"When you go out to war against your enemies, and G‑d has given them into your hands, so that you will take captives - if you see a beautiful woman amongst the captives, and you desire her, then you may take her as a wife." (Deut. 21:10-11)

The mitzvah of the Beautiful Woman Captive (Yofat To'ar) is elusive and difficult to comprehend. It seems to defy the values and morals of the Torah itself. Yet we know the Torah is absolute Truth. Therefore, we are compelled to search for a deeper meaning.

Furthermore, why does the Torah permit an act that is fraught with lewd intentions? G‑d has just delivered the enemy to the Jewish people. It is more appropriately a time for praises, greater connection to G‑d, and an increased resolve to purify and cleanse one's divine service. Why is the Jewish soldier permitted to defile himself and oppress a captive woman at such a time? It doesn't seem to be an act which brings a Jew closer to G‑d. A number of special souls…captured by forces of impurity…are those of future righteous converts…

But consider, just who are these soldiers going out to war and bringing back a beautiful woman captive? When the Community of Israel went out to war, anybody who built a new house and had not yet dedicated it, planted a vineyard and had not yet eaten its fruit, or betrothed a woman and not yet married her, was exempt from military service. In addition, anyone who was afraid (that he had no merit on account of his many sins) was also exempt from the military, lest he demoralize his brethren. (See Deut. 20:1-9) Who was left? Only the tzadikim.

How then should we understand the desire of a tzadik to bring back a Beautiful Woman Captive from the battlefield? Certainly these are tzadikim who are in control of the Evil Inclination!

The root of the mitzvah of Beautiful Woman Captive can be traced back to Adam and Eve in Gan Eden, where they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When they fell and tasted from the forbidden fruit, it caused a number of special souls to be captured by forces of impurity. These souls are those of future righteous converts. One can readily see how many great and important personages joined the Community of Israel as converts: Ruth, the great, great, great grandmother of King David, Naama, the wife of King Solomon, Onkelos the translator, the Tannaitic sages Shemaya and Avtalyon, and countless others who found the root of their souls in the Torah.

Furthermore, there are pure souls who are bound to impure souls, and the pure one doesn't have the ability to break free. The soul of Rav Chanina ben Tradyon (one of the 10 Martyrs) is an example. His soul was bound up with that of Shechem ben Chamor, the prince of Shechem who raped Dina, the daughter of Jacob (Gen. 34). This soul suffered until Shechem raped Dina, as the Torah states, "And his soul cleaved to Dina..." ((Gen. 34:3) When the pure soul bound to his impure soul cleaved to Dina, it was able to break free, severing its attachment to Shechem and cleaving to Dina. It finally found its tikun in the person of the sage, Rav Chanina ben Tradyon.

The Torah sanctions the taking of a Beautiful Woman Captive only when a man has a desire for her. When a tzadik has an unexpected desire for a certain beautiful woman captive, it is an indication that there is a pure soul captive inside her. The Neshama is never ugly, it never loses its beauty…

Let us examine the language of the verse more closely.
"…G‑d will give you victory over them, so that you will take captives. If you see a beautiful woman amongst the captives, and you desire her, then you may take her as a wife." (Deut. 21:10-11)

The tzadik is enjoined to desire the "Beautiful Woman Captive", to ransom the resplendent Neshama from its captivity. That is why the verse doesn't state, "…and you desire her [in Hebrew, "otah", direct object]", but rather he desires (something) about her (in Hebrew, "bah"). "…and you desire her…" is written to include even a woman who is physically ugly. His desire for her is evidence of the beauty lying captive inside, for the Neshama is never ugly, it never loses its beauty.

The Baal Shem Tov was known for his great love of coarse, simple, unlettered Jews - on the surface, those possessed of the lowliest souls. But we know that the Baal Shem Tov saw in these Jews great beauty and deep faith in G‑d. His devotion and attachment to them set their souls free to serve G‑d. Many of the simple Jews who were touched by the Baal Shem Tov, although remaining unlearned, became deeply pious individuals who raised generations of pious Jews and Torah scholars.

When the tzadik ransoms captive souls, when he takes the Beautiful Woman Captive as a wife, their connection to G‑d attaches them both to the source of holiness and ultimate good and brings benefits for all of the Community of Israel.

[First published in B’Oholei Tzadikim, KiTetze 5759]