discourses of the Alter Rebbe and the Tzemach Tzedek by
Rabbi Yossi Marcus
you go to war upon your enemy…and you will see in captivity a woman
of beautiful appearance and you will desire her….You shall shave her
head and make her nails…she
shall remove her garb of captivity and…mourn for her father and mother
for thirty days…(only then can you marry her).…
begins our Torah portion.
This essay explores the deeper and personal meaning of “a woman of beautiful
appearance” and the inner significance of shaving the head and cutting
soul of man is
made up of two general parts: one that remains beyond and above the body and one
that is enclothed within it. The first aspect does not undergo the process of
Divine concealment administered to the second aspect. Thus it remains aloof from
the body and is not affected by its distorted view of reality. This part of the
soul is called mazal, as in the saying, “although he does not see it, his
mazal sees it.”
cites a verse from Daniel:
I, Daniel, alone saw the vision but the people that were with me did
not see it; yet a great fear fell upon them and they fled into hiding.
The Talmud identifies those
who were with Daniel as Chaggai, Zechariah and Malachi, who, although prophets
themselves, were not on the level of Daniel and therefore could not see what he
saw. The Talmud then asks: If they did not see, why were they frightened? And
the Talmud answers: Though they did not see, their mazals did see. Ravina commented:
Learn from this that one who becomes frightened (for no apparent reason, it is
because) though he did not see it (the cause for his fear), his mazal did see
In other words, although
a person is not consciously aware of his mazal, he is affected
by what the mazal experiences. Thus if the mazal is afraid,
the person will be afraid. If the mazal is inspired, the person
will suddenly and inexplicably feel inspired.
The mazal, therefore, because of its superior vision, guides the
person through certain decisions, causing him to choose the path that
will best serve his ultimate purpose.]
It is called mazal,
a word that can connote “flowing,” since the energy of the mazal flows
to the aspect of the soul that inhabits the body.
The mazal aspect
of the soul is referred to as yisfas toar, “beautiful appearance.” Beauty
is produced by the coming together of various elements. One color does not create
beauty. It is the convergence of various colors that creates beauty. Similarly,
the mazal receives its energy from a number of Divine elements and is therefore
related to the sefirah of Tiferes, which is the fusion of Chessed (kindness) and
Gevurah (severity), as is known to those who know the hidden wisdoms.
[The soul is therefore often
referred to as Yaakov, who represents the fusion of Avraham and Yitzchak, kindness
The aspect of the soul that
inhabits the body is called “a woman of beautiful appearance,” meaning that it
is the recipient of the beauty of the higher aspect of the soul.
[In Kabbalah, woman symbolizes
reception, while man symbolizes giving. (This is reflected in the process of procreation,
wherein the woman receives from the man.)]
Hence she is referred to
as a woman in captivity, since the lower aspect of the soul is, so to speak, held
captive by the mental and emotional chains of the bodily perspective.
So when a person “desires
her”—he truly wishes to free the imprisoned soul from its captivity, he must
“shave her head” and “cut her nails.”
The Torah’s attitude towards
hair is seemingly conflicted. The Nazir’s hair is holy; the Levite in the desert
had to shave his hair. The beard and payos should not be touched; a woman’s
hair must be covered. The hair of the leper and the “yefas toar” must be
shaved; the hair of Shimshon was the source of his strength.
In the supernal worlds as
well we find this paradox. The “hair” of atika kadisha is the source of
life for all worlds.
[Atik, “ancient,” or “detached”
refers to the sphere that is beyond the order of creation. In Atik, the Zohar
says, “there is no left side”—it is beyond the source for concealment. The “hairs
of Atik,” though, i.e., the energy of Atik extremely filtered, serves as the source
of creation. For creation can only come into being through the concealment of
The hair of nukva
(Malchut), by contrast, is a source of vitality for negative energies.
Hair represents extreme
filtering of vitality, tzimtzum. (A person therefore experiences no pain
when his hair is cut.) The energy found in the hair is the “surplus of the brain.”
Therefore, the source of the hair or “surplus,” will determine whether the hair
is positive or negative.
Example: The Zohar
cites the custom of Rabbi Hamnuna the Elder, who would preface his teachings
of wisdom with a teaching of “shtus,” foolishness. (Similarly the
Talmud tells of Rabba’s custom to preface his lectures with a joke.)
Obviously, this does not mean literal foolishness, G-d forbid. Rather,
this refers to the “surplus” of his wisdom, which is compared to hair.
The “surplus” of the brain
of a mystic, what is called “foolishness” and a “joke,” contains deep
wisdom. As the Talmud comments—on the verse in Pslams regarding the righteous,
its leaf does not wither—“The
mundane talk of scholars should be studied.”
Even the leaf of the righteous, which is subordinate to the main thing,
the fruit, is substantial and does not wither. Similarly his “mundane”
talk, which is subordinate to his principal wisdom, is substantial and
Such surplus, or hair, can
be compared to the hair of Atik, which is only goodness.
On the other hand, the “brain
surplus” of the average person, his shtus, or joke or mundane talk does
not contain any wisdom and in fact distracts him from Divine consciousness.
Similarly, the “hair” of
nukva, the extreme filtering of Malchut, which is the lowest sefirah and
is within the order of creation, allows for the sustenance of negative forces.
Thus the hair of the Nazir
(or the beard and payos of any man), which derives its energy from Atika kadisha,
as the Arizal writes in Parshas Naso, should not be cut.
The hair of a woman, by
contrast, which derives from nukva of Atzilut, must be covered, since it
can allow for the sustenance of negative forces.
[The Tzemach Tzedek also
compares hair to a parable. The parable is an indirect expression of the principal
wisdom and allows a person of lower understanding to perceive the wisdom of a
great sage, which would otherwise be inaccessible. A metaphor given by a fool,
or even one whose wisdom is not profound, is empty words, since the idea can be
On a personal level, the
hair of the captive soul, which must be shorn refers to the scattering of the
soul’s energies—its mind and heart—to worthless endeavors. This is the “surplus”
of the soul, which must be cut off in order for the soul to reconnect with its
higher aspect, its mazal.
A person must also cut off
“the nails,” i.e., the surplus of the hand, which is called Chessed. [The hand
is used to do kindness.] (As in the case of Avraham, who embodies Chessed, the
surplus of his energies resulted in Yishmael.) When this is accomplished, the
soul’s energies are redirected entirely through the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos
and it is freed from its captivity. &