The To­rah of life also within mar­riage

PARASHAT AHAREI MOT – KEDOSHIM

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - JUDAISM - SH­MUEL RABINOWITZ The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

This Shab­bat, we will be read­ing two To­rah por­tions that are usu­ally read to­gether – Aharei Mot and Kedoshim. The join­ing of these two por­tions stems from their sim­i­lar con­tent. Kedoshim is to some ex­tent a di­rect con­tin­u­a­tion of Aharei Mot. For ex­am­ple, the pun­ish­ment for “gilui arayot” (lit­er­ally mean­ing ‘un­cov­er­ing of naked­ness’ but re­fer­ring to for­bid­den sex­ual be­hav­iors) is writ­ten in Kedoshim, while the warn­ings against these acts are writ­ten in Aharei Mot.

The list of pro­hi­bi­tions re­gard­ing gilui arayot be­gins with the fol­low­ing verse that di­rects us to a cor­rect un­der­stand­ing of the To­rah’s com­mand­ments in gen­eral and these pro­hi­bi­tions specif­i­cally:

“You shall ob­serve My statutes and My or­di­nances, which a man shall do and live by them” (Leviti­cus 18:5).

The To­rah is not a sys­tem of cul­tural cer­e­monies and re­li­gious rit­u­als. It is a To­rah of life. The To­rah wishes to di­rect a per­son to a life of sig­nif­i­cance, of rich and pro­found con­tent. By keep­ing the com­mand­ments of the To­rah, a per­son be­comes “alive” in the full sense of the word.

Our sages in­ferred from this verse that a sit­u­a­tion that is life-threat­en­ing (pikuah ne­fesh) over­rides all the com­mand­ments of the To­rah, with the ex­cep­tion of three se­vere pro­hi­bi­tions – idol worship, in­de­cent sex­ual be­hav­ior and mur­der. A per­son in dan­ger,

‘A man shall leave his fa­ther and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall be­come one flesh’

even if there is a chance that the sit­u­a­tion is lifethreat­en­ing, is ob­li­gated to des­e­crate Shab­bat, eat on Yom Kip­pur, etc. This is not a le­niency of a spe­cific stream in Ju­daism, but rather an in­dis­putable Jewish law. For ex­am­ple, the great­est rab­bis en­cour­age sick peo­ple to eat on Yom Kip­pur, the holi­est day of the year. One of the pro­hi­bi­tions of gilui arayot is the pro­hi­bi­tion of mar­ry­ing two sis­ters: “And you shall not take a woman with her sis­ter [in mar­riage] as a bun­dle” (Leviti­cus 18, 18). A man can­not marry two sis­ters while they are alive, though if his wife dies, he is per­mit­ted to marry her sis­ter.

In many cul­tures, mar­ry­ing two women was a preva­lent cus­tom. The To­rah, though it does not en­cour­age such a life­style, does not man­i­festly for­bid it. Only about 1,000 years ago, polygamy was of­fi­cially pro­hib­ited by the great­est sage of Ger­many at the time, Rabbi Ger­shom, called “The Light of the Ex­ile.” But this was in ref­er­ence to two women who were strangers to one an­other. If the two women were sis­ters, it was for­bid­den in the strictest sense. Why?

When we an­a­lyze the To­rah care­fully, in many cases we can dis­cover how it im­plies the rea­sons be­hind the com­mand­ments. In this case as well, the word “bun­dle” is en­light­en­ing. When a man and woman marry each other, the mar­riage is an in­di­vid­ual per­sonal act be­tween one spe­cific char­ac­ter and an­other. The will­ing­ness to com­mit to a shared life is based on a re­la­tion­ship of shared love, and there­fore in mar­riage bless­ings, the bride and groom are re­ferred to as “lov­ing friends.” How­ever, if a man mar­ries two sis­ters, he can­not ex­press his love for ei­ther of them; he is mar­ried to their fam­ily, not to them.

The term “bun­dle” refers to the fact that rather than a woman be­ing a per­son in her own right, cho­sen through love by her part­ner, she be­comes a part of a “pack­age deal,” part of a “bun­dle.” Seem­ingly, a man mar­ry­ing two sis­ters does not take his wife by the hand and lead her to the wed­ding canopy. It’s more like tak­ing a large sack with a bun­dle of two women lack­ing their own in­di­vid­ual iden­ti­ties. Ju­daism does not see mar­riage this way. The To­rah de­scribes mar­i­tal re­la­tion­ships like this: “…a man shall leave his fa­ther and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall be­come one flesh” (Ge­n­e­sis 2, 24).

In­deed, the To­rah is a To­rah of life. The To­rah di­rects us how to live, how to de­sign life in the best way pos­si­ble, through acts fo­cused on God as well as those fo­cused on our fel­low man – in mar­riage, ed­u­ca­tion of our chil­dren, re­spect for our par­ents and proper so­cial re­la­tion­ships. ■

(Marc Is­rael Sellem)

A HAREDI wed­ding in Bnei Brak.

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