Marital Motivations

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated PG-13

Let’s take a short break from the topic and self-control, and have a closer look at some of the beautiful blessings appearing in this week’s Parshah of Ki Tavo, and what they can tell us about male-female love.

As we discussed here, this Parshah is also home to some of the most horrifying and unspeakable threats and curses; however, before the curses come several powerful blessings and promises of abundance, health and prosperity.

You shall be blessed in the city, and you shall be blessed in the field. Blessed will be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your soil, the fruit of your livestock, the offspring of your cattle, and the flocks of your sheep. Blessed will be your basket and your kneading bowl. You shall be blessed when you come, and you shall be blessed when you depart. [1]

While technically, these blessings are promised as a reward for “obeying the Lord, your God, to observe to fulfill all His commandments,” [2] there is a fascinating Midrash that attributes these blessings to an entirely different cause.

The Midrash known as Tanna Devei Eliyahu Zuta, discusses the various motives that people have for why they marry. Some, it says, marry for the sake of Heaven; some marry for lust; some marry for prestige; and some marry for wealth. Those who marry for money, will find that the money dissipates, leaving one with a shell of a relationship. Those who marry for lust will find that their appetite is not sated by marriage, having them still hungry and no longer satisfied by their marriage.

However, those who marry “for the sake of Heaven,” it is regarding them that the above blessings from our Parshah are intended. [3]

You may recall the tragic story of Amnon and his beautiful half-sister, Tamar. The Torah initially tell us that “he loved her.” [4] It is clear, however, that whatever feelings of love Amnon had for Tamar were based entirely upon lust, and his own sexual self-interest. When he finally deceitfully arranged to be alone with her, he raped her.

As reprehensible as Amnon’s actions were, the way Amnon treated her after the rape was even more deplorable. “And Amnon hated her with very great hatred, for greater was the hatred with which he hated her than the love with which he had loved her.” [5]

Yet this was the foreseeable outcome of basing his relationship solely upon his sexual hunger for Tamar. Having indulged his sexual lust, he was left empty, with only the self-revulsion that he tragically projected upon Tamar.

Indeed, in Ethics of Our Fathers, the Talmud states: “Any love that is dependent on something, when the thing ceases, the love also ceases. But a love that is not dependent on anything never ceases. What is an example of a love that is dependent on something? The love of Amnon for Tamar.” [6]

Contrast Amnon and Tamar with the relationship between Isaac and Rebecca. There, the Torah uses the exact same word as it does with respect to Amnon and Tamar: “And he loved her.” [7] In Isaac’s case, however, his young “love” was not the basis for his relationship with Rebecca. In fact, his love for her comes only after “Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife . . . and he loved her.” It was only once Isaac married her and installed her as the new matriarch of the family that his love followed. [8]

Relationships that are based on foundations far more enduring and firm than the whimsical and fleeting priorities of our hormones and physical needs are the relationships that are fertile soil for all of the blessings mentioned in our Parshah. When we bind ourselves to each other — not for some shortsighted and selfish purpose, but “for the sake of Heaven”, i.e. for the purpose of growing and reaching beyond ourselves, even to the point of Heaven — then we will find that our life is blessed as a result: both in social urban culture, and in the wild and untamed fields; both with respect to our children — the products and recipients of our deepest love — and with respect to the fruits of our labors; and both when we first enter the world, innocent and wide-eyed, and still yet when we leave the world, with all of the wisdom and experience that we have gleaned from it.

Shabbat Shalom!

Works Cited

[1] Deuteronomy, 28:3-6.

[2] Deuteronomy, 28:1.

[3] Tanna Devei Eliyahu Zuta, 3:5.

[4] Samuel II, 13:1.

[5] Id., 13:15.

[6] Ethics of Our Fathers, 5:16.

[7] Genesis, 24:67.

[8] Even in Shechem’s rape of Dinah, there were no illusions of “love,” or of any kind of a relationship until after the rape. “He saw her, and he took her, lay with her, and violated her.” It was only afterward that “his soul cleaved to Dinah the daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl and spoke to the girl’s heart.” See Genesis, 34:2-3.