Parshat Ki Tetzei
The Torah describes the only permissible way a woman captured in battle may be married. If a man marries two wives, and the less-favored wife bears a firstborn son, this son's right to inherit a double portion is protected against the father's desire to favor the child of the favored wife. The penalty for a rebellious son, who will inevitably degenerate into a monstrous criminal, is stoning. A body must not be left on the gallows overnight, because it had housed a holy soul. Lost property must be returned. Men are forbidden from wearing women's clothing and vice versa. A mother bird may not be taken together with her eggs. A fence must be built around the roof of a house. It is forbidden to plant a mixture of seeds, to plow with an ox and a donkey together, or to combine wool and linen in a garment. A four-cornered garment must have twisted threads tzitzit on its corners. Laws regarding illicit relationships are detailed. When Israel goes to war, the camp must be governed by rules of spiritual purity. An escaped slave must not be returned to his master.
Taking interest for lending to a Jew is forbidden. The Jewish People are not to make vows. A worker may eat of the fruit he is harvesting. Divorce and marriage are legislated. For the first year of marriage, a husband is exempt from the army and stays home to rejoice with his wife. Tools of labor may not be impounded, as this prevents the debtor from earning a living. The penalty for kidnapping for profit is death. Removal of the signs of the disease tzara'at is forbidden. Even for an overdue loan, the creditor must return the collateral daily if the debtor needs it. Workers' pay must not be delayed. The guilty may not be subjugated by punishing an innocent relative. Because of their vulnerability, converts and orphans have special rights of protection. The poor are to have a portion of the harvest. A court may impose lashes. An ox must not be muzzled while threshing. It is a mitzvah for a man to marry his brother's widow if the deceased left no offspring. Weights and measures must be accurate and used honestly. The Torah portion concludes with the mitzvah to erase the name of Amalek, for, in spite of knowing about the Exodus, they ambushed the Jewish People.
The Marital Recipe
“And he wrote her a bill of divorce” (24:1)
Nothing is sadder than family break-up. Divorce is the scourge of our modern world. In all sectors of the community, divorce is on the rise. In some areas, more people now get divorced than stay married. Prenuptial agreements are par for the course. More and more couples enter marriage with fewer and fewer expectations.
The Torah acknowledges that not all marriages will be successful. If necessary, it gives us the mitzvah of divorce with a document called a get. The concept of "till death us do part” is not really a Jewish idea. However, divorce, while being a mitzvah, is no source for joy. Judaism teaches that when a couple gets divorced, the mizbeach (holy altar) weeps.
How are we to understand this idea that the altarweeps? Nothing in Judaism is merely poetic. And why specifically should it be the altar that weeps? Why not the Tablets of the Covenant? Why not the husband’s tefillin? Why not the wife’s Shabbat candelabra?
Probably the greatest source of marital disharmony is misunderstanding the purpose of marriage. The secular paradigm, enshrined in every fairy tale, from the Brothers Grimm to the Brothers Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, is that the princess finds the prince of her dreams. She finds total fulfillment in Prince Charming, and he finds everything he wants in her: Beauty, poise, intelligence, money, someone who puts the top on the toothpaste. Everything!
But marriage is not about finding someone to fulfill you. It’s about finding someone you can fulfill. Marriage is a machine for giving. Marriage is about living the principle that you are not the center of the world. In the Book of Genesis, the Torah says, It is not good for man to live alone. When you live alone, you only have one person to give to — yours truly. The world revolves around you. You are the center of the universe.
The mizbeach is the place where man gives to Hashem. Man gives of his best and offers it to his Creator. The word korban (woefully inadequately translated as sacrifice) derives from the root “closeness.” When you give, you become close. When you take, you distance yourself.
The Torah tells us that no korban could be offered on the mizbeach without salt. Salt is the archetypal giver. Salt has only one purpose: to give taste to something else. By itself, it is nothing. When a person sees himself as salt, when he sees the whole purpose of his existence is to give, he has added the vital ingredient to his marriage. He has added the spice of life.