"When you will go out to war against your enemies, and G‑d your Lord will deliver them into your hand, and you will capture its captivity; and you will see among its captivity a woman who is beautiful of form, and you will desire her, you may take her to yourself for a wife."

"You shall bring her to the midst of your house; she shall shave her head and let her nails grow. She shall remove the garment of her captivity from upon herself and sit in your house and she shall weep for her father and her mother for a full month; thereafter you may come to her and live with her, and she shall be a wife to you." (Deut. 21:10-13)

This verse, the opening of parashat Ki Teitzei is always read at the beginning of the month of Elul, the final month of the Jewish year. The Arizal reveals how this verse teaches a lesson specific for this month.

As the good inclination does not [fully] enter the person until he is 13 years old, his limbs are used to [following] the evil inclination from the day he is born.

The divine soul is held captive by the body that has become accustomed to following the evil inclination….

The "evil inclination", the drive each of us is born with toward fulfilling our material needs and focusing mentally on ourselves, is present from birth. In contrast, the altruistic "good inclination" enters consciousness slowly, beginning with proper religious education and blooming fully at age 13 for boys and 12 for girls. Thus, the evil inclination is at a distinct advantage, having accustomed the individual's body to taking its orders for 12-13 years.

When a person desires to repent, he "goes out to war against his enemies", i.e. the evil inclination and the limbs of his body. "…And G‑d, your Lord, delivers it to you…" refers to the evil inclination, and then "…you will take its captive", referring to the limbs of the body.

[Continuing along these lines:]
"And you see amongst the captives a beautiful woman…" refers to the soul.

The divine soul is held captive by the body that has become accustomed to following the evil inclination.

"…And she shall shave her head…" means that [the soul] will remove any evil beliefs [it held].

When held captive by the force of the evil inclination, the soul becomes "indoctrinated" with distorted or evil philosophies and beliefs, such as Deism, pantheism, atheism, cynicism, etc.

"…And make her nails…" means cutting away and renouncing unnecessary indulgences.

Nails symbolize extraneous life-force, since they grow but can be cut without pain.

"…And remove her captivity dress…" refers to the "garment" produced by sinful acts, similar to the idiom, "remove the filthy garments [off him]." (Zachariah 3:4)

Repeated sinful acts weave a crude and vulgar 'garment' that the soul gets used to wearing….

A "garment" of the soul is a means of expression. Repeated sinful acts weave a crude and vulgar "garment" that the soul gets used to wearing. Its desensitization to spirituality makes it insensitive to the crudeness of vulgarity and gives it the impression that expressing itself in crude ways is sophisticated or chic. So it gets used to thinking, talking, and acting in these crude ways.

"…And she shall weep for her father…" refers to [her heavenly Father,] the Holy One, blessed be He.

"…And her mother…" refers to the collective soul of Israel, similar to what is written, "After my return, I comforted…" (Jeremiah 31:18)

The penitent must, as part of his repentance, realize that his past acts have "harmed" G‑d, i.e. prevented Him from advancing His purpose in Creation. Similarly, he has "harmed" the Shechina, which is the collective soul of Israel, by preventing it from actualizing divine consciousness in reality. Remorse for this helps the penitent reorient his energies toward goodness.

The verb "I comforted" in the verse from Jeremiah is transitive, as if to mean, "I comforted [G‑d]."

"…and she shall weep…for a month of days" refers to the month of Elul, which are days and not years, and are the [most propitious] time for repentance.

The idiom "days and not years" is taken from the Talmud (Shabbat 105b) and means "only a short time."

The passage concludes: "…and then she shall be brought to you and you shall become her husband, and she shall be your wife." (ibid. verse 14)

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Likutei Torah and Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard." available at Kabbala Online Shop]

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.