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The Evanescence of Desire
“And it will be that if he did not desire her…” (21:14)
Nothing is as transitory as desire.
Really, there are two kinds of desire: There is the lust of the feelings for immediate gratification — a craving, doomed to the law of diminishing returns; and then there are the true deep-seated desires of the soul — the aspirations that express who we really are.
In this week’s Torah portion there is a grammatical anomaly that captures these two kinds of desires precisely.
The Torah permits a one-time relationship with a beautiful captive woman in the heat of battle. In order to marry her, however, the soldier must bring her into his house and make her unattractive. She shaves her head and lets her nails grow; she changes from the clothes that she wore in the battle to entice her captors; she sits in the house of her captor for a full month, weeping for her father and her mother. After that the soldier may marry her.
But, the Torah says: “If you did not want her, then you shall send her out on her own.” From the context here the tense of the verb seems wrong. It should be future, “If you will not want her…” not “If you did not want her,” just as it is at the beginning of this section, “and you will see… a woman who is beautiful and you willdesire her…”
The Torah uses two different verbs to describe two kinds of desire: “cheshek”, which is the momentary rush of physical desire, and “chefetz” — the true desire of the soul.
After a month of her dwelling in his house, the captor may well realize that he never had a true chefetz for his captive, just a momentary cheshek that has long since evaporated.
- Sources: based on Ohel Mo’ed in Mayana Shel Torah