Self-Restraint: Ki Tetzei

Titilation was my initial reaction as a twelve-year old reading this week’s Torah selection, which begins: “When a man goes out to war and sees a beautiful captive and he craves her…” (Deuteronomy  21:10).

And yet, the Torah reading responds with rules of restraint: You, the soldier, need to give a captive woman thirty days to mourn her family and she is to have cut her hair and and manicured nails; and only then (as understood by the Jerusalem Talmud), may you satisfy your sexual craving; and if you no longer want her, you must let her go free. These rules are radical morality.  For Torah protects the most vulnerable by providing the perspective of a caring Parent. The challenge is to see the humanity in all people despite the yearnings for self-preservation and immediate gratification. Power is hard to wield morally. The Torah’s holy challenge endures: Maturity is grounded in self-restraint. In the words of Ben Zoma (Mishnah Avot 4:1): “Who is mighty? The person who conquers impulsive behavior, as it is written (Proverbs 16:32), ‘One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty and one who rules over one’s spirit, than one who conquers a city.'”