OU Torah Insights
September 9, 2000
Rabbi Joel Laks
Parshat Ki Tetze enjoys the distinction of presenting 74
mitzvot, or some twelve per cent, of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. Of these, a substantial number concern the establishment of a home, the roles of husband and wife, and of parents and children.
The opening verse of the parshah describes one means by which a woman was conquered in ancient times-taken as a captive in the course of war. The Torah does not fully approve of this method and indicates the difficult, even tragic, consequences of this application of brute force, its failure to achieve a home that is blissful and spiritually fruitful. Coercion, we are taught, leads to results that are ultimately precarious, even if momentarily satisfying.
Subsequently the Torah depicts difficulties that can arise in marriage, such as failure of adjustment, leading to motzi shem ra, bitter criticism of one another. Sadly, a couple may feel driven to turn to the courts as a final resort.
To counter this scenario, the Torah invites us to reflect on the proper approach to marriage. First, the Torah announces that the newlywed husband is exempt from public service, even from serving in the armed forces. For the first year of marriage he must devote himself to his home "and make his wife happy."
Immediately thereafter the Torah bids, "No man shall take the mill or the upper millstone as a pledge for a loan." Seizing as surety from a debtor the tools needed for economic survival is not allowed, "ki nefesh hu chovel"-for it endangers the survival of that person.
These two seemingly independent directives are not unrelated. Though one deals with marriage, and the other with financial matters, the Baal Haturim and other commentaries suggest that the second command is an extension of the first. The millstones may be taken as a metaphor for husband and wife striving in harmonious unity to sustain their home. That harmony must not be spoiled.
As a couple undergoes a process of adjustment to one another it is easy to disturb their relationship and add to their agitation. Understand that such interference is not allowed, "ki nefesh hu chovel." We must not cause pain to human souls, theirs and their progeny.
Instead, we are called upon to devise means to assist young people to meet, to be properly prepared for marriage, and to establish homes that are permeated with the spirit of Torah and sensitive to the service of
Hashem. In this way, they will reap the blessings of love, fellowship and fulfillment. We are bidden to remember, that otherwise "ki nefesh hu chovel," irreparable damage to souls can result, affecting the very future of Israel.
Rabbi Joel Laks
Rabbi Laks is rav of the Jewish Center Torah Emeth in Kew Garden Hills, New York.