Ki Teitzei-Divorce

Our parsha contains one of the more difficult mitzvoth of the Torah – the command to give a get, or “bill of divorce.”  Of course, this is a course of action that should be avoided at all costs, and yet – sometimes it is the only possible course of action.  Our sages compare the dissolution of a marriage (first marriage) to the most calamitous event in Jewish history, the destruction of the Temple.  From such a comparison, we can be sure that divorce is not something to look forward to, but nevertheless there are times when there is no recourse.

What defines “no recourse”?  Our sages expressed three opinions on this matter (from Talmud Gittin 90A):

1) Beit Shammai opines that only upon finding conditions that are halachically unacceptable is a couple allowed to get divorced.  For example, adultery may be such a condition.

2) Beit Hillel was of the opinion that only if one’s wife intentionally damaged him in some way (“burned his food”) is he be permitted to divorce.

3)  R’ Akiva determined that even if a man found a more attractive woman, he is allowed to divorce his current wife.

All of the 613 mitzvoth of the Torah are metaphors for the relationship between God and the Jewish people.  They also reflect the fact that every Jew has a soul and a body, and that the soul comes from a high spiritual place to descend into the physical body.  That is the reason why mitzvoth are generally fulfilled with physical objects, such as the skin parchments and housings of the mezuzah and tefillin, the cloth of tzitzit, the four species of Succot, etc.  The goal is to bring spirituality down to pervade the physical world, and that is why most mitzvoth are physical.  It turns out that “divorce” is a parable for the relationship between the soul within the body, and its divinely determined task in this world.  “Divorce” (separation of the Jew from his purpose in this world) is to be avoided under all circumstances, since our soul comes down to fulfill a particular task in this world and it is up to us to fulfill it.  However, there are circumstances under which we must change or adjust our shlichut, or task down here in the physical world, as described by the sages above.

1) Beit Shammai declares that we may “divorce” ourselves from our chosen task if it leads inevitably to halachic problems.  If our job causes us to get involved in shady business dealings or with immoral behavior, then it may be necessary to change our job – to get a “divorce” from our current position.

2)  Beit Hillel is a bit more lenient.  He permits us to leave our current task and job if it is damaging our physical, mental or emotional health in some way (“burning the food”).

3)  Finally that great advocate of love of a fellow Jew, R’ Akiva, seems to be the most lenient: He declares that we can leave our current position even if we simply found a better one (easier, better pay, better environment, etc)

The halacha is like Beit Hillel – we are allowed to give a get (“bill of divorce”) if our present relationship is in some way damaging – that is, if our current task and shlichut is somehow damaging us physically, morally, emotionally, etc…  Then we are allowed to abandon it and search for a new task.  However, notice that this opinion does not “require” us to get divorced.  It merely “allows” us.  The most honorable approach to our task is to work with the circumstances that God presented us with, to attempt to improve them so that we may continue our task and bring it to fruition.  We found ourselves with this task for a reason, and therefore it is incumbent upon us to do the best we can.  We should avoid becoming “divorced” from it because if we were “put there” under the  present circumstances, it is a sign from Above that we are the correct person to do the job.  And therefore it is incumbent upon us to try as hard as possible to avoid giving a get to this task, but to work with it and persevere to the end.

For a longer more detailed version, please go to

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 4, Page 1121

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