Getting Married is Half the Battle


“I find that if your partner shares your values, everything else is negotiable.” Michele Paiva, therapist

What Were We Thinking? Or Not.

The couple sitting in front of me was at an impasse. Married for many years, they had solidified their positions on opposite sides of the “having children question.” Wife, an only child in her late 30’s, wanted something more out of the relationship and was desperate to create a family of her own, while the Husband was just as adamant that he was not willing to become a father. “Umm…” I began gently, “did you ever discuss how you felt about having children when you were dating and then deciding to get married?” They looked at me blankly, as if the thought had never occurred to them.

People – and relationships – grow and change over time; it’s not fair to lock people into certain decisions that no longer fit (e.g., a stay-at-home parent wants to work outside the home or vice versa, or someone wants to change the trajectory of a career, etc.). I am amazed, however, at how many couples seriously date and marry without figuring out whether or not they have similar overall visions for their lives together. They may feel confident in a relationship in which they have surface compatibilities and sufficient chemistry without inquiring whether their deeply held values mesh and align with each other. They often rely on certain commonalities while ignoring glaring differences. And so, swept away by infatuation, or driven by some other unsustainable force or motive, they close their eyes to red flags and blatant warning signs.

It’s a War Out There

Ki Teitzei means, “when you go out to war with your enemies,” and it opens with the rules a man must obey when coming across a “beautiful woman on the battlefield.” As the Jewish people were getting ready to leave the desert and enter the Promised Land, where they would be engaging in battles for years to come, this was a very likely scenario.   Despite the idiom, “all’s fair in love and war,” the Torah is clear about inserting rules of fair play into the heat of battle, where emotions override rational thinking.  

God understands human nature; after all, He created it. Thus, the specific laws of “the beautiful captive” were an intervention. They served to prevent captured women from being violated as victims of lust and infatuation, while at the same time, affording the man the opportunity to avoid entering into a hasty marriage that would ultimately violate his values. And so, a soldier who comes upon a beautiful woman whom he desired had to follow a whole regimen to cool off and think it through. After 30 days, during which the woman’s true essence would have time to emerge, and the soldier had time to reconnect with his rational brain, if he still desired her, he would have to marry her.  

The laws of “the beautiful captive” were not a formula for how to marry the women of the land, however, but to prevent the marriage in the first place. He had to see the woman as not just satisfying his desire for instant gratification in the immediate present but as a total commitment to the future. Could he picture her as the mother of his children? Would he live happily by her side for the rest of his life? Was she compatible with his values and lifestyle, community and family?

While the famous “irreconcilable differences” provides a legal ground for divorce, the truth is all couples have irreconcilable differences!   In fact, most marital arguments cannot be resolved, and it’s often a waste of time to try to reconcile disparities that are based on people having their own identities, differences of personality, history, etc.   Therefore, it’s not irreconcilable differences that end relationships; but rather, incompatible values.

For deeply held intrinsic values, there can be no compromise. In the case of the childless couple, for example, there can be no meeting in the middle, as there is no such thing as half a child.  Even if this couple decided to stay together, their future doesn’t look rosy. When a couple’s irreconcilable differences are tied to fundamental values, dreams, life vision and non-negotiable requirements for happiness, either or both of them will harbor resentment and anger, which breeds unhappiness and despair.

Living in Peace

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we all have values and a life purpose. When we live lives aligned with these values we feel fulfilled; our lives have a sense of meaning.  Sometimes, we can truly feel that we have a clear road map of who we are and where we want to go, only to realize at some point that we never created the map to begin with, and the unfolding of our lives was charted for us by our parents, society, or other external factors.   Like the quip that says you can spend your life climbing the ladder only to realize it was propped up against the wrong wall, the process of creating a shared life vision is only satisfying when it’s authentic to who you are.

So first, you must understand your core values. Unlike variable or secondary values that can change and grow, primary core values are the ones that endure, the ones that are tied to your belief system, you in your bones, being your best. The laws of the Torah, of course, help us shape those core values to express our godly souls and direct our life mission.  

Knowing What’s at Stake

The late Rabbi Noach Weinberg, used to say that unless you know what you are willing to die for, you don’t know what you’re living for. By the same token, if you want a life of meaning, joy, and purpose, you need to know what these things are. In choosing relationships, especially a life partner, common interests will not hold up unless there is also the common ground of mutual meaning, supporting each other’s dreams, and the sense that building a life together is a shared purpose and a loving sacred path.


How to Use the Power of No

no Until you learn how to confidently say No to so many things, you shall always say Yes to so many things. The real summary of a regretful life is a life that failed to balance Yes and No. Yes! A life that failed to recognize when to courageously say No and when to confidently say Yes!

-Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

I like to have guests at my Shabbat table, and depending on the themes of the weekly Torah portions, the table discussions can get a little heated. If you are apt to read the Torah and be offended, then welcome to the Torah portion, “Ki Teitzei.Ki Teitzei means, “when you go out to war with your enemies,” and it opens with the rules a man must obey when coming across a “beautiful woman on the battlefield.” Since the Jewish people were getting ready to leave the desert and enter the Promised Land, where they would be engaging in battles for years to come, this was a very likely scenario.

So what were the rules? Could he rape her? No. Could he keep or sell her as a slave? No. Could he cut her head off and tweet the video? Definitely not. What, then, could a man in those circumstances do?

He could simply leave her where she was, or if he desired her, he had to bring her home, and wait during a cooling-off period where the enticement of her looks would diminish by stripping the woman of her finery, her ornaments and her ability to look seductive. During that time, the man could not touch her, but afterwards, if he is still desired her, he had to marry her – or else he was required to set her free and compensate her for her “ordeal.”

“But what if the woman didn’t want to marry the guy?” you could ask. “Didn’t she have a say in the matter? And she had no choice about being confined in his home for 30 days in a degrading way while he made up his mind about marrying her?” And you could reasonably conclude that this is sexist and horrible, since any procedure, which could end up forcing a woman to marry against her will, is unquestionably offensive.

One response is to put this in the context of the ancient world. According to commentators, in anticipation of battle, women would put on finery and make themselves beautiful to entice Jewish men, because winding up with a “nice Jewish guy” was a heckuva lot better than their other choices. Also, compared to the battle ethic of the ancient world (your typical rape, murder and pillage) the Torah scenario is positively enlightened and compassionate. Thanks to ISIS, and their ilk, I no longer have to contextualize this. Has anyone noticed that the “ancient world” is not so “ancient” anymore?

The Power of Emotional Mastery

But there is a much more profound response to these objections. The major theme of Ki Teitzei has to do with emotional mastery, to having deliberate and reasoned responses to emotionally charged situations. And so a deeper read of “when you go out to war with your enemies” could be this: “when you go out to war….with yourself,” referring to the struggle with those aspects of you that are base, unbridled and unbounded.

The purpose of the laws of “the beautiful captive” is not to result in an orderly marriage; rather, they are to prevent the marriage in the first place. The very objective of the process is to give the guy time to see the woman – not as a mere beautiful object – but as her authentic self. He has to be able to picture her as the mother of his children and someone who will be by his side for the rest of his life. He has to see her as compatible with his Jewish values and lifestyle.

He has to see her as not just satisfying his desire for instant gratification in the immediate present but as a total commitment to the future. And if she is not to be a full-fledged wife, then she can’t be something other, like a slave. Rather, she must be compensated and set free.

The Power of Choice

In the last few weeks of his life, Moses was cramming in his final words of advice and so the laws of Ki Teitzei come one after another. To what end? As slaves in Egypt, the Jewish people were not free to say “no” to the Pharaoh, and thus they had little to no free will. In the desert, the Jewish people lived with “strict justice,” meaning that punishment was quickly and visibly meted out. While they had free will, they also had the clarity of cause and effect, and so if you said “no” to God’s laws, you weren’t going to be around long to brag about it.

Once the Jewish people would leave the desert, however, and live in the Land, it was going to be an entirely different story, and that was Moses’ concern. They would not be slaves to anyone, nor would they live with “desert clarity.” They would have to figure out on their own how to say “no” to that which should be negated in their life.

And that is where emotional mastery comes in. Torah doesn’t permit us to have whatever we want, just because we want it. We cannot discard someone from our lives improperly or divest them of rights to suit our emotional needs. We can’t put things together that don’t belong together, and we can’t make admixtures of things that deny the unique individuality, needs, and purpose of all living things. Each person and each situation have its carefully circumscribed borders of protection.

Understanding and respecting the sensitivities, the boundaries and the proper uses of all things – whether human, animal or even vegetable – is the basis of mastery over those emotional urges, which could cause us to violate someone or something else.

The Power of Yes

So the battle is between you – and you – to develop a healthy way of dealing with exclusion. Certain things, certain people, and certain situations simply do not belong in our lives, nor do they belong with each other. It’s about understanding the “Law of Exclusion” and going to war against that which blurs our boundaries.

A slave cannot say “no.” Only a human being with autonomy and free will say “no.” And that is precisely what makes a “yes” so powerful, so meaningful. Therefore, saying “no” to that which will bring you down is saying “yes” to that which can elevate you, make you grow, and sanctify your life. And that is certainly worth fighting for.


Internalize & Actualize:

  1. In what ways are you at war with yourself? Are you winning or losing the battles?
  1. Is there a situation you are currently dealing with that you are reacting to in an emotionally inappropriate way? This week try to remove yourself from it, and then, with some distance, revisit how you are thinking and feeling and note if anything has changed.
  1. What is a part of your life that shouldn’t be? How can you begin to separate yourself from it (or from that person) who is unhealthy or toxic for you? Recognizing that something or someone doesn’t belong is the first step in the process.