> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > M'oray Ha'Aish

To Be As One

Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 )

by Rabbi Ari Kahn

While Parshat Ki Tetzei is made up of numerous apparently disconnected topics, there is a subtext which repeats itself time and again throughout this Torah portion: the topic of marriage.

Parshat Ki Tetzei begins with conquest:

And she shall take off the garment of her captivity, and shall remain in your house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that you shall go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. (Deut. 21:13)

The Torah proceeds to discuss a dysfunctional family in which there are two wives, one loved and the other scorned:

If a man has two wives, one beloved and another hated, and they have borne him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son is hers who was hated... (Deut. 21:15)

From there the text continues to discuss a relationship where the husband hates the wife and is willing to soil her reputation:

If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and hates her, and gives accusing speeches against her, and brings an evil name upon her, and says, "I took this woman, and when I came to her, I did not find in her the signs of virginity." (Deut. 22:13-14)

The Torah also discusses a case of rape in this Torah portion:

If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and lays hold of her, and lies with her, and they are found. Then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he has humbled her, he may not put her away all his days. (Deut. 22:28-29)

And divorce:

When a man has taken a wife, and married her, and it comes to pass that she finds no favor in his eyes, because he has found some uncleanness in her; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. (Deut. 23:1)

Then there is the case of war exemption in case of a recent marriage:

When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, nor shall he be charged with any business; but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer his wife whom he has taken. (Deut. 23:5)

And a discussion of a leverite marriage:

If brothers live together, and one of them dies, and has no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry outside to a stranger; her husband's brother shall go in to her, and take her to him for a wife, and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her. (Deut. 25:5)

But, while all types of unions, sordid and otherwise, are presented, the normal marriage situation is absent.

This observation is really quite unexceptional; the Torah concerns itself with law and often deals with the out-of-the-ordinary situation. Nonetheless, aside from the opening chapters of Genesis, the Torah does not address the philosophical and legal implications of the "normal" relationship, only the abnormal exceptions.


* * *



The ideal model, presented at the dawn of history, is the idea of one man and one woman united by love:

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Genesis 1:27-28)

The description of the creation of man and woman is theologically breathtaking. The image of God which man possesses is the totality of the two together. "Male and female He created them."1 Each independently is lacking spiritually.

Said Rabbi Abba: "The first man consisted of male and female, for it says: Let us make man in our image after our likeness, which indicates that male and female were originally created as one and separated afterwards." (Zohar Sh'mot 55a)

All agree [that] there was [only] one formation, [but they differ in this:] one holds [that] we go according to the intention, and the other holds [that] we go according to the fact, as that [statement] of Rav Yehuda [who] asked: "It is written, And God created man in his own image, and it is written, Male and female created He them. How is this [to be understood]?" [In this way:] In the beginning it was the intention [of God] to create two [human beings], and in the end [only] one [human being] was created. (Ketuvot 8a)

The Torah continues, and describes man's existential loneliness and the solution to the loneliness - a mate.

And the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help to match him." And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every bird of the air; and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them; and whatever Adam called every living creature, that was its name. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the bird of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help to match him. And the Lord God made Adam fall into a deep sleep, and he slept; and He took one from his ribs, and closed up the flesh. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her to the man. And Adam said, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18-25)

Man is created with both physical and spiritual ingredients; he has a common origin with all the species, yet he is endowed with a spiritual capacity, which is here identified with his ability to speak and intellectualize.2

The goal for man is to search and find the missing part of himself, in order to re-create himself in the image of God. This is the theological significance of the biblical description of man and woman being one, suffering separation, and becoming merged anew. It is a search for self as much as it is a search for a partner. This idyllic description precludes others, leaving just the two, together as one.


* * *



According to the Midrashic tradition Adam and Eve became estranged from one another.3 In the aftermath of the expulsion from Eden, when it became clear that their relationship did not bring them closer to God, rather quite the opposite, the relationship provided the background for the distancing from God from which they and the world suffered. Adam and Eve separated. Love was replaced by suspicion, and trust by recrimination.

Later Adam and Eve renewed their bond. The impetus for the renewal returns us to a theme taught in this week's Parsha. In the aftermath of the fratricide perpetrated by Cain, we are told that Cain fathered children, as did his children and grandchildren after him.

One of the great grandson's of Adam was named Lemech. He, too, decides to settle down, though in a unique fashion:

And Lemech took for himself two wives; the name of one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. And Adah bore Yaval; he was the father of those who live in tents, and of those who have cattle. And his brother's name was Yubal; he was the father of all who handle the harp and pipe. And Zillah, she also bore Tuval-Cain, forger of every sharp instrument in bronze and iron; and the sister of Tuval-Cain was Naamah. And Lemech said to his wives, Adah and Zillah, "Hear my voice, you wives of Lemech, listen to my speech; for I have slain a man for wounding me, and a young man for hurting me. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lemech seventy and sevenfold." (Genesis 4:19-24)

Instead of one wife - a soul mate - as has hitherto been the accepted mode, Lemech decides to double his pleasure and take two wives. The Midrash explains the arrangement:

