Parshas Ki Seitzei
The Weigh to the Real War
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
A woman should not wear a man's belonging a man should not wear women's
clothing because it is disgusting to Hashem your G-d to do this. (Devarim
The parshah begins with laws dealing with a man who has gone to war against
a physical enemy, and has become attracted to a non-Jewish captive.
However, as Rashi and the Kli Yakar point out, the real war referred to in
this week's parshah is the individual one against the yetzer hara, the
inclination to do evil. How does one battle the yetzer hara? Answers the
Talmud, G-d said:I made the yetzer hara, and I made Torah as its spice. (Kiddushin
In other words, Torah channels the energy of the yetzer hara in a positive
direction (which would explain Parashas Ki Seitzei has the most amount of
mitzvos of any parshah). As the Vilna Gaon points out, the goal is not to
obliterate the yetzer hara, but to use it as source of energy to accomplish
meaningful goals. True, the goal of this war is to conquer the "enemy," but
it is also to make the enemy a loving, loyal ally of the king.
One such mitzvah to keep the yetzer hara in check is from the posuk quoted
above, and the truth is, this mitzvah is not as straightforward as it
seems. First of all, Onkeles says that the Torah, when it refers to a
"man's belonging" is talking about war implements (i.e., a woman should not
be in the habit of carrying weapons the way that men do; obviously when
one's personal security is an issue, the halachah is different).
Rashi explains that this mitzvah comes to avoid possible situations which
might lead to illicit intermingling of the genders, which, G-d forbid, can
lead to adultery or similar. As far as the man is concerned, it means not
dressing as a women in order to "fit in" among them, again, because it will
lead to illicit relationships. According to some, this means that a man
should not shave bodily hair that normally is considered a feminine thing
The Sefer HaChinuch elaborates and says that the law extends to include a
woman wearing any clothes that is the custom of men in that location to
wear. However, when it comes to a man, the Sefer HaChinuch adds that the
prohibition includes being unduly concerned about one's appearance, in a
way that is usually associated with women. Examples of this: pulling gray
hairs out of one's otherwise black hair or beard, and dying one's hair.
The reasons for this mitzvah are obvious. The Torah has commanded us to be
holy and to stay far away from immorality. It is well-known that even
people, seemingly "respectable" people with the best of intentions have
failed the test when placed in situations of "mixed-company." Must the test
be made even more insurmountable by dressing and acting in such a way as to
give the impression that there are no boundaries?
It is Society's attitude that dictates the level of morality at which it
will live. We know from the Torah and from experience that what we wear
makes an incredible impact on how we view ourselves and the world around
us. If our clothing suggests that no boundaries exist in life between
things that are obviously different from each other, then how can one
determine the boundaries between what is permissible and not permissible
when it is not so obvious?
When I was in line at a Passport Check once, I was behind someone I thought
for sure had to be a female. The hairstyle and hairband (yes, hairband)
were so feminine that it never crossed my mind that she was a he. And since
the clothes these days also give little indication of who's who, it was all
that much more difficult to determine the gender of the person ahead of me.
That is until he turned around. Then his face revealed what previously,
from the back, was hidden. It turned out that the other (clearly) female
was not just a friend, but in fact, his girlfriend. I guess I should have
known this by the fact that only one ear had an earring, and not both. Then
again, maybe the other earring was the one in his tongue ...
One of the prophecies about the period just prior to Moshiach's arrival is
that men will dress as women, and vice versa. If so, then Moshiach may be
much closer to coming than we think. Certainly when the boundaries of life
begin to dissipate, then how much longer can society survive anyway?
You will surely send away the mother and the young you make take for
yourself. (Devarim 22:7)
If someone says in his prayer, "Have mercy on us, for You are the
Compassionate One, since Your mercies extend [even] to a bird's nest," he
is to be silenced. (Brochos 33b)
The mitzvah to send away the mother bird before taking its young might seem
like an act of mercy. Everyone knows that a mother, in just about any
species, is greatly pained when she sees her young endangered. So,
therefore, it would seem, that when the Torah commands us to spare the
mother bird the torment of watching her valued eggs taken from her nest, it
is a commandment to be merciful.
