Another Brick in the Wall
Ki Tetzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19 )
Over the past few chapters we have noted a gradual shift in the topics Moshe addresses as he imparts his final lessons to the Jewish People. From an extensive polemic against idolatry, the focus shifts to the building of the Temple, and then moves on to other national institutions such as the establishment and mandate of courts, the monarchy and prophets. To a large extent, this week’s parashah narrows the lens, moving to commandments of a more interpersonal or individual nature. Though Moshe touches upon many commandments, one particular topic is mentioned numerous times: marriage.1 Although much of the discussion revolves around what might be called “unconventional relationships” – the wife taken as a captive of war, polygamy and preference of one wife above the other, and more – there is one brief mention of love, marriage and happiness.
When a man takes a new bride, he shall not enter military service or be assigned to any associated duty. He must remain free for his family for one year, and rejoice with his bride. (Dvarim 24:5)
The Sefer HaHinuch, an early (anonymous) book of Mitzvot, notes that the concept of marriage is a stark, polar opposite to sexual promiscuity (that is mentioned earlier in this parashah Dvarim 23:18). The selection of one special person, as described poetically by Adam2 in the Garden of Eden, is the ideal:
A man shall therefore leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Bereishit 2:24)
One man, one woman; this a relationship of exclusivity.
In a sense, the nature of marriage mirrors the relationship outlined earlier in Dvarim regarding the Beit Hamikdash. We are told to serve God in one chosen, special place:
Do away with all the places where the nations whom you are driving out worship their gods, [whether they are] on the high mountains, on the hills, or under any luxuriant tree…You may not worship the Almighty God in such a manner. This you may do only on the site that the Almighty God will choose from among all your tribes, as a place established in His name. It is there that you shall go to seek His presence. (Devarim 12:2-5)
While the idolaters worshiped under every tree and upon every hill and high place, the Jews were commanded to worship God exclusively in one centralized place - a place later identified as Jerusalem. We might say that the difference between the Jewish approach to worship and the idolatrous approach is the difference between a “one night stand” and a marriage, between promiscuity and the union of two people joined in holiness. Idolatry, particularly regarding the element of immediate gratification, is spiritual promiscuity.
When a bride and groom rejoice in one another, their happiness stems in no small part from the joy of exclusivity, from the knowledge that their chosen partner is the only person with whom they will share the holiness of marriage and sexual intimacy. This is happiness born of holiness. In this context, the Talmud teaches us that not only is it incumbent upon the husband to bring joy and happiness to his spouse, but all those who attend the wedding are commanded to bring happiness to the new couple. In fact, the Talmud (Talmud Bavli Brachot 6b) goes so far as to say that whoever successfully brings joy to the bride and groom, is considered to have rebuilt “one of the ruins of Jerusalem.”
As we know, the ruin of Jerusalem is the Temple itself, a building dedicated to the exclusive relationship between God and His People. When the people “cheated” on God, as was the case during the First Temple era, or simply took their relationship with Him for granted, as was the case during the Second Temple era, the Temple was destroyed. On the personal scale, marriage, with its essential component of exclusivity, serves as a metaphor for the relationship between man and God; in essence, it is a microcosm of that relationship. When a husband and wife find joy in this holiness of marriage, they build not only their own interpersonal relationship, but also the community as a whole, as well as the relationship between man and God. They become partners in the rebuilding of the Temple.
Every Jewish home is holy. In a sense, every Jewish home is a microcosm of the Holy Temple. Therefore, every happy Jewish home serves as a step to the complete rebuilding of Jerusalem.
For a more in-depth analysis see:
1. This essay is dedicated to the marriage of our son Yosef Dov, to Shoval Cohen.
2. There are those who claim this declaration was an “editorial” statement made by God.