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

by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

Parshat Ki Teitzei begins by describing a scenario in which the Jewish army is victorious in war and captures foreign prisoners. A Jewish soldier sees a beautiful woman among the captives and wishes to marry her. The Torah permits this marriage, but adds that if the soldier no longer desires the woman after they are wed, he must send her away (Deut. 21:14). Rashi, based on the Sifri, explains that this unhappy result is inevitable. The soldier will necessarily come to hate the foreign woman he married and will eventually divorce her.

Rabbeinu Eliyahu Mizrachi does not see the textual basis for this interpretation. The verse seems simply to state, "If you do not desire her, send her away." Where are the extra words from which to derive that the divorce is inevitable?

One approach in answering this question is based on the Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer 126:2), which states that, when writing the date on a divorce contract, the word used for "month" is yerach. This seems peculiar, since when writing a marriage contract, the word used for "month" is chodesh. Why use different words on documents that have comparable legal functions?

The Levush and the Beit Shmuel explain that the Torah associates the word yerach with divorce (see Deut. 33:14). Because of this relationship, the word yerach is used in a divorce contract. The word chodesh, however, is associated with marriage, as we see in this week's parsha: "When a man takes a new (chadasha) wife" (Deut. 24:5). Although the word chadasha literally means "new," it shares a linguistic root with the word chodesh. Therefore, the word chodesh is used in a marriage contract.


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When the Torah describes a soldier who desires a foreign captive woman, it states, "You may take her for a wife" (Deut. 21:11). The commentator Gan Raveh notes that the word "take" in this verse refers to marriage (as we also saw in the verse, "When a man takes a new wife"). If the Torah is referring to marriage, however, we see a puzzling phrase later in the story, when the woman is permitted to spend a full month weeping for her parents (Deut. 21:13). This month-long period of time is termed yerach yamim! Why would the Torah use a word associated with divorce (yerach) when describing a new marriage?

According to the Gan Raveh, this is the clue upon which the Sifri based its inference. The phrase yerach yamim (as opposed to chodesh yamim) hints that the marriage between the Jewish soldier and the foreign woman will inevitably end in divorce.

Why should this be? What is the root cause of the couple's unhappiness? We can suggest that the relationship described in this week's parsha is not based on the couple's appreciation of each other's spiritual qualities. Rather, the man and woman were drawn together solely due to external physical attributes, and therefore the marriage is doomed to fail.

The Mishnah (Avot 5:16) teaches, "Any love that is dependent on a specific cause will be gone when the cause is gone. But a love that is not dependent on a specific cause will never disappear." Virtually all the commentators on the Mishnah struggle to understand what sort of love is not dependent on a specific cause. Isn't every relationship dependent on something?

Rabbi Ovadia MiBartenura answers this question in the following way: Although every love does depend on something, there is a difference between whether the foundation of the relationship is physical or spiritual. A physically-based relationship is necessarily temporary. Once the attractive physical attributes are gone, the love will also disappear. Spiritual qualities, however, are eternal - so a love that depends on spiritual attributes will last forever.

According to the Bartenura's interpretation, "a love that is not dependent on a specific cause" refers to a specific physical cause. We can learn from here the key to building successful interpersonal relationships. A man and woman must appreciate each other's inner beauty, and found their relationship on common spiritual goals and values.

May all of us, regardless of whether we are not yet dating, currently dating, or already married, be able to find the true "other." May we build our relationships based on internal beauty, thereby strengthening the fabric of the Jewish people, and through that unity may we merit the coming of Moshiach and the building of our eternal Temple.

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