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The Hair and Nails of the Yefas Toar - Parshas Ki Teze

Written by Rabbi Rudman, 9/9/2019

 This week’s Parsha concludes the Halakhos of war. It teaches us the procedure of a soldier who captures an Eishes Yfas Toar, the captive he can then marry. Many clarifications are brought to explain this Halacha. However, I would like to discuss one specific aspect. The Torah says that as part of the process, she must dwell in his house for thirty days. During that time, she cannot wear the attractive garments that she was wearing when captured. She also must cut her hair, and “do” her nails. There is a disagreement among the Tanaim[1] what that means. Does that mean to grow them or to cut them short. But all agree that these actions are to make her look disheveled, to cool the ardor of the captor, and make him decide whether he really wants to follow through, and marry her.

Attraction is a very subjective idea. In various societies, it is approached differently. But since the eternal Torah chooses to focus on the hair and the fingernails, that means it is something that is fundamental, and not just societal. Therefore, it needs clarification just like any other aspect of the Torah. What is the concept derived from here?

To put this a different way. The concept of anthropomorphism is a topic throughout all the levels of the Torah. The fact that the Torah chooses to use human imagery to allow us to have some glimpse of HaShem is an idea found throughout Torah. But there is another to view this idea. One way of viewing Mitzvoth is, “Since we have parents, we have a Mitzvah of honoring them.” But there is another way to view it. Why do humans reproduce with parents, rather than as an amoeba, by splitting? The answer is that since the Torah existed in a spiritual form, before the world was created; and in that pre-creation Torah there was a commandment in a spiritual sense to honor parents; therefore, we were created with parents to allow the fulfillment that Mitzvah in a physical way. That is one aspect of the famous Chazal that HaShem looked in the Torah and created the world.

Following that approach; if in the Torah prior to creation, there was a commandment to treat a Yefas Toar a particular way, that preceded the world. And the creation of hair and nails, as a place of beauty, is not an accident, but a part of HaShem looking in the Torah and creating the world. And therefore it requires understanding.

We find two different and opposite approaches to hair and nails.

There is a Halacha in the realm of Pikuach Nefesh. (We are not discussing how to apply this Halacha, just the concept.) When an infant is born, it a fully recognized human being, and all of Halacha can be suspended to save its life. However, if the infant is born early, then there are factors that come into play that can affect this Halacha[2]. If the infant was definitely born in the eighth month, then his viability is suspect, and one cannot transgress Shabbos to save him. But if his hair and nails are complete, that is a sign of life, and he can be saved. Therefore, we see that what completes a person, is the fact that they have nails and fingernails.

The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer writes[3] that when Adam was created his clothes were like fingernails that covered his entire body, and a cloud of glory surrounded him. The Tikunei Zohar writes[4] that this shell itself shone like the Ananei HaKavod. Only after the sin did we lose this tremendous gift. [This could be an understanding that the Ananei HaKavod cleansed the Jews clothes in the desert[5].] The Rada”l in his commentary on the Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer writes that the Hebrew word for finger nail – Tziporen – can be made up of the two words for a shining cover – Tzipui Ohr.

In the understanding of the spiritual structure of a person, there are five levels. These five are divided into two groups. The lower three are connected to a person. The upper two are described as surrounding a person, and are an aura of spirituality above a person. The upper level of the first three is the Neshama which is connected the thoughts and brain of a person. The two others are connected to that which is above a person, The Ari Z”l writes[6] that hair surrounding the skull represents that aspect. Thus hair represents the highest levels of a person.

But on the other hand, both nails and hair have a certain Tumah. When one cuts either their hair or nails, one must wash Netilas Yadayim for Tumah[7]. Thus the involvement with them, creates Tumah. Tumah is a sign of a place of spiritual descent.

The Zohar here writes[8] that these are places where the stench of the sin of the snake remains. And[9] these are places where there is unneeded growth, and stench of the sin remains. The Vilna Gaon in Megilas Esther brings the Gemarra[10] that the six months in the oil of myrrh is to remove excess hair. in understanding the Pesukim in a way of metaphor, that is to remove the stench of the snake.

So how are we to view these parts of our body?

The Maharal writes[11] that when we look at the structure of the body, it is the work of HaShem and we are to understand it as such. The nails and the hair are to protect the outer boundaries of the body.

To explain this idea in other terms, the boundaries are always where there is danger. A country is most vulnerable at its borders. A home can be entered by undesirables at its door. That is why we put a Mezuzah there. When Adam sinned he lost the protection of his own personal Ananei HaKavod. But it was not completely lost, HaShem left us that protection where we needed it most.

