By Rabbi Pinchas Avruch
"Then the officers shall speak to the people saying, 'Who is the man
who has built a new house and has not inaugurated it? Let him go and
return to his house, lest he die in the war and another man will
inaugurate it. And who is the man who has planted a vineyard and has not
redeemed it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war
and another man will redeem it. And who is the man who has betrothed a
woman and not married her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die
in the war and another man will marry her.'" (Devarim/Deuteronomy 20:5-7)
G-d offers three exemptions from military service for extenuating
circumstances. One is predicated on the initiation of one of the most
profound interpersonal connections, marriage, a relationship that serves as
a paradigm for the bond between the Jewish Nation and G-d Himself. The
others are due to the unrealized pleasure from material possessions. As
intensely different as these rationales appear on the surface, is there a
deeper common thread that joins them together? If so, what lesson can be
derived from the Torah's decision to connect them?
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1) writes extensively of the Divine spark within
each person that creates the drive to give to others. He explains that
this drive is the underpinning of the need for friendship, for someone
experiencing the most intense joy finds it lacking if there is no one with
whom to share it, and one of the most punitive forms of incarceration is
Further, he expounds, that while one motivation for bearing children is
acquiring eternity, having offspring who are in essence a continuation of
the self, greater still is the motivation to have someone whom one can love
and for whom one can care. Thus, it is common that couples who cannot bear
children adopt or take in foster children, or have family pets which they
virtually treat as children. These all testify to the strength of the need
to give that is instilled in our souls.
But, questions Rabbi Dessler, what is the progression: does love inspire
giving or does giving inspire love?
We tend to think the former is the reality: because of my love for the
other, I give. In truth, declares Rabbi Dessler, I love that into which I
invest myself, the child I raise, the animal I care for, the plant I grew,
even the inanimate house I built. I love that in which I toiled with my
own hands because I am a component of it, as it says in chapter 2 of
Tractate Derech Eretz Zuta, "If you desire to cling with love to your
friend, toil for his benefit."
This investment, concludes Rabbi Dessler, is not a detraction of one's
To the contrary, it is the expansion of self as he is now a part of every
person he profoundly touches. This connection is the essence of the
relationship we call "love". These are the lessons of the military
exemptions. The love that is generated by one's investment of self in a
"labor of love" is so magnificent that it can even equal the love between
husband and wife, and the love between husband and wife is most profound
when it stems from investing in the other.
Have a Good Shabbos!
(1) 1891-1954; in Michtav Me'Eliyahu, his collected writings and
from England and, later, B'nai Brak, he was one of the outstanding
personalities and thinkers of the Mussar movement.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Pinchas Avruch
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