The portion of Kedoshim enumerates a selection of injunctions which Rashi reports are ones that ‘the majority of the ‘body’ of Torah is dependent on them’. Amidst these varied commandments there appears one that can only apply in a most unusual circumstance.
The law of the Shifcha Charufa, the designated maidservant, refers to a non-Jewish slave woman owned by two partners. While she is slave, although she must observe all the commandments that apply to Jewish women, she can nevertheless not marry a Jew. Her master may allow her to cohabit with his Jewish or non-Jewish slave to beget children, who in turn remain the owners property. Were this woman to be freed from slavery she automatically becomes a full proselyte and member of the Jewish people and may legally marry within the nation. If, however, she was owned by two masters and only one selected to free her, while the other chooses to maintain his ownership, she attains the ‘mixed’ status of half freed and half enslaved. The half of her which is now fully ‘Jewish’ may no longer cohabit with a non-Jewish slave, but can nevertheless effect marriage with her fellow Jew. Her ‘slave half’ on the other hand is yet incapable of becoming ‘married’ to a fellow Jew offering his hand in marriage. In this scenario where a Jew proffers marriage to this ‘hybrid’, on the one hand she is considered married while on the other hand she is still partially a slave and unwed. Whereas normally a married woman who commits adultery is punished by death, this woman who is not wholly wed to a Jew, when cohabiting with a Jew other than her husband is punished with lashes. The male violator of her relationship must only bring an Asham, a guilt-offering, where the ‘Kohen shall provide him atonement... before G-d, for the sin that he committed.’
What major lesson is to be derived from this particular law that rarely happens due to its strange conditions?
The Holy Izhbitzer reveals that embedded within this passage is an allusion to the famous episode where Zimri the son Salu, the prince of the tribe of Shimon, was enticed into publicly consorting with Cozbi the daughter of Tzur, a Midianite woman. A plague ensues among the people as a result of their participation in this sin. Pinchas zealously takes a stand grabbing a spear kill them them both and stifling the plague. He avers that the previously sited verse which speaks of the ‘Kohen providing atonement for the sin that was committed’ alludes to Pinchas’s intervention that saved the day.
It has been discovered that the introductory words in the passage of the Shifcha Charufa, ואיש כי ישכב את אשה (ויקרא יט כ), A man who lies carnally with a woman, are numerically equivalent to the words זמרי בן סלוא עם כזבי בת צור למדין, Zimri son of Salu with Cozbi the daughter of Tzur of Midian.
Is the parallel merely reflected in the evident connection that in each case a Jew cohabited with someone who was at least partially non-Jewish, or might there deeper and more profound message?
So often in life we are inspired to greatness. It may be a powerful lecture, an impressive personality or a moment where the Divine Providence smiled brightly upon us that prodded our soul to erupt in devotion. But equally often, our enthusiasm quickly wanes. The reality of our enslavement to habit, comfort and the multiple physical pleasures this world lures us with, that anchor us from setting out on new journeys of discovery and purpose as inspired as they may be, are too overpowering. It is only when we are ready to shirk those mighty instincts that enthusiasm can fill our souls effectivel
This hybrid woman possesses two opposing forces pulling mightily in two directions. Her emancipated Jewish half pines for sanctity seeking a meaningful and elevated relationship with her soul mate. Her non-Jewish side weighs her heavily down on the scales of meaningful motivation and inspired living. In her desperate frustration she succumbs to instinct and betrays her mate.
The Torah understands her dilemma and in place of the punishment of death for adultery calls for her to rather be flogged. The words used here to indicate her getting lashes are unique in all of Torah and only used here in this context.
בקורת תהיה ולא ימותו (שם שם), there shall be an investigation- they shall not be put to death.
The word בקורת has many connotations, firstly to investigate, לבקר, to distinguish this case from others in calling for lashes rather than death. The phrase may also relate to the fact that the judges when administering lashes,תהא בקריאה , should read from the verses in the admonition that forewarn ‘if you will not be careful to perform all the words of the Torah... G-d will make extraordinary your blows and the blows of your offspring...’ (רש"י שם)
We also derive from this verse ביקור תהיה; the judges must examine the physical condition of the woman to determine how many lashes she is capable of absorbing healthily. (כריתות יא.)
It is clear that the purpose here is to exhibit sensitivity and consideration in disciplining her towards a healthier attitude that will save her from even greater blows in the future.
