It’s not often that I write about social justice, but this week I can’t keep still. Parashat Ki Tetze is an amalgam of mitzvot. In certain places mitzvot appear in a logical progression, but this is exception, rather than the rule. When multiple mitzvot appear in one paragraph, there is a sort of expectation that consecutive mitzvot will be in some way connected and this is nearly always the case.

In this shiur we will look at an example of two mitzvot in one paragraph that seem to have absolutely nothing in common. Here is the paragraph in its entirety [Devarim 24:5-6]: “When a man takes a new wife he shall not go out in the army, nor shall he be subjected to anything associated with it. He shall remain free for his home for one year and delight his wife, whom he has taken. One shall not take the lower or the upper millstone as security [for a loan], because he is taking a life as security.” First, we are told that a newlywed husband does not have to perform any reserve duty for one year, even if war breaks out[1]. Then, we are told that it is forbidden to take as collateral on a loan any object that is required by the borrower to make a living. For instance, if the borrower is a baseball player then it is forbidden to take his glove as collateral[2]. The mitzvah of the newlywed is preceded by the discussion of divorce, and so there is some connection between the two. The mitzvah of the limitation of collateral is followed by the prohibition of kidnapping such that there exists a connection, albeit a weak one, between these two mitzvot. But what is the connection between newlyweds performing army service and taking baseball gloves as collateral? Why on earth are they packaged in the same Parasha?

The Ibn Ezra asks precisely this question. The first thing he says is that we should not think that the Torah is speaking allegorically, such that when it talks about a person who takes “collateral” for  “loan” it is really referring to a person who withholds marital relations from his wife. The Ibn Ezra attributes this kind of thinking to the “Makchishim” – “Deniers” – a title the Ibn Ezra usually reserves for the Karaites[3]. The Ibn Ezra then teaches that while this explanation might appear to make grammatical sense, it is not a valid explanation. At the end of the day, teaches the Ibn Ezra, the connection between any two mitzvot in the Torah can be extremely weak, even if the two mitzvot appear in the same Parasha, even if they are the only two mitzvot in that Parasha. But so as not to leave us without any explanation, the Ibn Ezra suggests that the thread that runs through these mitzvot is the concept of “oshek” – “exploitation” – as if to say “Don’t exploit a newlywed by taking him away from his bride and don’t exploit a borrower by taking his baseball glove.” The Ibn Ezra extends this “exploitation motif” by a few mitzvot in either direction. Call me a Denier, but the Ibn Ezra’s explanation seems a bit, well, weak. It reminds me of a comedy routine by the great George Carlin, in which he goes through the Ten Commandments, whittling them down one by one, until he is left with only two commandments: “Thou Shalt Always Be Honest And Faithful” and “Thou Shalt Try Real Hard Not To Kill Anyone”.

Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, writing in “Oznayim LaTorah”, addresses the question asked by the Ibn Ezra, and he offers an answer that should knock any modern-day parent off of his chair. Here is a paraphrase of what Rav Sorotzkin has to say: It is a positive commandment for a husband to give his wife joy. This mitzvah is so great that a husband is excused from military duty for an entire year, just so he can stay at home and make his wife’s life joyful. However, warns Rav Sorotzkin , a husband should never attempt to make his wife happy at the expense of going into financial debt. And here is where Rav Sorotzkin gets a load off his chest: He discusses an insidious phenomenon that was prevalent in his days, about one hundred years ago. People in Rav Sorotzkin’s city of Lutsk, and not necessarily the rich and famous, were constantly raising the standards of their parties, specifically, of their weddings. They would hold extravagant parties “in hotels, for hundreds of people”. And then the parents would purchase the happy couple an apartment with all the furnishings: furniture, clothing, jewellery, a fur sink, and a microwave oven. Even if the parents lacked the necessary funds, which was the usual case, they did not hesitate to borrow money, and even this wasn’t always sufficient. Often the parents would be forced into bankruptcy because they took loans for such “necessities [sic]”.

As a parent who has married off three children, I can fully relate to Rav Sorotzkin’s warning. A standard Israeli wedding has become a bombastic affair. Each side typically brings two-hundred plus guests. The standard of the wedding itself runs from lavish to completely over-the-top. Weddings begin with a spread of hors d’oeuvres, usually eight to ten tables of waiters serving sushi, hot roast beef, and tortilla wraps. This is followed by a meal in which the old choice between chicken and schnitzel has been replaced by a choice between steak and some other shockingly expensive cut of meat. And of course there is the band, the photographer, video[4], flowers, and decorating the chupa. And then the parents are expected to buy the children an apartment, noting that the cost of housing in Israel is rising by seven percent each year, and then to fully furnish the apartment. And then parents are expected to take the total cost and to multiply it by the number of children. From experience, the numbers are daunting. I don’t know how many potential spouses have walked away because the other side cannot meet these financial obligations, and I don’t know how many families have gone into impossible debt to prevent potential spouses from walking away, but the numbers must be enormous.

The answer is clear: the paradigm must be changed. The problem is that this kind of change requires critical mass. Nobody wants to be the first to skip dinner even though nobody eats it anyway. Nobody wants to be the first to trade in the streak for some good old schnitzel. Because nobody wants to risk the scorn of his family, his friends, and his neighbours. And so the smell of burning money will continue to resonate in our noses. And millstone after millstone will be taken for security.

The Netziv of Volozhn notes that halachically there is no positive requirement to make one’s wife happy for a year. The Netziv asserts that a newlywed is freed from military duty for the first year in order that be given time to spend with his wife just so that they can get to know each other, and to understand what it means to share one’s life with another person. A husband is not required to take his wife to Hawaii or even to Paris. The young couple can just sit on the couch and talk. It doesn’t matter, as long as they spend one year doing it. This is how long it takes for the husband to figure out what really gives his wife joy and what only elicits a superficial smile. The Torah does not say that “a person must return to military duty after he has spent a quarter of a million shekels on his wife”. What is required is time, and not money. The wedding is over five hours after it begins, and it might take years before it is paid off. On the other hand, the year in which the husband invests in getting to know his wife will last him a lifetime.

I believe that only the latter is worth the investment.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5776

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka and Adi bat Ravit.

[1] There are too many examples to be properly discussed of Israeli newlyweds who ran back to the army in order to fight in war. Perhaps the most famous case of late is the case of Second Lieutenant Aharon Karov, from Karnei Shomron, who returned to the Army less than twenty four hours after he was married in order to lead his troops in battle in Operation Cast Lead. Karov was critically wounded when he entered a booby-trapped house. Nearly 500 metal fragments penetrated his body and he suffered from a major injury in his head and upper body.  His remarkable improvement is considered a miracle. When he regained the ability to speak, his first words were dedicated to his wife. He called her on the phone and told her, “Tzvia, I love you.” Aharon Karov has attained superstar status in this country.

[2] A baseball player whose glove has been taken as collateral is relegated to playing cricket. This is cruel and unusual punishment, and is halachically forbidden.

[3] Rabbeinu Yaakov the son of the R”osh offered the exact same explanation in his “Ba’al Ha’Turim”. It is fairly well accepted that Rabbeinu Yaakov was not a Karaite.

[4] Drone photography has not yet made inroads in Israel. It’s just a matter of time.