Friday, September 13, 2019

PARSHAS KI SETZEI 5779


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS KI SETZEI 5779
“SELFLESS TAKING”[1]

The Latest Marriage Fad: Marrying Yourself[2]
May 20, 2017  by Rabbi Benjamin Blech
…Its name is sologamy – and it means getting married to yourself.
In this sad, new trend of sologamy, people commit themselves to themselves with their own wedding ceremony. These celebrants, such as self-styled "sologamist" Erika Anderson, throw on a white gown, invite their close friends and family and marry themselves in a legally nonbinding way. As Houston's KHOU, CBS Philly, the Telegraph UK, and others are reporting, people are forgoing typical white dress-black tux nuptials with a partner in favor of a celebration of all things solo.
The happy bride or groom claim it's not so much meant to be a narcissistic affair but rather a day meant to celebrate "returning to your own happiness and contentment," as Sophie Tanner in the U.K. told the Telegraph.
Gone are the days that marriage meant a wedding between two people. After all, in the age of narcissism gone wild how could anyone be expected to pledge love and commitment to another person who assuredly is inferior?...
As it has been beautifully pointed out, in the word “wedding”, “we” comes before “I”. We as a unit, we as partners, we who care about each other at least as much as we care about our own selves recognize that for marriage to fulfill a longing for happiness we must be prepared to exchange narcissism for love and worship of the self for affection for another.
What is destroying marriages today is not the absence of love but its misdirection. Narcissists have an abundance of love – but unfortunately, they choose to shower it only upon themselves. And a world which brings up its children to believe that they alone matter will make it almost impossible for their progeny to participate in the give-and-take relationship of successful marriages.
Marrying yourself is just an isolated fad, but getting married to another and thinking only of yourself ever after is becoming more and more of a tragic reality. 
          At every Jewish wedding, the chosson places a ring on his kallah’s finger and declares, “You should be sanctified to me with this ring, according to the law of Moshe and Yisroel.” In doing so, he is marrying his wife with the process of “kedushei kesef” - acquiring his wife through giving her money, or something of monetary value.
          The Torah never states how one acquires a wife. It only states “When one will take a wife…”[3], which the gemara[4] explains is a reference to ‘taking her in marriage. The gemara notes that the biblical source that money can be used for kiddushin is based on a “gezeirah shava”[5]. When Avrohom Avinu was purchasing Me’aras Hamachpeilah from Ephron, he declared, “I have given the money for the field, take it from me.” Since the Torah uses the word “take” regarding Avrohom’s acquisition which he accomplished by paying money, we understand that when the Torah uses the word “take” regarding marriage (taking a wife), that can also be accomplished by him giving her money.  
          It is intriguing that the source for the most prevalent form of marriage – giving the woman something of value – is from Avrohom purchasing a burial plot for his beloved wife from a notorious swindler. What message about marriage can we glean from that peculiar source?
          Throughout parshas Ki Setzei there are numerous unions and marriages mentioned, and each one seems more disastrous than the next. The Torah speaks of the man who maligned his wife, the unfaithful wife, a woman who was seduced or raped, and a woman of ill repute. The Torah also lists those who cannot marry a Jew, including a mamzer, a man from the nations of Moav or Amon, etc. Even when the Torah finally speaks of a man marrying a woman, the pasuk concludes by talking about him discovering something abhorrent and deciding to divorce her.[6]
          The only “happy husband” in the parsha is the man who has been married for less than a year and is therefore sent home from the battlefront.
          It is clear that parshas Ki Setzei is not the source of happy marriages, despite the fact that it is the source of many of the laws of marriage. Happy marriages were mentioned in Chumash Bereishis. Immediately after creating Adam and Chava, the Torah speaks of the goal of marriage: “Therefore, a man should forsake his father and his mother, and cling to his wife, and they will be as one flesh.”[7]
          [It should be noted that in his commentary, Onkelos translates this pasuk: “Therefore, a man should forsake the sleeping place of his father and mother, and cling to his wife…” Onkelos is stressing that when one gets married he leaves the confines of his parent’s home, but he does not, and must not, sever the connection with those who selflessly raised him and provided for his every need until he married.]
         