Perhaps most instructive is the root בקר in this word which alludes to the large animal, בקר, cattle, that this leather strap is fashioned from. (רד"ק בשם רס"ג)
That is the bottom line in this message to her. She must totally shed the animalistic urges that inhibit inspiration from taking root. That is the challenge in this tug of war between elevated ambition and slothful dross.
The Masters of the Secrets of Torah reveal a remarkable observation and most fascinating concept.
The number of people killed in the episode where Shechem violated Dinah the daughter of Yaakov, and her brothers Shimon and Levi went on to exact revenge by decimating the population, was 24,000. The same number of people died as a result of the ensuing plague in the incident of Zimri and Pinchas. Is this coincidence?
Shechem, they teach, had a true desire to connect with the holy family of Yaakov. But he corrupted it by allowing his base instinct to define that connection rather than his soul.
The souls of Shechem and Dina reincarnated into the souls of Zimri and Cozbi respectively. Once again the pure yearning for an exalted bond was doused by carnal urges that couldn’t be tamed.
The cosmic battle continues within each one of us. In a sense we are all half freed, half enslaved, and unless we submerge our instincts firmly all the enlightenment in the world will lack the oxygen it needs to continue to burn brightly in illuminating our lives.
This struggle extends to every area of challenge in conquering our demons, whether they be the physical urges that blind us or the hunger for recognition and honor, and the need to exert power and control over others.
Rabbi Akiva also lost 24,000 students. Although they attained great levels of scholarship in Torah and devoted much energy in their spiritual pursuits, they sadly permitted their egos to run rampant, looking down cynically toward one another, not truly respecting each other’s worth and greatness, allowing themselves to gloat in their own accomplishments.
They too were doomed to lose all they aspired to, dying horrible deaths during these inspired days of Sefira that should have led to greatness.
The Holy Kabbalists teach us that the final reincarnation of Zimri and Cozbi found its final successful conclusion in the souls of the wife of Turnus Rufus and the great Rabbi Akiva.
There was a Roman governor in Eretz Yisrael during the time of Rabbi Akiva by the name of Turnus Rufus. He would challenge Rabbi Akiva on theological questions, but Rabbi Akiva always refuted him at every turn. One time after an argument, Rufus returned home in a foul mood. When his beautiful wife asked him for an explanation, he told her that it was because of Rabbi Akiva. His wife responded with a plan, “You know that the G-d of these people detests immorality and lewdness. Give me your permission and I will cause him to stumble into sin.”
One evening she adorned herself and wore very revealing clothing in order to seduce Rabbi Akiva. She ‘stumbled’ into him as he was leaving the study hall. When Rabbi Akiva saw her, he had three reactions: He spat, he laughed and he cried. She asked him, “What is the meaning of your reaction?” He explained to her, “I spat because despite your present beauty, you came from a putrid prop. I cried because your beauty will one day rot in the grave.” He did not, however, reveal to her why he laughed. She begged him to tell her, and he finally said: “I laughed because you will eventually convert to Judaism and marry me.” After her husband died she converted and Rabbi Akiva married her.(ע"ז כ., נדרים נ:, רש"י שם)
Perhaps within Rabbi Akiva’s response lays this vital message that penetrated her heart.
One must realize we all come from humble beginnings, a putrid drop. It is G-d’s benevolence and involvement in our lives that we attribute all our success to. If we maintain that notion we will never drown in self-absorption and appreciate and respect all who enter our realm.
His sentiment that ‘beauty that will rot in the grave’ is merely expressing that all things and needs that are material have a short shelf life; they can never bring us joy. If we submerge those ephemeral urges our hearts will fill with inspiration and fulfillment.
She sensed herself drawn, as her husband was, towards Rabbi Akiva’s radiant persona. Just as Rufus couldn’t quash his ego’s sense of defeat, similarly she was blinded by the beastly impulses that defined all her alliances.
The moment she observed the power of resistance that glowed from Rabbi Akiva and imbibed the powerful lesson he taught, the seed of purity that remained dormant in all her predecessors suddenly began to flourish until she merited to attain the exalted status of becoming Rabbi Akiva’s partner.
In these inspired days of Sefira that lead us to that magnificent moment that repeats itself each year, the giving of the Torah in all its warmth and brilliance, may we finally overcome and discard the powerful drives that prevent us from growth, so that our inner pureness will enthuse all that we do.