When Lust is Overpowering

Parshas Ki Seitzei

During the frightening antics of battle, a warrior’s moral defenses become weakened. He is now more susceptible to temptation. Seeing women of beauty, the soldier may conjure an irresistible urge to live with them. The Torah recognizing this drowning desire actually permits the soldier to marry the captives.


This is not the only instance of an overwhelming temptation. The Psalmist says “the Evil one, eyes the righteous, and attempts to kill him, but Hashem won’t leave him in his control” this means, when man’s evil inclination increases, G-d assists him to overcome this passion. Why does Hashem sometimes “permit” the sin and on other occasions help us resist temptation?


Hashem lets man field his own way, hence the divine method depends on the development of the inclination. If the temptation is of human origin, as is the case with war and battle, Hashem’s says I will not aid to suppress the craving, but since it is unconquerable, I will permit the forbidden. However where the lust is the work of the evil inclination, Hashem says if you do all you can, I will help you defeat the weakness even if it requires supernatural means.


The Torah recognizes exceptional circumstances; however barring the exceptional, man can exercise self control.


Life takes precedence over the laws of Yom Kippur. In a case where an expectant mother whose unborn child smells food and the resulting desire to taste that food is not satisfied, the lives of both mother and child are in danger. Therefore she must be given to eat from that food until she recovers.
The Sages nevertheless attempted to satisfy the hunger of such a woman without violating the ban of eating on Yom Kippur. Two incidents are recounted by the Talmud:
When such a case came before Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi 135-219) he instructed: whisper to the expectant mother that “Today is Yom Kippur.” This was done and the unborn child’s hunger ceased. Rebbi then quoted Jeremiah regarding that child: “Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you…” That child grew up to be the great sage Rabbi Yochanan.
When such a case came before Rabbi Chanina (2nd Century), he gave the same instruction: whisper to the expectant mother that “Today is Yom Kippur” but the fetus did not respond until his mother was actually fed. Rabbi Chanina quoted the words of Psalmist in regard to this child: “Evil ones are strangers to Hashem from the womb” The child turned out to be the wicked Shabsai, he cornered the market on a basic commodity, and then charged poor people exorbitant prices for the food.

Weekly Halacha

One should not sit outside on Shabbos with the intention of tanning, one may sit outside with no intention to tan.


  1. This is a nice vort though I don’t understand its implications. When is a temptation of human origin and when is it the ‘the evil inclanation’? Is the yetzer hora not a synonym for something that is part of our psychological (or biological) makeup? This would be true in all situations one is in, even extreme ones like war.
    Also what is the point of having this war of supernatural powers that go beyond human capability? ie what is the point of a yetzer hara that is so that one can overcome only with divine help? I am aware that there are maamarei chazal that sound similar to what you’re saying. Still what does it mean?

    Could you specify where the pasuk you quoted is xactly the mekor for your interpretation?

    Gut Schabbes

    • 1. Hashem may test a person, e.g. Yosef and Potiphar’s wife, or the Soton and Iyov, these are nisyonois of divine origin, there were going about their daily life and issues came upon them. A person can also place himself in a situation where he has a test; he enters an area where a nisoyon will develop.
      2. What is the purpose of having a yeter hora that is impossible to overcome without divine help? The answer is that a person has to do all he can, he will not be rewarded for the divine help but will be rewarded for trying his best and doing what was in nhis power. My Rosh Hayeshiva explained this with Yosef, he had a nisyon every day ויהי כדברה אליו יום יום eventully it was too much and he saw his father’ form in the window, this was dvine help after he had tried many times to resist over the previous year.
      3. Tehillim 37, 32-33 צופה רשע לצדיק ומבקש להמיתו, ה’ לא יעזבנו בידו .
      The full mamar Chazal I was paraphrasing is in Succah 52 אמר ר’ שמעון בן לקיש, יצרו של אדם מתגבר עליו בכל יום, ומבקש להמיתו, שנאמר “צופה רשע לצדיק ומבקש להמיתו”, ואלמלא הקב”ה שעוזר לו, אינו יכול לו שנאמר “ה’ לא יעזבנו בידו”

      • Thanks for your reply. The last words ואלמלא הקב”ה שעוזר לו, אינו יכול לו were indeed what I had in mind when I said that there is a maamar chazal similar to what you are saying, but could not remember off my head where it was.

        I still fail to understand the qualitative difference between a nisayon that HKBH or the yetser hora bring onto a person, and a difficult situation that someone created himself. Why should HKBH help on in his struggle but not the other? Also, somebody who is not guarding his harchakos from situations of aveira is also falling prey to the yetser hora, so how do you distinguish between the two on a practical level.

        I would like to elaborate on your yesod and use it to suggest a slightly different chiluk to answer the seeming contradiction between the gemara in succah and the case of yefas toar. The gemara seems to refer to two different stages of man’s struggle against the yetser hora:
        First, יצרו של אדם מתגבר עליו בכל יום – this is a fact and part of the human condition. Man is constantly subject to temptations of all sorts, and is bound to fail to fulfill all moral requirements in every single act of his life. However, the yetser still has to be מתגבר over him, and so the person described is still struggling (Note that at this stage the pasuk still describes him as a צדיק).
        However, the yetser hora also מבקש להמיתו. Being subject to constant temptation and struggle is tiring, and man would eventually give up, and resolve to ‘just live a normal life’ without the constant struggle of a ‘moral’ life. Only when man gives up he is considered ( מת (רשעים אף בחייהם נקראים. However, HKBH intervenes at this point and supports a struggling person in order to save him from giving up.
        The case of a soldier in war is different. Here the person is in a situation where moral struggles are out of place. He has to fight for his life and take other’s without hesitation. In the heat of battle other temptations can overcome him and he may succumb to them. But in this case failing to fight them does not turn him into a מת, since it is only because of his circumstances that his moral guards are ‘off duty’. Therefore divine intervention would not be necessary to save him, and an exception is made.

        – What do you think?

        Please don’t take my questioning your comment personally – לא באתי לקנטר אלא ללמוד להבין ולהוסיף לקח ע”י פלפול חברים.


  2. it seems that the decision of what is ‘beyond’ the capabilities of a person to withstand temptation would vary from person to person, and as we see with Yosef, from day to day…. So do we really have a role in all this, or it is it merely academic interest? Hashem will intervene.. as he is bochen lev veKlayos?

    • In Brisk, pre-World War II the shul used to have a choir. On one occasion the president wanted the choir to stand in the ladies gallery and told them to go up. Rabbi Soleveitchik did not think this was appropriate and told them to descend. The president, in defiance of the rabbi told them to go back up. This repeated itself quite a number of times. The choir went up, the choir went down. At one point Rabbi Soleveitchik mumbled to himself, he can’t resist anymore. The president again repeated his request that the choir ascend to the women’s gallery. Just then a lady admonished from the gallery, “Chutzpah! how dare you challenge the Rov” and with that, they stayed down.
      Rabbi Soleveitchik, was aware when he had done all he could.

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