Ki Tetzeh – From Powerless to Empowered

10 When you go to war with your enemies and YHWH your God hands them over to you, you will take prisoners. 11 You will see a beautiful woman that you desire and you take her to be yours.

Deuteronomy 21

In war, spoils are often taken in the form of human beings, not just property.

Women now and in the future
Women past and present

12 Then you bring her into your house and shave her head and clip her nails. 13 Then take her captive dress away from her; let her sit in your house and cry for her father and for her mother for a month, then you may come to her and have sexual intercourse [1]Many translations use “possess her” but this can be seen as rape in modern society. with her so that she is your woman [2]Some places use the word “wife” but that doesn’t seem acceptable to her status.

Deuteronomy 21

What was the sound of the voice of a powerless captive woman during her first month in captivity? Was it like the quiet but piercing sound of a nail file scratching back and forth over stunted finger tips? Does she moan with the sawing and scraping without rhythm, grinding around stumpy nails that replace grace and beauty with hopelessness, fear and grief? She sits and waits as a captive for the man to make his claim on her body.

12 Then if you no longer desire her, send her out but do not sell her for money nor enslave her since you abused her.

Deuteronomy 21

Send her out, don’t abuse her…When does she get her say? Can she even make a sound as the door slams when she is sent away to trod the streets with a bleeding heart?

It has been written that justice must be pursued, but for whom and in what context? Trudge forward in the quest for true justice for all, for men and for women.

20 Justice, justice you will pursue so that you may thrive and possess the land that YHWH your god gave to you.

Deuteronomy 16

But not all of our ancient female ancestors were unheard or unheeded. Some were prophets and judges.

Miriam dancing at Song of the Sea
Miriam dancing at Song of the Sea

20 Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the tambourine in her hand; all of the other women followed her out dancing with tambourines.

Exodus 15

4 So Deborah was a female prophetess, the wife of Lapidot – she judged Israel in that era.

Judges 4

4 So Hilkiah the priest and Ahikam, and Achbor and Shaphan and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum … then she resided in Jerusalem, in Mishneh, and they spoke to her.

II Kings 22

Although we may feel disappointed that the list isn’t much longer, we are proud that these women were recorded and remembered. Yet, there is little comfort in these ancient passages unless the lot of all women has changed for the better.

Midrash Harabah and English translations by Rabbi Gail Shuster-Bouskila ©2021

 Now this is a song 
 To celebrate 
 The conscious liberation 
 Of the female state
Sung by Aretha Franklin and Anny Lenox

Next Midrash Ki Tavo


1 Many translations use “possess her” but this can be seen as rape in modern society.
2 Some places use the word “wife” but that doesn’t seem acceptable to her status