A beautiful woman among the captives

Marc Chagall’s “The Wedding”

If you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers him into your hands, and you take his captives, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her, take her for yourself as a wife. Deut. 21:10-1

From Israel Baal Shem Tov, Otzar haHaim, Ki Tetzei

Eshet, “woman,” stands for Adonai sefatai tiftach, “O Lord, open my lips,” and yefat, “beautiful,” for pi yagid tehillatecha, “my mouth will declare your praise” (1).

From Uziel Meizlish, Tiferet Uziel, Shir haShirim

It is known that the shekhinah spoke from Moses’ throat, and even though there never arose another like Moses, there are still many on this level who merit that the glorious shekhinah offers praises from their throat… This is called ‘exultations of God in their throat,’ that is, when the exalted presence of the shekhinah is in their throat, then ‘a two-edged sword is in their hands’ (2)…and this is the meaning of ‘My mouth shall speak the Lord’s praise’ – my words are nothing but ‘the Lord’s praise’ and not my own… The God-fearer does nothing but ready his will to pray; the words of praise are not his. This is the meaning of ‘Those who fear Him make ready their will,’ (3) and of ‘O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise’ (4)… He who merits this level is the one who is nothing but a channel into which the words are drawn from above…Thus the essential thing in offering praise is to be clean of all dross so that one does not impose his own corporeality on the heavenly voice with his own voice — for every man can achieve this level, and must cease his voice and his deeds only because of the coarseness of the idolaters…

This is the meaning of shir ha-shirim asher li-shelomo: this song is the Holy of Holies, which is of the blessed Holy One Himself, for His glorious shekhinah gives voice and sings in the throat of a zaddiq. Thus the verse continues let him kiss me, for the blessed Holy One joins Himself to the lower mouth through the higher mouth… So we find in Torah and the Gemara that the pious sing and dance in great fervor… Imagine a man stands in the palace of the king and hears the musicians play and sing and dance, and dances along, while another stands from afar and does not hear the music or see the dancing and the rejoicing – so the dancing man seems like a madman in the other’s eyes. But in truth the opposite is true – that man is the mad one – if he heard the voices of the instruments then he too would dance and sing. For this reason we find that the prophet is called mad, for the spirit of God is clamoring inside him like a bell, and he dances and sings for God is inside him. Thus the verse concludes, your oils are fragrant…therefore do maidens love you: because you take your fill of me, they love you; because of this, comes love.

From Pinhas of Koretz

The people imagine that they pray before God. But this is not so. For prayer itself is the essence of divinity. Indeed, God is prayer.


1) The Besht is using a type of reading called roshei tevot, reading the words in the Torah as acronyms, in this case for the phrase we say at the beginning of the Amidah.   2) Ps. 149:6   3) A paraphrase of Ps. 145:19   4) Ps. 51:17   5) The higher mouth is a known term for the shekhinah in Kabbalistic literature, while the lower mouth, apparently, is that of the praying man (alternately, the higher mouth may be binah, ‘the Celestial Mother,’ and the lower mouth the shekhinah, ‘the bride’). These two mouths are also derived from the herev pifiyot (‘two-edged sword’) of the psalm, and the Canticle’s pihu, which can be read as not only ‘his mouth’ but ‘two mouths.’


This entry was posted in Baal Shem Tov/ Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Hasidic Masters, Ki Tetzei, Moshe Chaim Efraim/ Degel Mahane Efraim, Pinhas of Koretz, Prayer. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A beautiful woman among the captives

  1. Pingback: G!d’s garments | Hasidism for the Rest of Us

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