Rabbi Azariah said in Rabbi Yehuda's name: "The men of the generation of the Flood used to act thus: each took two wives, one for procreation and the other for sexual gratification. The former would stay like a widow throughout her life, while the latter was given to drink a potion of roots, so that she should not bear, and then she sat before him like a harlot, as it is written, He devours the barren that bears not, and does not good to the widow (Job 24:21). The proof of this is that the best of them, who was Lemech, took two wives, Adah, [so called] because he kept her away from himself; and Zillah, to sit in his shadow." (Midrash Rabbah - Genesis 23:2)4

This arrangement reflects Lemech's seeing his wives, and women in general, not as soul-mates, but rather for the utility they could provide. One's domain was the bedroom, the other the nursery. This is certainly a far cry from the exalted description offered a mere two chapters earlier.


* * *



Rav Yehonaton Eybishitz (Tiferet Yehonaton Deut. 21:15) understood that this warped perception is what brought about the rejected wife described at the outset of this week's Torah portion and is arguably the cause for the rebellious child described subsequently.

This also could provide insight to the individual who is willing to go out to war and bring back a bride of alien values and outlook. Perhaps this individual already has children with his "nice Jewish" wife. Now he is looking for a partner exclusively for libidinous activity.

Lemech had two wives who each bore him children; despite each having their clearly defined role, each had given birth. Subsequently both became disaffected with Lemech. Lemech searched for a mediator who could help heal his family, and decided to call upon his ancestor, the one who had spoken so romantically years ago: Adam.

Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Hanina said: "He summoned them to their marital duties. Said they to him: 'Tomorrow a flood will come. Are we to bear children for a curse?' ... Said he [Lemech] to them [his wives]: 'Come, let us go to Adam [and consult him].' So they went to him. He said to them: 'Do your duty, while the Holy One, blessed be He, will do His.' 'Physician, physician, heal thine own limp!' retorted the other. 'Have you kept apart from Eve a hundred and thirty years for any reason but that you might not beget children by her! 'On hearing this, he [Adam] resumed his duty of begetting children, and forthwith, And Adam knew his wife again." (Midrash Rabbah - Genesis 23:4)

Ironically, the wives of Lemech, mired in a dysfunctional relationship, jarred Adam and Eve, and caused them to return to one another. They reconciled and had another son:

And Adam knew his wife again; and she bore a son, and called his name Shet. "For God," said she, "has appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew." And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enosh; then began men to call upon the Lord by name. (Genesis 4:25-26)

The birth of Shet, and subsequently of Enosh, marked a new beginning. Nine generations later another man named Lemech was born, and he had a son named Noach. The line of Cain was wiped out during the flood, together with this utilitarian perspective of marriage.5


* * *



Judaism for its part tolerated more than one spouse, though it never idealized the situation. Our tradition is full of sayings and teachings stressing the importance of a monogamous relationship, a relationship that provides spiritual and physical nourishment. The Talmud explains that a first marriage which comes to an unnatural end is tragic. The altar in the Temple is said to shed tears when a first marriage is dissolved:

Rabbi Eleazar said: "If a man divorces his first wife, even the altar sheds tears." (Gittin 90b,Sanhedrin 22a, see Zohar Sh'mot 102b)6

Something spiritual and holy has been severed. By referring to the altar, the most obvious vehicle for getting close to God, the Talmud leaves us no room to mistake its perception of marriage. The "soul unit" which the two of them where meant to create has been broken, the image of God which the two of them were meant to manifest is shattered.

In Proverbs, King Solomon, who had more relationships than perhaps anyone, taught:

Let your fountain be blessed; and rejoice with the wife of your youth. Let her be like the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and be you ravished always with her love. (Proverbs 5:18-19)

The Talmud explains:

Rav Yehuda taught his son Rabbi Yitzchak: "A man finds happiness only with his first wife; for it is said, Let your fountain be blessed and have joy of the wife of your youth." (Yevamot 63b)

This is a lesson which Adam should have learnt, and passed on to his children. This is a lesson not taught in this week's Torah portion.

Parshat Ki Tetzei speaks of other types of relationships. However, had this lesson been learned and internalized, all types of disharmonious, dysfunctional, spiritually challenged relationships about which Parshat Ki Tetzei does teach could have been avoided.


  1. See Midrash Rabbah - Ecclesiastes 7:6. (return to text)



  2. According to the Talmud one possible understanding of the "rib" is a tail, which would imply that it was the creation of woman which raised Adam from the animal kingdom. See Berachot 61a. (return to text)


  3. See Rashi Genesis 4:25. (return to text)


  4. In the Jerusalem Talmud Yevamot - the roles of the two wives is reversed. (return to text)


  5. According to Rashi (4:22 based on Midrash Rabbah 23:3) the wife of Noach was a daughter of the first Lemech, Naama. (return to text)



  6. The Talmud offers also what seems to be a more practical consideration. See Pesachim 112b: "For a Master said: 'When a divorced man marries a divorced woman, there are four minds in the bed.'" (return to text)



Leave a Reply

1 2 3 2,914

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram