"When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the Lord, your G‑d delivers them into your hands, and you take them captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her, you may take her for a wife." (Deut. 21:10-11)

...the captive woman represents the lower three levels of the soul...

According to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of the Chabad movement, in Likutei Torah, parshat Ki Tetzei), the captive woman represents the lower three levels of the soul (nefesh, ruach and neshama) which are enclothed in our human body. Their purpose is to elevate our physical self. The two higher levels of the soul (chaya and yechida) remain Above, associated with our body, but not within it.

The higher levels of the soul relay spiritual messages to the lower levels, which often don't get the message since they are clad in the body which is captivated by the temptations and worries of the physical world.

The beautiful captive woman (our lower soul) is constantly receiving messages from the higher level of our soul – messages to do teshuvah, to return to G‑d. She also sends out messages of her own, which we experience as thoughts and feelings, expressing the hope that we will act so that her captivity will be eased.

Sometimes we get the message, sometimes we don't. If we don't, the message is sent again and again, until we heed it and do something about it.

The Zohar says, "The one who kills the snake, gets the daughter of the king."

"Killing the snake," in the parlance of the Kabbalah, means self-rectification via meditation. This minimizes our evil inclination (yetzer hara). It also "frees the king's daughter" – the beautiful woman/lower soul trapped in our body – and enables our higher soul to send more powerful and revealed messages of G‑dliness. "Killing the snake" achieves more than freeing the captive. It allows all five levels of the soul to come into full expression.

But "killing the snake" is not simple.

But "killing the snake" is not simple.

First, the captive must "shave her head." The hair of the head, according to the inner dimensions of the Torah, represents all that is intellectually extraneous, such as foreign philosophies and principles. The captive must free herself of all concepts contrary to G‑d and the spirituality of the Torah.

Second, she must "pare her fingernails." The fingernails represent extraneous expressions of emotion that have nothing to do with the spirituality of G‑d's Torah and may even be opposed to it.

Fourth, she must "sit in the house and cry for thirty days." The process of teshuvah doesn't take place in a day or two. It occurs over time, through constant meditation and self-examination, until it becomes permanent in us, like a house that is solid and well built.

Finally, as the captive woman cries over her past, she realized her full potential and ceases being a captive – she becomes a fully actualized spiritual entity.

[From Inner Lights from Jerusalem. Translated and presented by Rabbi David Sterne.]