The First Year of Marriage

So much of Parshat Ki Tetzei centers on marriage, though not from a perspective we will discuss today. We no longer have “war brides” or polygamy, nor is virginity our primary concern in finding a partner. Rather, we will turn to the Sixth Aliyah, which begins “when a man marries a new wife he is not taken into the army, nor shall it impose upon him any manner; he shall be free to reside at his home for one year, and he shall bring joy to the wife he married.”[1] Our ancestors are given this law just as they are about to enter the land of Israel.

Why exempt one from battle who was just married? There are numerous servicemen and servicewomen in the United States who deploy soon after marrying, not granted this reprieve. In contemporary Israel, only women are exempt from service on account of marriage, not men.[2] What’s interesting to me is that in last week’s parsha, Shofetim, it states, “Whichever man has bethrothed a woman and not married her, let him go home lest he die in battle and another marry her.”[3] That section deals with unfinished business, as opposed to this one, which talks about a consummated process.

The Talmud points out that the woman in our parsha is called אשה חדשה, a new wife, and that it does not matter whether she has been married before.[4] Rashi asserts that the point is not the wife’s status but rather a man bringing joy to his wife.[5] I would add that because this woman has just married, for her to be left by her husband would be an act of exceptional cruelty, especially if he disappears, making her an agunah, or “chained women,” forbidden to move on to someone else. There’s also something to be said for the fact that a husband and wife need to learn to live with each other before they separate for any length of time.

Nowadays we have the honeymoon as a week, maybe two, for the bride and groom to be alone and celebrate together. The Torah, in contrast, teaches us to have a yearlong honeymoon with the special custom of dipping challah into honey. Just as we dip challah in honey on Rosh Hashanah for a sweet new year, so too do we dip for the entire first year of marriage for a sweet new life together. There’s also a tradition to call the couple hatan and kalah (bride and groom) during their entire first year of marriage, to emphasize the newness of their relationship. I’ve also heard (though found no basis for it) a tradition of the couple not separating from one another during the first year of marriage-that a wife would actually accompany her husband to work! Of course this is impractical nowadays with two-income families-not to mention that the couple might just get tired of one another if they’re never able to be apart.

Why emphasize this today at the auf ruf of a couple who is not getting married until July? I would argue that the longer one is together the more difficult it can be to rekindle that sense of newness and freshness. That’s why our parsha teaches that one who has recently married needs time to develop the relationship with his/her partner before going off. The Torah recognizes that without a solid foundation, the marriage will not have what it needs to succeed amidst life’s challenges. The joy of the Shanah Rishonah where the focus can be on just the couple, creates a basis that will weather any storm or surprise. This is evidence that the purpose of marriage in Judaism is not merely procreation but rather for a couple to bring joy to one another.

Sam and Heather, I know you’ve succeeded to bring joy to your families this morning. It was such a mitzvah that you joined us here to celebrate your aufruf, the synagogue which Sam’s grandfather, Bernie Berko, helped build and shape, and that you were called up to the Torah that he dedicated in memory of his father. We wish you nothing but happiness and bliss as you continue to strengthen your relationship, bringing joy to one another as רעים אהובים, loving companions. Mazal Tov on your aufruf! So that we can celebrate together as a congregation, I ask that we turn to Page 838 and continue responsively.

[1] Deuteronomy 24:5

[2] Section 39 of the Israeli Security Service Law

[3] Deuteronomy 20:7

[4] Sotah 44a

[5] Rashi on Deuternomy 25:5 ושמח

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