However, the Talmud is quick to point out that this is not the reason for
the mitzvah. On the contrary, says the Sefer HaChinuch, the basis of the
mitzvah is something altogether different:
At the root of this mitzvah is the goal of setting in our hearts that the
watchful care of G-d, Blessed is He, is over the human species
individually-as it is written, "For His eyes are upon the ways of man ..."
(Iyov 34:21)-and for the other kinds of living creatures, over the species
in a general way. In other words, His desire, Blessed is He, is for the
endurance of his [man's] species. Therefore, no species among all the kinds
of creatures will ever become extinct; for, under the watchful care of the
One who lives and endures forever, Blessed is He, about the matter, it
[every species] will find enduring existence through Him ...
What this means is that, by permitting the young, G-d is sending two
messages to man. The first is that He is concerned about man's well-being,
and the second message is that, He will see to it that the species of the
world will survive. This is the reason why the Talmud silences the one who
uses this mitzvah as an example of G-d's mercy; for though G-d is
All-Merciful, that is not what He is trying to convey about Himself here.
On the contrary:
... Of something like this the rabbis, may their memories be blessed, would
apply the expression of "measure-for-measure" (Shabbos 108b). For, if man
comes to realize that his continuing existence and well-being are through
the providence of G-d in all matters, and from no other source, he will
merit that G-d should then do good for him, by maintaining him. As a reward
for this mitzvah ... a man merits to have sons (Devarim Rabbah 6:6) ...
They have deduced the matter from the words in the Torah, "You will surely
send away the mother and the young ..." [that is, sons] " ... you make
take for yourself." (Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 545)
The Rambam seemed to disagree with this, even stating that the above
Talmudic statement is only one side of an argument that we don't hold of.
We, on the contrary says the Rambam, hold that there is a reason for every
mitzvah, the reason for this one being:
"It is because animals have great anxiety when they see the suffering of
their young, just as human beings do. For the love of a mother for its
young is not something dependent upon logic; it is, rather, one of the
results of the mental powers found both in animals as in man." (Moreh
The Maharal has a way to bring both opinions together:
It is possible to explain that G-d made His decrees so that man should not
become insensitive; the intention of the rabbis of the Talmud was to make
it clear that it was not because G-d had mercy on the mother bird that the
mitzvah was given ... (Tifferes Yisroel, Chapter 6)
In other words, though it is true that mitzvos help to refine us and make
us sensitive to others like G-d Himself-and this is true of every
mitzvah-there is another, more prominent reason for this mitzvah, as the
Sefer HaChinuch teaches.
A man must love his wife as much as he might himself, and honor her more
than himself. (Yevamos 62b)
Perhaps the faulty perception is not baseless, but formed from witnessing
religious marriages that do not succeed, marriages within which the husband
also hasn't taken to heart the above Talmudic advice. However, one must not
forget that the Torah comes to refine the individual, that is, it is not a
given that one who upholds Torah is also one who has already made all the
necessary fine-tuning to his personality and relationship abilities. (In
the words of one person, "I got married and found out just how immature I
Hence, from a Torah perspective, the husband must be more concerned for his
wife's honor than for his own. The only problem with this, some complain,
is that it sets up a situation within which the wife can abuse her husband
by taking advantage of the Talmud's advice on relationships. However, the
answer to this question lies back at the time of the shidduchim/dating
process: find a potential, non-abusive spouse.
"Hah!" you say. "How naive can he be?!" you think out loud! "Do abused
spouses look to be abused?"