          Rav Tzvi Sobolofsky[8] explains that the very first “troubled marriage” mentioned in parshas Ki Setzei is the one mentioned at the beginning of the parsha – “the eishes yefes to’ar”.  A man in the heat of battle sees a beautiful woman and is entranced by her beauty. The Torah details the process she must undergo before he is able to marry her.
          Although, after that process he is permitted to marry her, Chazal warn that things are not going to end well. The marriage is likely to be full of enmity, which will likely produce a rebellious and disobedient child.[9]
          Such a marriage is doomed to failure because it flies in the face of the Torah’s ideal for marriage. An ideal marriage is when the priority is “we” and not “me”. When marriage is predicated on lust and selfish taking, it is practically doomed from the outset.
          In the Hollywood world, the concepts of love and lust are used interchangeably. But in truth, there is a world of difference between them. We lust objects, but we love partners. Lust wanes with time and familiarity, while love grows as a relationship deepens. One who is in lust is thinking only of himself, while one who is in love is prioritizing the other. Lust is about taking; love is about giving!
          A soldier on the battlefield can become self-absorbed in the passion of the moment and consumed with lust. The Torah lays out a process which he must undergo, which forces him to delay acting on his desire for instant gratification. As that process unfolds, he can reflect and realize whether he truly loves her or whether this is a selfish endeavor which will not end well.
          What is the antidote to selfish marriage? The marriage of Avrohom and Sarah. Avrohom and Sarah are the paragons of chesed, living their entire lives to give and help others. The reality is that even chesed can have selfish motives, such as a desire for accolades or reciprocal acts of kindness. The ultimate altruistic chesed is when one gives and knows that he will never receive anything in return. That is what is referred to as chesed shel emes – kindness of truth, such as when one is involved in burying another, knowing that the deceased will never be able to repay him for being involved in the incredible mitzvah of his burial.
          When Avrohom purchased Me’aras Hamachpeilah, it was to bury Sarah. Avrohom went to great lengths and spent incredible amount of money so that his deceased wife would have the ultimate honor in death. That act was indicative of the unparalleled chesed they displayed to each other throughout their married lives together.
          That is the lesson the Torah is teaching us by connecting marriage with Avrohom giving money to purchase a burial plot for Sarah. Marriage is about selflessness and giving on the highest level.
          The Mishna[10] notes that a wife is often referred to as one’s “bayis – house”. Rabbi Reuven Feinstein notes[11] that when spelled out ‘bayis’ also refers to the second letter of the aleph bais. Chazal relate that the Torah begins with the letter bais because it is closed on all sides except going outward. This is symbolic of the fact that we should not ponder what happened before creation, but we should instead place our focus on the world since then.
          So too, if one wants to have a nurturing and positive relationship with his spouse, he must learn to focus on the future, and not harp and be resentful over previous disagreements. When spouses keep a virtual score card of how much each had done, it doesn’t bode well for their marriage. [12]
          Marriage is about giving with love and devotion. Every married couple has the choice to build marriages such as those in parshas Ki Setzei, which are doomed to misery and frustration. Or they can build a marriage predicated upon chesed like that of Avrohom and Sarah, which offers fulfillment and growth.
          To build a bayis ne’eman[13] one has to adopt the approach of the “bais”, always looking towards the future as an opportunity for growth and love.  

          “When one will take a wife”
          “I have given the money for the field, take it from me.”
  
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor


[1] Adapted from the derasha delivered at Kehillat New Hempstead, Shabbos Kodesh parshas Ki Setzei 5777, in honor of the Sheva Berachos of Gary and Aliza (Brinn) Liebman.
[2] From Aish.com
[3] Devorim 24:1
[4] Kiddushin 2a
[5] An exegetical principle in which the Torah uses identical terminology in two different locations, which demonstrates a connection between them.  
[6] When the Torah speaks about yibum (if a man died childless, his brother has a mitzvah to marry the widow), it mentions the possibility of chalitzah (the process in which the living brother rejects the union with his former sister-in-law).   
[7] Bereishis 2:24
[8][8] Rabbi, Ohr Torah, Bergenfield, NJ; Rosh Yeshiva – YU
[9] Chazal derive this negative progression from the fact that the following two topics discussed are about one who hates his wife (although her son is his firstborn) and the ben sorer u’moreh - rebellious and wayward son.
[10] Yoma 1:1
[11] Divrei Sholom: A Torah Guide to a Peaceful Life  
[12] Rabbi Feinstein notes that Hashem forgives us utilizing this same approach. When we beg forgiveness each year, He could reason that we begged forgiveness for the same sins last year, and yet have committed them again. But instead He hearkens to since repentance and allows us to begin anew each year, despite numerous previous failings and coming up short of our goals.
[13] The customary blessing given to a chosson and kallah is that they build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel – a faithful home amongst the Jewish people.

Friday, September 6, 2019

PARSHAS SHOFTIM 5779


STAM TORAH
PARSHAS SHOFTIM 5779
“THE GREATEST GIFT”

          Noted psychologist, Dr. David Pelcovitz relates that his wife’s uncle was an American soldier in 1945 and was present when they liberated one of the Concentration Camps. When he walked into a children’s barrack, he was stunned by the sight of the frightened, emaciated children. He wanted to give them something, but he had nothing to offer them. Without thinking twice, he reached out towards a young child and hugged him. Instantly, a line of children formed, all waiting for a hug.

