An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah:Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction CLICK
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz
When you wage war against your enemies, HaShem will grant you victory over them so that you will capture his captives. If you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners and yearn for her you may take her as a wife. -Devarim 21:10-11
The Torah spoke only against the evil inclination… -Rashi Ibid
”Various commentaries explain that when a Jew/ Israelite warrior becomes enamored of a beautiful captive woman that his desire for her stems from something more profound than the womans skin-deep beauty. The apparent redundancy of the phrase “V’Shaveesah Shivyo” literally, “and you will capture his (the enemies) captive” indicates that there was something inherently holy that the enemy had imprisoned and that the Israelite warrior is merely recapturing. He is, in fact, liberating that which had already been held captive. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and the eyes of the sanctified Israelite warrior behold the beauty of the scattered sparks of holiness within the captive woman. It is this intrinsic holiness that makes her attractive to him. (Cp. Ohr HaChaim Ibid)
As the messages of the Torah transcend specific locations and historical eras the Biskivitzer contemplates how the law of the Yefas Toar– the beautiful captive and the lesson of “the Torah speaking only against the evil inclination” might be applied in present-day Judaism.
The Biskivitzers insight is based upon a innovative reading of the verse in Koheles 7:10 “Do not say: ‘How was it that the earlier days were better than these?’ for it is not out of wisdom (lo miChochma) that you ask this (shoaltah zos).” by the Rebbe Reb Binim of Przysucha (P’shischa)
Imagine, says the Rebbe Reb Binim, if a father wanted to present a diamond pendant to his young daughter but was concerned that she may still be too immature to care for the diamond in a responsible manner. So the father gives her an ersatz cubic zirconia instead. Afterwards, he monitors her behavior and, if and when she proves her maturity and responsibility, he then gives her the genuine diamond.
HaShem treats us much the same way. When we are young, or at least young in our Judaism, we characteristically pursue spirituality with zeal, ardor and passion. Torah and Mitzvahs seem dazzling to us and exert a come-hither attraction over us. We pine for Mitzvahs and yearn for Torah and want nothing more than to unite with the Torah and Mitzvahs. At the same time, the temporal pleasures of the here-and-now world lose all of their attraction and often even become repulsive to us. And while such yearnings seem to be priceless diamonds of spirituality they are, in fact, fakes. In metaphysical terms they are mere cubic zirconia. These yearnings were not the products of our own guile or efforts in Avodas HaShem– serving G-d, but freebie gifts bestowed on us by a “hopeful” Divine Grace to see if, when and how we would deal with the genuine article. The precocious and wise “daughter” will carefully guard and polish her cubic zirconia. In other words “she” will do everything within her power to preserve and increase the Cheshek-the passion and yearning for Torah and Mitzvahs, consistently breaking new ground in Torah and Mitzvahs, purifying her motivations for Torah and Mitzvahs and avoiding any over indulgence in earthly pleasures and diversions. Through these wise efforts she will then have earned a genuine diamond, i.e. a lifetime of authentic and immutable passion for Torah and Mitzvahs. On the other hand if she is careless and irresponsible with the cubic zirconia then, as all counterfeits eventually do, it will lose its appeal and cease to be attractive. The passion for Torah and Mitzvahs will wither and die.
So… do not say: “How was it that the earlier days were better than these?” It is pointless to wax nostalgic over the good old days of our youth when our souls were on fire for Torah and Mitzvahs. For that yearning and passion was lo miChochma – NOT the result of our own guile, wisdom, awe of Heaven and exertions. Rather it was shoaltah zos- you borrowed it…it was a “loan” by the grace of G-d.
The Biskivitzer concludes that this is the contemporary application of the law of the Yefas Toar. When we first “go out” to wage war against the evil inclination in our youth HaShem grants us victories by gracing us with a passion for Torah and Mitzvahs. The Torah and Mitzvahs are, themselves the Yefas Toar. Comely, attractive and dazzling the Yefas Toar of Torah and Mitzvahs wield an overwhelming attraction that captures our hearts and that ignites our passions. Why does HaShem grace us with this gift? “Only against the evil inclination” to enable us to repel the evil inclination while we are young and, if we properly appreciate, guard and treasure this ersatz diamond while young, to obtain the actual diamond that stands the test of time. “Only against the evil inclination” helps us maintain and increase our passion for Torah and Mitzvahs throughout our lives to sustain a string of victories against the evil inclination until we breathe our last.
The Biskivitzer adds an intriguing wrinkle. He opines that in order to properly relate to our youthful passion, our zirconia, we need to internalize it. If you’ve got it don’t flaunt it. Don’t wear your holy yearnings on your sleeve. To carry the allegory a step further; think about tucking the diamond pendant under your blouse when riding the subways or walking through a high crime district. In his words “Divrei Torah do not require a hubbub or a flamboyant display. One who fails to hide his passion will dissipate it.”
and Neos Desheh (D”H Kee Saytazay LaMilchmah Ahl Oyvecha P. 101, 128 in the new edition