Healthy people, at least, do not. However, in my short experience in the
realm of counseling young people about to get married, or recently married,
I am amazed at how easily warning signs of potential future "abuse" are
overlooked. Sometimes "small things" before marriage reveal what a person's
attitude will be like after marriage; nothing, these days, can be taken for
Perhaps some things can be learned only through experience. On the other
hand, many couples today place too much emphasize on materialistic needs
and hope for the best that the spiritual ones will be taken care of as
well, perhaps by themselves. Perhaps, sometimes they are. Too often, they
Therefore, the Talmud can be said to be teaching two lessons at once. Know
from the beginning that your future wife will have to be honored more than
you honor yourself. Therefore, hints the Talmud, marry someone who,
potentially, you can easily honor, and that means marrying a person with
already refined spiritual qualities. Physical appearances and monetary
security are important, but, in the long run, may be quite secondary.
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you were leaving Egypt.
Parashas Ki Seitzei is known as the parshah with the most amount of
mitzvos, so it may not be surprising to find the mitzvah to recall Amalek's
hatred of the Jewish people at the end of the parshah, seemingly
disconnected from what came before it and what comes after it.
However, as we have discussed many times before, Amalek represents
intellectual doubt, the kind that erodes one's sense of belief in a G-d-run
world. This is why the Hebrew word "amalek" (in gematria) is numerically
equal to the Hebrew word "safek," which means doubt.
However, the mitzvah that preceded this one of Zechiras Amalek was that of
keeping properly balanced weights and measures, so that no one will ever
end up paying more than they should have for what he purchased. However,
the weighing of items is a symbol for far more than the give-and-take of
the business world; it also represents the idea of being "deliberate in
Thus, the rabbis have taught:
Moshe received Torah from Sinai, and handed it over to Yehoshua; Yehoshua
to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets handed it over
to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in
judgment; develop many students; and make a fence for Torah. (Pirkei Avos
First the mishnah discusses the Mesorah, the line of Torah tradition
without which Torah Judaism cannot survive. Right after that, however, the
first teaching to emerge is to be "deliberate in judgment" ... to weigh
issues and assess their importance. As one rabbi put it:
"I find that most people I meet already know enough to live a meaningully
spiritual life. It's just that they have their knowledge arranged out of
order, and much of what I do is just to show them how to properly
prioritize their knowledge."
It is as if the rabbis are admonishing that the Mesorah itself survives
only when those responsible for it act level-headed, are well-balanced, and
only interested in the pusuit of justice-G-d's justice. If not, then the
teachings become flawed, severed from their Divine Source. The result of
not properly weighing ideas: doubt, confusion, and war with Amalek!
Wait-the lesson is not over yet!
Following Zechiras Amalek comes Bikurim, the mitzvah to bring up the
First-Fruits to the Temple in an elaborate ceremony. The underlying premise
of this mitzvah is that G-d has been good to the Jewish people, shlepping
us out from the depths of spiritual oblivion to the heights of a holy life
on the holy land of Eretz Yisroel. It is a mitzvah of hakores hatov-of
recognizing the good.
This is the other half of the "sandwich" that encloses the story of Amalek.
Disgruntled people are rebellious peope who tend to turn against the
authorities governing their lives. If the economy is good and the standard
of living is reasonably high, then leaders can get away with just about
anything. But if the quality of life drops, and you're a leader ... watch
However, unhappy people are not necessarily people who lack. Rather, they
can often be people who simply overlook the blessings in their lives.
Amalek loves to focus people on what is missing from life, because he knows
that it weakens the bond between the person and G-d. (This is precisely how
the Original Snake approached Chava in order to get her to eat from the
Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.)
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, it is time to recall in earnest that Heaven is
"taking out" and "polishing" its scales, in advance of that awesome Day of
Judgment. For what will we be judged? For how intellectually clear our way
of thinking has been, and for how grateful we are for every blessing we
have been granted. Everything else we do merely flows from this, as the
A person only sins when a spirit of insanity enters him. (Sotah 3a)