          The Pele Yoetz[1] writes that he doesn’t understand why people will so freely spend substantial amounts of money to purchase pesicha[2] or to be a sandek at a b’ris, which are beautiful customs, but won’t invest in performing acts of chesed which is a mitzvah recorded in the Torah.
          He notes that every small act one does on behalf of another is considered chesed, and thereby a fulfillment of a Torah commandment. This includes holding the door for another person, changing money for someone, or handing something to another that he needed.
          In the ethical letter he wrote to his family, the Vilna Gaon quotes a medrash which states that after a person leaves this world and faces the heavenly courts, they ask him “Did you make your friend king over you with pleasantness?”

          In parshas Shoftim, the Torah details what happens when a Jew is found murdered outside the confines of a city. The city closest to the corpse must assume responsibility to perform the eglah arufah (decapitated calf) ritual, to ascertain atonement the tragedy that occurred.
          During the procedure, the elders of the city declare, “Our hands have not spilled this blood.”[3] The gemara asks how it is possible for there even to be a thought that the elders of the city are responsible for such a heinous crime? The gemara explains that they must declare that they were not responsible for allowing the victim to leave town unescorted and without provisions.[4]
          It can be inferred from the gemara’s answer that if the victim had been accompanied and supplied with provisions, he would not have been killed.
          Maharal asks that although there is an obligation of “levaya” to accompany a guest out of the city, there is no obligation to accompany him all the way to the next city? There is also no obligation to arm the guest with weapons when he departs the city. How would accompanying him have helped protect him?
          Maharal[5] explains that when Jews show solidarity towards one another, in this case by accompanying the guest a short distance and providing him with provisions, Hashem protects the guest for the duration of his journey. Therefore, if the elders did not demonstrate that solidarity, Hashem will not offer His protection.
          Rabbi Yochanan Zweig offered an additional practical explanation: A visitor to a city or someone lost is generally more susceptible to being mugged or robbed, than a resident of that city. There is a certain profile which a mugger searches for, someone vulnerable and unprotected. One who is unfamiliar with his surroundings projects his lack of confidence in the manner in which he carries himself. He is therefore more prone to being attacked.
          When the elders accompany a guest for even a short distance, it conveys to him a sense of respect and dignity for him. That itself infuses him with a sense of connection and confidence. Such a person is less likely to be attacked or taken advantage of.
          On the other hand, if one is not afforded that dignity when he leaves a city, he can feel lonely and disconnected. That can easily unwittingly be expressed by a gait that projects his lack of confidence, resulting in a greater propensity for a crime to be perpetrated against him. 

          Someone once wrote a letter to the Steipler Gaon[6] about an individual who was extremely depressed. It was so severe that the man was contemplating ending his life, and therefore it was unclear if he was of sufficient sound mind to divorce his wife.
          The Steipler replied that if a scholar falls into depression it is likely the result of his feeling a lack of dignity and self-worth.[7] Therefore, the man should be given opportunities to teach Torah or to write a Sefer containing his Torah thoughts that he can disseminate. Doing so would give him the boost of morale and dignity that he needed to reclaim his equilibrium. The Steipler suggested that the wife give her husband a year to see if those changes would have a positive effect upon her melancholic husband.
          Performing chesed is not limited to giving money or even doing acts of kindness. Sometimes a kind word or a listening ear can make a tremendous difference to another person. In an extreme case, such as that of the eglah arufah, it can be a matter of life and death.

          Avos d’rabbi Nosson[8] relates that on one occasion, Rabbi Yochanan was leaving Yerushalayim and Rabbi Yehoshua was walking behind him. As they walked, Rabbi Yehoshua glanced up at the fresh smoldering ruins of the Bais Hamikdash, and cried out, “Woe is to us, the place where the sins of the Jewish people were atoned has been destroyed.” Rabbi Yochanan replied to Rabbi Yehoshua, “My son, do not be troubled. We have a source of atonement like it, and that is the performance of good deeds.”
          Doing chesed isn’t only life changing and perhaps lifesaving, but when one performs acts of chesed he can achieve the level of atonement that could have been attained with the avoda in the Bais Hamikdash itself.

          "Our hands have not spilled this blood."
          “Did you make your friend king over you with pleasantness?”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor




[1] “chesed”
[2] Opening the Aron kodesh
[3] Devorim 21:7
[4] Sotah 45b
[5] Chiddushei Agados
[6] K’rayana D’igrisa volume 1, letter 280
[7] The Steipler adds that the person himself may be unaware that this is his core issue.
[8] 4:5