• Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

Avoiding Tests | Parshas Ki Seitsei

Devarim, 21:10-11: “When you will go out to war against your enemies, and HaShem, your G-d will deliver him into your hand, and you will capture his captivity; and you will see among the captivity a woman who is beautiful in form, and you will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife.”

Rashi, Devarim, 21:11; Dh: Velakachta: The Torah only spoke in response to the yetser hara, because if Hakadosh Baruch Hu would not permit her, he would marry her in a forbidden manner…”

Parshas Ki Seitsei begins with the unique Mitzva of the Yefas Toar, the woman of beautiful appearance. The Torah addresses a possible scenario that could take place during war. The Torah recognizes that if a Jewish soldier sees a non-Jewish woman in the midst of a battle, he may feel an uncontrollable desire for her. Rather than risk him acting in a sinful manner with her, the Torah provides an avenue for the lustful soldier to satisfy his desire.

This appears to be the only situation in which the Torah acknowledges that the yetser hara is so powerful that the Torah actually gives a permitted way to fulfil its desire. The question arises as to why is this situation considered more difficult than the myriad other possible scenarios where a person can be put under immense pressure to sin by the yetser hara?

One Talmid Chacham answers that in almost every instance of where a person faces a nisayon (test) where he is at risk of succumbing to the yetser hara, the person must strive to avoid the nisayon as much as possible, and if he unavoidably finds himself subject to the nisayon, then he must escape as quickly as possible to protect himself from the danger of failing the test. However, these are not feasible options in the case of the soldier doing holy battle – he must go to battle, and once he is there, it is forbidden for him to leave, because of the Issur to run away lest it adversely effect his fellow soldiers. Since he has no option but the face the nisayon head-on, the Torah acknowledges that it may be too difficult for him to overcome it. This does not apply in any other case, because there is no other similar situation where it is forbidden to run away.

There are many sources in Chazal about the importance of avoiding Nisayon. One is if a person has to go somewhere, and has two possible paths to take, but there are immodest images on one path, then he must go the other way. If he nonetheless takes the path where there are images, then he is called a Rasha – wicked person – even if he overcame the nisayon and did not look at the forbidden sights. This is because he should not have unnecessarily placed himself into such a difficult nisayon. Likewise, we ask HaShem every day in the bracha of ‘Hamaavir sheina’ not to bring us into the hands of a nisayon, because we are fearful that we will fail.

Our Gedolim, despite their great self-control, went to great lengths to avoid facing nisyonos. Rav Shalom Shwadron, zt”l used to tell the following story about Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l.

“When Rav Aharon lived in Kletzk, his home was some distance from the yeshiva: using the main streets would entail shemiras einayim risks. So, he went instead by way of the backyards, though he had to vault over fences and other such inconveniences. It once happened that two bochrim were at his home discussing Torah until it was almost time to be back in yeshiva. He offered to escort them along his usual, quick route behind the house. They couldn’t refuse. However, when they reached an alleyway with big, fierce prowling dogs, they were simply too scared to proceed. Rav Aharon instructed them to take hold of the hems of his coat and walk beside him. Trembling, they obeyed, and lo and behold! Those dogs ignored the trio.”

Rav Yosef Shlomo Goldschmidt notes that Rav Kotler would happily negotiate tall fences and dangerous animals rather than streets where he could see forbidden images. This was how important it was to him to avoid nisayon. Needless to say, the extent to which Rabbi Kotler avoided tests is beyond us, but the lesson is relevant to many aspects of our lives. One obvious application is with regard to technology. Many people feel they need internet access and various modes of communication for various reasons, but it is well-known that there are numerous, inappropriate sites and modes of communication that can cause great spiritual (and other damage). It is well-know that many people have failed this test, and so it is essential to install effective filters and blocks that can reduce the temptation to enter such sites.

It is inevitable in life, that a person will face many difficult tests, yet it is incumbent upon a person to avoid deliberately putting himself in a position where he will face a tests. By doing this, he will greatly reduce the power of the negative inclination tempt him into wrongdoing.

-Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

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