Parashat Ki-Teitzei begins with the law known as “eishet yefat toar,” outlining the procedure by which a soldier who desires a woman captured from the enemy during war may marry her. The Gemara famously comments in Masekhet Kiddushin (21b) in reference to this law, “Lo dibera Torah ela ke-negged yetzer ha-ra” – the Torah made this provision out of consideration to the unique strength of this particular desire. As the Gemara explains, the Torah recognized that unless it established a protocol through which the solider may marry the captive woman he desires, he would likely succumb to temptation and sleep with her in a forbidden fashion. And thus, although a solider in this situation must ideally suppress his desire for the woman, the Torah nevertheless provided a permissible way for him to satisfy his lust, as a safeguard against illicit relations.
The Tolna Rebbe noted that the Gemara’s comment must be considered in light of the view of Rabbi Yossi Ha-gelili in the Mishna (Sota 44a) stating that any soldiers who feared going out to war because of sins they had committed, were sent home before battle. According to Rabbi Yossi, it appears, all the soldiers who went out to war were righteous men who had no reason to fear the consequences of sins, because their records were clean. It was with regard to people of this unique spiritual stature that the Gemara comments, “Lo dibera Torah ela ke-negged yetzer ha-ra” – that the Torah feared they would succumb to temptation if they were not given a permissible way to marry a captive woman they desired. Ironically, the Torah found it necessary to introduce a special provision as a safeguard against the most righteous members of the nation falling prey to their passions.
To explain this anomaly, the Tolna Rebbe suggested a novel reading of the Gemara’s comment. He proposed that the Torah specifically sought to remind these soldiers that even they, the nation’s spiritual elite, were susceptible to natural human weaknesses. The purpose of the law of “eishet yefar toar” is not so much to provide a permissible way to marry a captive woman, but rather to humble the soldiers by noting that even they, despite their outstanding religious credentials, were not immune to the basest human desires. This reminder was vitally important, the Rebbe explained, because the soldiers were waging battle on behalf of the entire nation, and needed to see themselves as full-fledged members of Am Yisrael, not as a special, separate spiritual class that is detached from the rest of the nation. Particularly these righteous soldiers needed the reminder that when all is said and done, they were not fundamentally different from the rest of Am Yisrael, as they, too, were flawed human beings who struggled with negative tendencies and inclinations. Although these were the purest and most spiritually accomplished members of the nation, they needed to see themselves as essentially the same as their fellow Jews, humbly acknowledging their shortcomings and limitations and ensuring not to allow their accomplishments to lead them to arrogance and condescension.