Thursday, August 15, 2013

Giving Ourselves a Pass

A story. Once there was a young woman who was very ill. The physicians treating her told her that she needed to eat pork to have any chance to survive. The young woman was a devout Jew and the thought of eating pig was abhorent to her. She resisted her doctor's advice and continued to deteriorate. At last, with no alternative, and advised by her rabbi that she must do whatver it takes to save her life, the young woman relented. But even here she set conditions. She insisted that if she must eat the forbidden pork at least the pig should be ritually slaughtered, 'sh'cheeta' performed. Everyone was puzzled, including the rabbi, afterall sh'cheeta is only relevant for kosher animals.
Of what benifit would it be for the non-kosher pig. Nonetheless in order to appease the patient they agreed to 'shecht' the pig. But the story did not end. For you see, the woman further demanded that the lungs of the now ritually slaughtered pig be checked to make sure it was not a 'traifa' and forbidden. Again the request made little sense. Traifa or not would only be relevant for a kosher animal and here they were dealing with a pig. Wanting to please the young woman the lungs were checked. And what do you know their was a 'shaila' a question about whether the lungs had a blemish that would render the pig a traifa.

The pig's lungs were summarily brought to the rabbi. He examined them carefully. When asked to render his halachic ruling the rabbi said," There is no problem with the lungs.
They do not make the animal a traifa. But please understand it is impossible under any circumstances to use the word "kosher" regarding a pig".

This Shabbat in the parsha of Kee Taytzay we open with the story of the non-Jewish woman taken captive in war. The Torah seems to do exactly what the rabbi in our story would not. It tells us that even though the heathen woman is forbidden to a Jew and not kosher for marriage, the Jewish warrior may take her and make her his wife. In essence the Torah is making this heathen woman kosher!

Rashi explains that the Torah gave license here to the otherwise forbidden as a concession to the 'yetzer hara', the evil inclination. The Torah knew that the soldier in battle may not be able to overcome his desire for a woman he sees. A soldier is often vulnerable and full of passion. Rather than insist the soldier do the right, which is beyond his control, the Torah gives him license to abide his uncontrollable lust, albeit with certain provisions that the Torah outlines.

The Talmud makes use of the law of the "Yefat To'ar", the concession to the 'yetzer hara' in times of war, to teach a principle. They say "Better to eat meat of a calf that is near death (and therefore unhealthy) that is ritually slaughtered than the meat of an unhealthy animal that died before being ritually slaughtered. In other words, even if the meat you eat is not good for you, if you are going to eat it anyway, do it in the best way possible.

The truth is that the story of the Yefat To'ar, the woman taken in times of war, is very similar to the story of the pork in our opening story. In the story of the rabbi and the pig's lungs, no matter how kosher the lungs are, and no matter that the woman in question is permitted to eat it,the meat is still pork. The permissablity to eat the meat will not make it kosher. The person in that case is mandated because of illnes to eat the non kosher animal. But that cannot make it kosher. Similarly the Yefat Toar is permitted to the Jewish soldier in a time where he is unable to control his lust. But that does not make her 'kosher'. She remains a heathen woman.

We see something very important in all the above. G-d in His infinite wisdom sometimes gives us a pass! It is as if G-d says "Look this is really not okay to do. But because of your situation, because you really do not have the inner strength to resist, I won't hold you liable if you do it!"

Now I know many a person can give him/herself a pass on lot's of life issues saying "I can't control myself". And in many cases, indeed most cases, that's not true. S/he could control him/herself if there was enough commitment. But I do believe that many of us have a challenge that is indeed beyond our ability to control. We have a challenge no less compelling than the soldier in war and his lust for the 'pretty woman'.
You may know the challenge of which I speak in your own life, a challenge you have tried so much and for so long to overcome and yet one to which you continue to succumb.

An example that comes to mind that effects many is their homosexuality, both men and women. Many a man and woman have beaten themselves up mercilessly for their inability to control their desire for a same sex relationship. They try over and over to control their yearnings. Yet ultimately they are unsuccessful. For many the failure to be able to abide the law causes them to leave Torah Observant Judaism altogether. They feel they have no place in the Traditional community.

I believe the story of the Yefat To'ar speaks directly to these men and women. The Torah is telling them that while we cannot say homosexual liasons are kosher, we can say that you can still be kosher even if you have them. The gay man or woman is not like the heterosexual or bisexual man or woman who wants to experiment. For those who have choices and choose a homosexual relationship the Torah is clear in it's condemnation. But for those whose only desire is for those of their own sex and cannot know love without it being in a homosexual context G-d may well give them a pass. It is not in their control to be other than gay. And to live a life without love is unbearable.

In the laws of the Yefat To'ar the Torah is teaching that not everything is simply a matter of willpower. Some things are beyond our ability to control, no matter how hard we try. Indeed it has been pointed out by many that the soldier who cannot control his lust in the story of the Yefat To'ar is a tzaddik, one without sin. It is only those without sin who go out to fight in optional wars, like the one the Torah is referring to here. Yet it is precisely this tzaddik who cannot resist the 'pretty woman' though she is heathen. The tzaddik here is given a pass.

And why does G-d give the tzaddik a pass? Because G-d knows that to condemn someone for what they cannot control will only cause them to feel inadequate of faith. It will alienate them. The person, overhwelmed with his/her sense of failure, will feel no choice but to walk away. Better to give him/her the pass so s/he can accept him/herself, even if it is to partake of the unkosher.

Each day we move closer to Rosh Hashanna and the period of judgement. Many of will look back with self-judgement on life issues that no matter how hard we tried we seemed unable to vanquish. I think the parsha of this week speaks to us. It says to you and me, if we truly have tried and truly cannot seem to prevail, then maybe our issue is one like the Yefat Toar and is indeed beyond our ability to control.

Instead of beating ourselves up one more time this holy season, maybe we need to do what G-d does in situations where the individual has no control. Maybe we need to give ourselves a pass.

Giving ourselves us a pass does not make what we do kosher. It does however make us kosher. And it frees us to be truly the tzaddikim we are meant to be!

Shabbat Shalom

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