- Friday Candle Lighting: 6:48 pm
- Shabbat Ends: 7:35 pm
Women and Children First
“When you go out to the battle to meet your enemy…the officers shall speak to the people, saying: ‘Who is the man who has built a new house and not inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house lest he die in the war and another man will inaugurate it. Who is the man who has planted a vineyard and not redeemed it? Let him go…lest he die in the war and another man redeem it. Who is the man who had betrothed a woman and not taken her to be his wife? Let him go…lest he die in the war and another man take her’.” (20:1-8)
A dangerous mission behind enemy lines. Chance of coming back alive? Not more than 50-50. Who do you send? The single men, of course. If they die it will be a tragedy for their loved ones, but at least there will be no grief-stricken widows and orphans. So says conventional wisdom.
In this week’s portion the Torah writes “Who is the man who betrothed a woman and not taken her to be his wife? Let him go…lest he die in the war and another man take her….” This means that an engaged man is exempt from the war, but married men with children are sent out to battle.
Let’s look at the other categories of military exemption:
“Who is the man who has built a new house and not inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house lest he die in the war and another man will inaugurate it.” Rashi says that the reason is that he will be distressed that someone else will inaugurate it. Let me ask you a question: Does a person really care if someone else inaugurates a house that he never lived in? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about someone who already has a house? Shouldn’t we be concerned about the anguish he’ll feel when he thinks that someone else will take it over?
Similarly regarding a spouse: Isn’t a person more likely to suffer distress at losing the wife that he already knows and loves, rather than losing his fiancée with whom he hasn’t yet bonded deeply?
The Torah is concerned here with the spiritual angst that we feel when we have started a mitzvah and we fear that we won’t be able to complete it. When our soul sees a spiritual project about to be cut off in its prime, we experience great loss and sadness.
The three scenarios in the above verse each represent a spiritual project in progress. When we build a house, our soul knows that when we finish the building we will be able to do the mitzvah of making a parapet around the roof.
In the time of the Holy Temple, when we planted a vineyard, the soul longed for the fourth year when there would be the opportunity to bring up the produce to Jerusalem, and eat it there in holiness and joy.
When we get engaged to someone, our soul yearns to fulfill the commandment to be fruitful, to multiply and bring children into the world.
The Torah is expressing here the longing of the soul. Not the longing of the body.
- Source: heard from Rabbi Yehuda Samet, based on the Abarbanel