Parshat Ki Teitzei
Most of the 74 mitzvot of our Parsha address the interplay between the individual and society. Marriage is widely discussed, because it is both a private and a community matter.
The Torah restricts one’s public duties when establishing a new marriage: When a man takes a new wife (ISHA CHADASHA), then he shall not go out in the army (LO YEITZEI BATZAVA) nor shall it be assigned to him (V’LO YA’AVOR ALAV) for any thing (L’CHOL DAVAR). He shall be free (NAKI) for his house for one year (SHANA ECHAT), and he shall gladden (V’SIMACH) his wife whom he has taken (ASHER LAKACH) (Devarim 24:5).
This passage is primarily addressed to the society, not to disrupt one’s first year of marriage with military service. (This applies only in an optional war (milchemet reshut), such as one to expand territory, but not in an obligatory war (milchemet mitzvah), such as for self-defense.)
Many questions arise from this passage: May the man volunteer? What if his new wife gives him permission? How far does his exemption extend? Does he assist in non-military ways? What about paying taxes for defense? Finally, may he be separated from his wife for any other purpose, or must they go everywhere together for a year?
Our Rabbis identify two mitzvot here, one negative and one positive. Sefer HaChinnuch (ascribed to either R. Aharon HaLevi or R. Pinchas HaLevi of Barcelona, mid-13th Century) defines them as follows:
§581: not to take a bridegroom from his home during the first year of marriage
§582: a bridegroom must rejoice with his wife for one year. (See Sotah 43a, 44a; Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative Commandment 311 and Positive Commandment 214; Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, R. Moshe ben Yaakov of Coucy, 13th Century, Negative Commandment 230 and Positive Commandment 121.)
The term a new wife (ISHA CHADASHA) means a newly-created marriage. Rashi (based on Sifri 271) explains that the wife is “new” to the man. Thus, these laws apply whether or not she had been married before; the only exception is a remarriage between a divorced couple.
In addition to actual military service, nor shall it be assigned to him (V’LO YA’AVOR ALAV).
Consequently, rules Rambam in Laws of Kings and Their Wars (7:11): For the entire year he does not supply water and food, fix roads, guard the walls, contribute to the city defense taxes, nor is anything in the world imposed on him … neither for the needs of the city nor for the needs of the troops. Unlike those sent back from the battlefield by the kohen (see Devarim 20:5-8) who still contribute to the war-effort in these ways, this newlywed is exempt.
From Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot and Sefer HaChinnuch however, it seems that this is more than an exemption; it is a prohibition which applies both to the commander (king, general, government, etc.) and to the man himself. Thus, the man may not volunteer, nor does the wife have the power to permit him; it is not a right that is hers to waive.
Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) understands differently:
He shall be free (NAKI) means he is exempt from national service, but he may go out.
and he shall gladden (V’SIMACH) his wife should be read “in order that he can gladden”; this is not an obligation but rather permission. Thus, although the king or general may not force him, the man himself may volunteer.
To return to the phrase:
HaChinnuch, while other aspects of these mitzvot do not always apply, V’SIMACH applies whenever a new marriage is formed.
Sefer HaChinnuch says it is prohibited for the husband to go on any “distant journeys” that would separate him from his wife during the year. This ruling is based on the wording of Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot.
However, Radbaz (R. David ben Shlomo ibn Avi Zimra, 1479-1573; Responsa Vol. I, no. 238) says there is a mistranslation of Sefer HaMitzvot from the original Arabic, so the husband’s only prohibition is traveling “on the way,” i.e., for public need. However, concerning his own need, such as making a living, travel is permitted. Indeed, providing for his wife would make her quite happy!
Minchat Chinuch (R. Yoseph ben Moshe Babad of Tarnopol, 1800-1874) differs with the Sefer HaChinnuch, insisting that he has no Talmudic source. Even if an interpretation is defensible from the text, we are not free to invent derivations as we see fit; the only valid halachic interpretations of the Torah are those transmitted by the Sages of the Talmud. Thus, he permits the husband to travel. Chochmat Adam (R. Avraham ben Yehiel Michel Danzig, 1748-1820, chapter 129), on the other hand, supports the Chinnuch’s reading of Rambam, against Radbaz. It is interesting to add that the Zohar (Ki Teitzei, p. 277b) explicitly prohibits the husband from venturing away from his wife, for any purpose, during the first year.
Sefer HaChinnuch explains that it is Hashem’s Will that the world be populated through marriage. In order for the marriage to begin on a firm basis, a year is needed for these two people, who are new to each other, to become acquainted. Based on whom he has taken (ASHER LAKACH) Haamek Davar elaborates:
“She is new to him and they have not yet become rooted in life. If he will take his mind off her it is possible that their bond will be severed entirely … consequently he may not go if it will not be clear that he will return to her love.”
A strong marriage builds “a faithful house in Israel.” During the crucial first year, the public needs can be fulfilled by others, because it is in the long-term interest of society that this marriage be enduring. Ultimately, it can become the foundation of the whole society. Parshat Ki Tetze is a comprehensive code of social justice. As the people of Israel prepare to enter Eretz Israel, God reminds them of the key elements of a moral and just society. They did not have the privilege of living in such a society in the past and therefore our parshah spells out the minutiae of such a society.