Before Adam sinned, he looked nothing like you or I do today. When we look at one another, all we see is flesh and bone, but if you looked at Adam before he sinned, his appearance was angelic, transcendent, luminescent. The midrash says that he wore kosnos ohr, skin of light. When you looked at Adam, you didn’t see his body, you saw Adam himself; his neshama, his soul. When you look at a light bulb, all you see is radiant luminescence; only if you look closely can you make out the surface of the bulb. The same was true regarding Adam: he was luminescent; only if you looked very closely could you just make out his physical body. His body was transparent, with the outside loyally and fully reflecting his inner self. This is true beauty, where the inner and outer melt into a oneness, where the physical perfectly reflects the inner spirituality; where the physical projects something much deeper than itself. Beauty is the harmony and synthesis of different components, resulting in something infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.
When Adam sinned, however, the world fell, and Adam’s body fell as well. The physical no longer revealed the spiritual; it now hid it instead. Now, when we look at each other, we don’t see our true selves; all we see is a physical body. What was once light is now darkness. People can’t see your inner world, your thoughts, your consciousness, your emotions, your soul; all they see is your external body. Now, in order to reveal yourself to other people you must actively use the physical to reveal the spiritual; only through your words, actions, facial expressions, and body language can people gain a glimpse into who you truly are. The body used to be incandescent and reveal, now it only hides. It is up to us to reveal.
One of the most misunderstood ideas in Judaism is the concept of tzniyus (modesty), especially in regards to women. Many think that tzniyus means to hide, that the ideal is not to be seen. However, there is an infinitely deeper approach to tzniyus. In this age, beauty has been corrupted. The term “beauty” generally refers to outer beauty, a surface beauty that distracts from and hides the inner self. Physical beauty is neither good nor bad, it is merely a vessel with the potential to be used for good or bad. While our physical body is immensely valuable, our true self is our neshama- our mind and consciousness. Our inner world, thoughts, ideas, choices, beliefs, middos, and emotions are the deepest and most genuine parts of our “self”. True beauty is when the physical serves as a vessel that expresses one’s true self, their inner essence, into the world.
The focus must always be on the inner beauty as the ikar- the essence. The purpose of tzniyus is not to hide you, but to reveal you! The true you. Tzniyus shifts the focus from the external trappings to the actual self, the neshama, which lies beneath the surface and illuminates the physical vessel. True beauty requires a beautiful root and core, and the physical must be then be used to project that inner beauty outwards.
In Parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah discusses the prohibition against illicit relationships. These relationships are generally referred to as giluy arayos, literally translated as “revealing one’s nakedness”. What does this mean? Why does the Torah refer to a forbidden relationship in such a manner?
An ideal marriage consists of two people who endlessly break down the barriers and walls between them, creating ever deeper levels of existential and spiritual connection and oneness. Physical connection is part of a spiritual relationship, and when used correctly, becomes uplifted to something transcendent. While a true marriage relationship creates a transcendent bond, an animalistic relationship consists only of a physical, surface connection, devoid of anything deeper. It has no purpose or meaning, no direction, no transcendent element. When one commits an act of giluy arayos, they proclaim that the intimate realm is nothing more than a means for physical pleasure. In doing so, one reveals that they are merely an animal, a physical being, lacking connection to the spiritual, to that which is higher. By entering into an illicit relationship, one expresses their view that they are purely a physical being, that their body is all that they are. As a result, by revealing their body to the world, they are revealing their “nakedness”, that they are merely a piece of flesh, nothing more. They have self-identified as an animal, a physical casing that does not reflect their neshama, one who does not wish to use their body to reflect anything higher. This is the ultimate shame, which is why the Torah repeatedly refers to giluy arayos as an act of shame (Vayikra 18:8,10).
The Mysterious Trio
With this in mind, we can understand the strange progression of topics in Parshas Ki Seitzei:
The parsha begins by discussing the eishes yifas to’ar (Devarim 20:10), the enigmatic halacha which allows the marriage between a Jewish soldier and a female captive of war.
The Torah then discusses the topic of the “hated wife” (Devarim 21:15).
Finally, the Torah discusses the case of a ben sorer u’moreh, the rebellious son (Devarim 21:18.).
What is the connection between these three topics?
A Downward Cascade
The answer is striking: this is a three-step process, a natural progression that the Torah warns us about. When one marries a yifas to’ar, he does so out of passion and lust. A man at war is unstable, more inclined to give in to his animalistic urges. His desire to marry this captive of war is almost guaranteed to be rooted in physical desire, lacking any spiritual underpinning. As such, the Torah establishes many obstacles and barriers between the soldier’s original inclination and his ultimate allowance to act on that desire (Devarim 21:12-14). In addition to having her shave her head and prolonging the time before marriage, the Torah requires many other such conditions be fulfilled in order to cool his flame of passion and help him think clearly. However, if he still desires her at the end, he is permitted to marry her.
Nonetheless, this will likely lead to a very unstable and unspiritual marriage. When a relationship is founded purely in the physical, there are often fundamental disagreements in values and outlooks, leading the couple to grow apart. This is why the Torah places the discussion of the “hated wife” right after the topic of eishes yifas to’ar. It is this foundation that leads to such an unstable marriage.
And it is no surprise that the topic of ben sorer u’moreh is soon to follow. Chazal discuss the various halachos of the ben sorer u’moreh, but there are two things that are clear. First, it is highly unlikely for a child of this nature to exist. Second, to qualify as a ben sorer u’moreh, the child would have to possess the most barbaric, animalistic character traits. However, the pattern is clear. An animalistic marriage leads to an unstable and unspiritual relationship. Such a relationship creates an unstable home and is the most likely means through which a ben sorer u’moreh can come into this world. These are not three disconnected discussions; this is a chain reaction.
Perhaps this is why the very next topic mentioned in the Torah is the halacha of burial (Devarim 21:22). The Torah tells us that if a man is hanged, he must be buried that day; he may not be left hanging. The reason is as follows: although he acted immorally, man was created b’Tzelem Elokim, in the image of Hashem (see Sanhedrin 46b). No matter how low man may fall, no matter how animalistic he behaves, no matter how far he strays, his root will always remain spiritual and Godly. No matter how much we deny our true, higher self, it will always remain our truest and deepest identity.
A Journey of Ascension
There are always two levels of reality: the surface level and the deeper, spiritual level. The surface is meant to reflect the spiritual, reveal it, emanate its truth and beauty. But often we struggle, we forget, we get caught up in the deception that the surface is all that there is. But even when we fail, even when we fall, there is always hope, there is always a path back to our true selves. This is the message of Elul, this is the message of life. To strive to see more, feel more, learn more, become more. May we all be inspired to not only see past the surface, but to then reveal that truth through the surface, to live holistic lives of truth, spiritual beauty, and true oneness.
Shmuel Reichman is an inspirational speaker, writer, and coach who has lectured internationally at shuls, conferences, and Jewish communities on topics of Jewish Thought and Jewish Medical Ethics. He is the founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy (ShmuelReichman.com), the transformative online course that is revolutionizing how we engage in self-development. You can find more inspirational lectures, videos, and articles from Shmuel on his website: www.ShmuelReichman.com.