The Yefat Toar and Elul by Eli Lehman


This week’s Parashah discusses the marriage of a Jewish soldier to a Yefat Toar, a beautiful woman he captures at battle. Rashi and Ramban both explain that if one captures a woman at the battlefield, the man would not be able to control himself and will cause a spiritual contamination. In order to avoid this, the Torah requires a lengthy process before the soldier can marry her. He must shave her head, the clothes given to her while in captivity are removed, she mourns for her parents for thirty days, and the woman converts to Judaism.

How do we know that a Yefat Toar’s parents are dead? Perhaps they are living and well, and therefore, why do we assume that she has to mourn for them? Ibn Ezra says that if her parents were killed in battle, she mourns over their deaths. If they are still alive, however, she mourns over the fact that she was separated from them. Through this, the Torah demonstrates to us that we should honor our parents while they are alive and while they are dead. Ramban disagrees and says that she is mourning over her former gods and homelands that she is now leaving forever.

Why is it necessary for the soldier to go through this process and wait so long to marry the woman? A shaky marriage may result if the soldier does not sincerely like the woman but is only attracted to her at first. If, after going through the Torah’s lengthy process, he still likes the woman, then it is fair to assume that a good marriage will result. The main hope is that the soldier’s desire will diminish during this time, and he will set the woman free.

The month of Elul connects to the thirty days of mourning of a Yefat Toar. The Zohar points out that Pasuk that states, (Devarim 21:13) “ViHeisira Et Simlat Shivya MeiAleha ViYashva BiVeitecha UVachta Et Aviha ViEt Ima Yerach Yamim,” “And he shall remove her garment of bondage from upon her, and she shall sit in his house and cry over her father and mother for a month”. The Torah uses the word “Yerach” instead of what the Torah usually uses to describe a month, Chodesh. A Ketuba, a marriage agreement, refers to a month as “Chodesh”, and the date of a Get, a bill of divorce, refers to the month as Yerach. The Ketuba views the month as renewal, and therefore it uses the word Chodesh, which is related to the word Chadash, new. A Get views the month as closure, and because of this it uses the word Yerach. The purpose of the month of Elul is to prepare us for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which is the end of one year and the beginning of a new year. We introspect and look back on the year we are completing.  It is a month for closure, Yerach, to end what happened in the past and start a new beginning. According to the Zohar, this is how the Yefat Toar is spending her month. She has to mourn her parents, which the Zohar explains as turning away from the bad ways she was before. This month is a Yerach for her. Afterwards, she essentially begins her life again during a Chodesh, without her previous gods and previous religion, but as a new, loyal, Jewish woman.

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