Parsha Ki Tetze begins with a moral dilemma. The dilemma being, if you are part of the war effort and you see among the captives a comely woman and you desire to take her for yourself. Surprisingly, Torah does not say it’s an abominable act to desire a captive; instead, it puts controls on the activity.
When you go out to war against your enemies, and Hashem your G-d gives them into your hand and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you desire to take her to be your wife, and you bring her home to your house, she shall shave her head and pare her nails. And she shall take off the clothes in which she was captured and shall remain in your house and lament her father and her mother a full month. After that, you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. But if you no longer delight in her, you shall let her go where she wants. But you shall not sell her for money, nor shall you treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.
While this act appears to have questionable moral, the whole idea behind war is even less so. While having said that, we cannot consider this command to be a concession to the yetzer hara, otherwise, we should see (for example) concessions written for dishonest business dealings in times of war or great need. Instead, we need to consider this mitzvah as actually attempting to curb the yetzer hara. The yetzer hara, the evil inclination, is perhaps better understood as our tendency toward selfishness. Our yetzer hara is best revealed when we seek immediate gratification. The greatest example of our impatience was at the base of Mt. Sinai when we couldn’t wait one more day for Moshe to come down from the mountain; so we built a golden calf.
With the phrase Ki tetze, when you go out, the Torah assumes the seven nations inhabiting the land have been eradicated. In that way, neither an Israeli nor a convert is permitted to marry into one of these seven nations, even if she is captured in war. When you go out, indicates leaving the Land of Promise.
In most cultures, even in modern ones, survivors from hostilities are subject to theft, abuse, displacement, humiliation, murder, and rape — and the statistics are staggering. Deuteronomy 21:10-14 places temperance on the practice, forcing the Jew to give the woman 30 days before she could marry and be involved in any sexual activity. Even today, the Israeli army has the lowest statistical rape record of all military forces in the world.
There is nothing wrong with finding or taking a wife, or even choosing a wife for less-than optimal reasons. But by forcing us to consider the consequences, Torah hopes to be the equivalent of a cold shower. We cannot just snatch a woman and have our way with her — even in times of war. Instead, a man is to bring her home, marry her, and give her access to all his credit cards and family decisions. There are further consequences, and the text speaks to some of them:
If a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.
By having two, wives, there will always be the favored wife and the wife who is not favored. This will create instability in an already volatile situation. By bringing into your home a woman who is not a believer in Hashem, one can only expect problems. The wife’s idolatrous tendencies indoctrinated from birth will not be released easily. Therefore, tensions will always be high. Children born in this household will be affected by the stain of pagan practices and this will cause further tensions, and this consequence is directly referenced in the next mitzvah:
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
A few decades ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a book called, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. In it, we see many of the principles of Torah rephrased in wording that is easily understood by the masses.
These are (some of) the things I learned in Kindergarten:
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Be kind and don’t hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Don’t take things that aren’t yours and return someone else’s property.
- Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Live a balanced life – learn some, teach some, draw some, paint some, and sing and dance and play and work some everyday.
- When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
There are consequences when we break the commands of Hashem, but they are not just written here in Torah; they are written on the hearts of His people, and we come up with creative ways to repackage the Torah in palatable formats for not only the people of G-d but also for those who are not his people.
Twelve percent of the 613 commandments can be found in Ki Tetze, but not one of them should be performed without kindness being foremost in our motivation. R’Shaul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul) says,
And I will show you a still more excellent way: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
This passage is not indicating that speaking the language of angels is an attainable skill, just like our voice is not a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. This is called hyperbole. However, what it is saying is if I were to have all these abilities: heavenly language, prophetic powers, understanding, and faith, it would all be for be nothing without love. The love we show (by our deeds and words) needs to be the motivation behind the performance of all the mitzvot of Hashem.
The Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 10) agrees with R’Shaul when it teaches that a mitzvah performed with all its intricacies and technicalities, yet without love, does not fly upward. This is because the fundamental ingredient — love — is absent.
Every person passing through this world leaves something and takes something away, whether they realize it or not. This “something” cannot be seen, heard, numbered, or scientifically detected or counted. It’s what we leave in the minds of other people and what they leave in ours. The census doesn’t count it, but nothing counts without it. Make sure the “something” you leave is love.
 Deuteronomy 21:10 – 25:19
 Deuteronomy 21:10-14
 the seven nations we are to remove from the Promised Land
 Deuteronomy 21:15-17
 Deuteronomy 21:18-21
 1 Corinthians 12:31b – 13:3
 Based upon Robert Fulghum