The Beautiful Captive

By David Sterne, based primarily on Shem miShmuel.

The tzadik-warrior was attracted to the sparks of holiness within the "beautiful captive woman," which can be present even among our enemies.

"When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your G‑d delivers them into your hands, and you take them captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her, you may take her for a wife." (Deut. 21:10-11)

Rashi tells us that the "beautiful women" that the Jewish soldiers met in battle were, in fact, purposely sent there by the enemy to distract them. The Torah permitted a liaison with such non-Jewish women – after the soldiers met other stringent requirements – in order to assuage their lustful inclinations.

If a man cannot control his...craving for non-kosher food...why does the Torah not let him eat a little?

But if so, asks Rabbi Chaim Vital (the greatest disciple of the Holy Ari of Tzefat), why does the Torah not permit such an approach with other commandments. If a man cannot control his physical craving for non-kosher food, for example, why does the Torah not let him eat a little?

chanoch adds: Rabbi Chaim Vital is the redactor of the teachings of the Ari. Therefore I decided to bold the above paragraph as if it is the Ari who is asking the question.

In answer, Rabbi Chaim Vital explains:

The war in which the Jewish warrior encountered the seductive non-Jewish woman was a discretionary war not specifically commanded by G‑d – unlike the wars to eradicate the seven idol-worshipping nations of Canaan, which were expressly commended in the Torah. Such a discretionary war could only be fought by warriors who were tzadikim, men who had complete and total control of their physical inclinations. Thus, if a tzadik was attracted to a non-Jewish woman, it wasn't a weakness from within him that was drawing him to her, but rather a force from outside of him. What could that force be?

Rabbi Chaim Vital suggests that the warrior was attracted to the sparks of holiness within her, which we know are present even among our enemies. His attraction indicated that it was his task to rescue this spark and return it to its source in holiness. This could happen in one of two ways:

His attraction indicated that it was his task to rescue this spark...

1. Upon meeting him, the woman would experience his holiness, desire to cleave to the Jewish faith, to convert and marry him.

2. The meeting alone would draw out whatever holiness was within her, and then she would go on her way.

In either case, she would have to shave her head (remove all foreign philosophies and ideas), cut her nails (eliminate excess cultural "baggage" and emotions absorbed from a foreign culture), and get rid of her seductive dress (the "garment" made of evil thoughts and transgressions). Then, she would have to mourn for her father (G‑d), and her mother (Knesset Yisrael, the source of all Jewish souls) and cry over her sins for a full month.

Then, and only then, would the Jewish warrior be capable of deciding what was the right course of action to take – whether to marry her or to send her on her way in a respectful manner.

chanoch adds: One question remains that the Sages do not address. If Tzadikim the warriors would not lose control and be intimate with the beautiful captive. Yet this process of crying during the month of Elul would indicate that these wars would only take place during the months prior to Elul. The question is did the warriors have relations with the captives prior to the woman being put into the warrior's house? If so this would be considered premarital sex, which is not forbidden in Israel but is not promoted either. What is forbidden is sex between a Child of Israel and a Child of Noach or worse a pagan.