31 August 2017



The Torah deals with temptation in this week’s reading. Temptation is a constant factor in human existence. Usually we do not carry out the acts that tempt us simply because of lack of opportunity and not necessarily because of our piety. People are watching, the police are in the vicinity, the circumstances currently conspire against us being successful in this tempting but illicit venture. However there are times when these outside inhibitions are not present to deter one from succumbing to the temptation presented.

At such times the Torah seems to imply that it will be very difficult to deny the temptation completely. During war and battle, the soldiers’ inhibitions are released. The Torah therefore proposes to channel the fulfillment of this temptation rather than attempt to deny it completely. Because of this unusual set of circumstances, occasioned by war and its attendant violence and human callousness, the temptation of a defenseless attractive woman captive will be so overriding that the Torah restricted it but did not deny it completely.

There is too much opportunity present here. The Torah is well aware of the frailties and weaknesses of human behavior. It never demands the impossible from God’s creatures. But it does impose a set of rules and a sense of discipline regarding all area of life’s activities. The set of circumstances posed by the Torah at the onset of this week’s reading is a paradigm example of the Torah’s attitude and instructions in all other like matters.

Yet in spite of all of the above, the Torah warns the Jewish soldier that there are unpleasant results and sad consequences to one’s succumbing to temptation even in “permissible” circumstances. No stable and lasting family life can be built upon such wanton initial behavior. Even acts that cannot be initially categorized as being forbidden or illegal can engender dire results later for the person who perpetrates them.

This is true in commercial life as well as in personal affairs. One should always restrain one’s self from pushing the envelope too far. Every act of human behavior potentially carries with it unseen and far reaching consequences. The rabbis always advocated caution in all matters in life – in speech, in behavior and in decision-making. One should never stand too close to the edge of any precipice, whether moral, physical or spiritual.

Everyone’s life experiences validate this wisdom of the sages of Israel. Don’t sit too close to the fire lest one be singed by it. Don’t lean over the fence lest one may fall. Don’t always justify giving in to convenient temptation for there will always be unforeseen and in most cases very negative consequences.

In a world that somehow overvalues risk taking, prudence and caution are not especially favored. Yet this week’s Torah reading illustrates, in a graphic fashion, the wisdom of restraint. The advent of the month of Elul only serves to reinforce these ideas in our hearts and minds and most importantly, in our behavior.

Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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