but hypothetical story, is plain to see. We are called upon to realize that we are the characters of this story. We are each selfish in our own way and our selfishness often impacts others negatively. We cannot afford to buy into the illusion that we live in a vacuum; life is too short for such illusions. Our actions have consequences, first on ourselves then on our family and finally on future generations.



[1] Deuteronomy 21:10-22.

[2] This follows the opinion of Rabbi Yochanan Jerusalem Talmud, Makos 2:6.

[3]See Rashi’s commentary to Deuteronomy 21:11. It is important to note that the woman was converted before the marriage. Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 68b.

[4] See Rashi’s commentary to Genesis 4:19.Polygamy was permitted in Biblical Days. A tenth century ban by Rabbenu Gershom of Constantinople prohibited polygamy to Jews.

[5] Midrash Tanchuma chapter 1.

[6] Midrash Tanchuma Ibid.

[7] Torahs Moshe (Alshich) Deuteronomy 21:10-22.

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