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The Sanctity of Marriage

Shmini (Leviticus 9-11 )

by Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

When the Kohen Gadol carries out the service in the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim (the Holy of Holies) on Yom Kippur, he wears only white linen garments, not the royal-looking garments that he normally wears1. This, explains Rashi, is because ein kateigor na’aseh saneigor, a "prosecutor" cannot become a "defender". Since there is gold in his regular garments, the Kohen Gadol cannot carry out the service in the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim while wearing them because gold was the medium of sin in the desert when the Jews stumbled by making and worshipping the Golden Calf.

In this week’s parsha, we learn about the eighth and final inaugural day of Aharon and his sons into the priesthood. One of Aharon’s sacrifices is a calf. Rashi comments: “To make known that God is atoning for Aharon through this calf for the action of the [golden] calf that he did; and the dictum that ‘a prosecutor does not become a defendant’ is only applicable regarding the worship that is carried out in the Holy of Holies.”2

Based on the above, we have cause to wonder about the following statement in the Gemara:

The verse says ‘and she will go out and she will become” thus juxtaposing her going out [from her marriage to her first husband] to her becoming [a wife to her new husband]…therefore, why do we not say that just as she can become [a wife] through the medium of money so too can she go out (i.e. become divorced) through the medium of money? Abayei says, ‘ brings in [to marriage, should] money bring out [of marriage, should] the defendant become the prosecutor?!’ (Maseches Kiddushin 5a)

In other words, since something of monetary value is the medium by which the positive construction of marriage is effected, it therefore cannot serve as the medium to effect the negative destruction thereof. This is a function of the principle that a “defendant” cannot become a “prosecutor”.

Once we have established, though, that the principle of “the prosecutor does not become the defendant” is not a general rule in all Torah laws – and that it only applies regarding the service in the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim – how then can we utilize this axiom to invalidate money from being a valid means of effecting divorce?

Amar Rabbi Akiva…kol ha’kesuvim kodesh v’Shir Ha’Shirim kodesh kodashim, Rabbi Akiva said, “all the Writings are holy and The Song of Songs is holy of holies3.”

The overarching theme of Shir Ha’Shirim is the depiction of the intense love relationship that exists between Hashem and the Jewish People like the depth of love between husband and wife. Although we are at times described as Hashem’s children, or firstborn, or servants, it would seem from Rabbi Akiva’s statement that the most exalted expression of the relationship between Hashem and His chosen People is that of husband and wife, with Hashem being the husband, as it were, and the Jewish People being His devoted wife4.

It would seem, then, that the spousal relationship has a lot more to do with the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim than we might have thought. Indeed, Chazal5 teach that if a man and woman are meritorious (in leading their lives in a harmonious, joint pursuit of Torah and mitzvos) the Divine Presence dwells amongst them. Therefore, in a very real sense, the relationship between husband and wife is a microcosm of the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim: a special place for the Shechina to call home, as it were.

From this we gain an awareness of what amazingly powerful potential there is to bring kedusha into the world in every smile and caring gesture between husband and wife. How great a sense of purpose and meaning one can feel as one approaches the seemingly little details of carrying on a smooth conversation, listening with genuine interest and care, always exercising concern and sensitivity for one’s spouse in all that one does; and, in general, doing everything one can to benefit one’s spouse. These activities are akin to the service in the Kodesh Ha’Kodashim.

Ish v’isha zachu, Shechina beineihem – If a man and woman are meritorious, the Divine Presence is amongst them.


1. Acharei Mos, 16:4

2. 9:2

3. ידים ג:ה, תנחומא פ' תצוה פרק ה'

4. For further elaboration of this idea, see the Divrei Torah on parshas Vaeira and parshas Tetzaveh.

5. Sotah 17a


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