But Chazal teach us that when something is beyond its boundaries it is also dangerous. The hair and nails are the only part of a person that grow beyond the boundary of the body. When they are only to protect the person, they are good. But when they take on their own existence then they can be incorrect.

That is why the Cohanim in the Bais HaMikdosh have to wash their hands and feet. We also wash every morning. We wash our hands, but not our feet. The Ben Ish Chai writes that this because to purify the feet is only possible in the Bais HaMikdosh. We do not have the spiritual capability of purifying such a low part of our body. And when we are involved in spiritual pursuits we do not involve ourselves with our hair.

On Shabbos we return to some degree to the state of Adam HaRishon. The Midrash says[12] that the illumination of our face on Shabbos is different. We return to that illumination of the radiant covering that we had. Motzaei Shabbos we light a candle. That is to keep some of the light of Shabbos. And with that candle, we illuminate our finger nails, and say a Bracha[13]. That bracha is to praise HaShem for leaving us part of that special covering that Adam had. And inherent in that is a Tefila to return to a world where every person is like we were in the Midbar where our bodies themselves are Annanei HaKavod.

The Aishes Yefos Taor has to remove the extraneous parts that are used incorrectly, and regrow them in a way that she can then use them in Klal Yisroel in the proper way to protect those parts that are most vulnerable, and protect herself from the Nachash.

[1] יבמות דף מח/א – תנו רבנן וגלחה את ראשה ועשתה את צפרניה רבי אליעזר אומר תקוץ רבי עקיבא אומר תגדיל

[2] שו”ע אורח חיים – סימן שלא – (ג) בן ח’, אם גמרו שערו וצפרניו, מלין אותו

[3] פרקי דרבי אליעזר – פרק יד – מה היה לבושו של אדם הראשון עור צפורן וענן כבוד המכסה עליו וכיון שאכל מפירות האילן נפשט עורו וצפורן מעליו ונסתלקה ענן כבוד מעליו וראה עצמו ערום

[4] תיקוני זהר דף י/ב – דהוה אדם מלובש בכתנות צפרנים, דהוו נהרין כענני כ

[5] רש”י על דברים פרק ח – (ד) שמלתך לא בלתה – ענני כבוד היו שפין בכסותם ומגהצים אותם כמין כלים מגו

[6] ספר עץ חיים – שער יד פרק ד מ”ק – כי השערות הם תכליתן לאור המקיף כנודע

[7] שו”ע אורח חיים – סימן ד – (יח) אלו דברים צריכין נטילה במים: הקם מהמטה; והיוצא מבה”כ ומבית המרחץ; והנוטל צפרניו; והחולץ מנעליו; והנוגע ברגליו; והחופף ראשו.

[8] זהר חדש דף נח/ב – והבאתה אל תוך ביתך, דאתתרכת מתמן. ושפחה כי תירש גבירתה. וכבר אוקימנא מלין. וגלחה את ראשה ועשתה את צפרניה, ותדכי מההוא זוהמא דאטיל בה נחש:

[9] זוהר חלק ג דף עט/א – דהא בחובא דא אתער חויא תקיפא לעילא, ואשדי זוהמא באתר דלא אצטריך, ואתחבר בנוקבא, ואתרבי שעריה לדכורא, ונוקבא אסתאבת, ושערהא רבא, וטופרהא סגיאו, וכדין דינין שריין לאתערא בעלמא, ויסתאבון כלא,

[10] שבת דף פ/ב – בנות מלכים טופלות אותן בשמן המור שנאמר ששה חדשים בשמן המור מאי שמן המור רב הונא בר חייא אמר סטכת רב ירמיה בר אבא אמר שמן זית שלא הביאה שליש תניא רבי יהודה אומר אנפיקנון שמן זית שלא הביאה שליש ולמה סכין אותו שמשיר את השיער ומעדן הבשר

[11] (274) ספר באר הגולה – הבאר הראשון –  וכן עשתה הטבע הצפרנים לאצבעות היד והרגלים, שלא יהיו נקופים בתנועת האדם, ושערות הראש שמירה לראש, וכן כל אבר ואבר לפי חשיבתו יש לו שמירה מבחוץ. ודבר זה הוא זולת האבר הדבר שהוא שמירה אליו. ובודאי האברים וצורתן הוא פעולת הש”י, ויש לייחס פועל זה יותר אל הש”י מלייחס זה אל פועל הטבע,

[12] מדרש רבה בראשית – פרשה יא פסקה ב –  לא דומה אור פניו של אדם כל ימות השבת כמו שהוא דומה בשבת

[13] ספר אדם ישר – מרכבת יחזקאל – והנה זה החשמ”ל הוא צפורניים העליונים, ולא נשאר ממנו רק ראשי אצבעות …לכן עושים הבדלה במוצאי שבת בצפורנים.

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