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   by Jacob Solomon

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When a man marries a new wife, he shall not go out to the army, nor shall he be obliged to perform any duties. He shall be free for his home for one year and bring happiness to his wife (24:5).

One must not take an upper or lower millstone as a pledge, for he would be taking life as a pledge (24:6).

The Torah puts the above two laws together. What does a newly-wed’s year’s exemption from the army (in any war other than one for survival) have in common with the articles a creditor may or may not take as security on his loan? What may be learnt from their placed next to each other?

As an approach to this issue: look at the following. A young lady recommended the following solution to the singles problem: Place them randomly into couples – (ensuring they are compatible in age, background, and outlook), and then ship each pair to their very own desert island. Leave them together for a year. Then pick them up. “You will find,” she said, “that in most cases they will want to stay together for ever.”

This thinking is implied in the Chinuch’s explanation of the newly-wed husband’s army exemption. He writes that this law is to ensure that he sees his new wife as much as possible in the first year of their marriage. In getting to know her in all types of situations – both pleasant and unpleasant, he is slowly adjusting his personality to fit in to hers, deepening the relationship, and working towards the Torah ideal of becoming part of each other. The Chinuch stresses that this helps to ensure that he is not tempted to think about paying attention to other women.

In the desert island situation, they rely on one another to survive. The man may provide by hunting, gathering edibles growing in the wild, and building a safe shelter from the elements. The woman may cook the food and make clothes out of naturally growing fibers. They thus give to one another all the time. They have to in order to survive. By working together for their mutual survival needs, they get closer and more empathic, to a degree that after a year they find themselves so much part of each other that they would never consider anyone else for a marriage partner.

In both cases, each gives to the other. In the army exemption case, the husband is required to actively ‘bring happiness to his wife’. In learning what pleases her – often by trial and error – he likewise becomes closer and more empathic, giving and obtaining so much satisfaction from the new relationship that it would become part of his very essence. He would not wish to ‘go astray’ after that time.

Rabbeinu Bachya explains why a creditor may not take millstones as a pledge. He states that these objects exemplify things that people need for their basic needs and livelihood. The Torah legitimizes security on loans, but not to the extent of depriving the debtor of his means of earning a living. Thus not just millstones, but anything that a debtor need for his livelihood would come under this prohibition. This limitation is understood to apply even to collateral taken at the time the loan was made (Rambam: Hilchot Malveh ve-Loveh 3:2).

The first year’s exemption from the army appears to have psychological roots. The limitation of collateral appears to have very different, practical, financial roots. Why are they placed together?

The answer may be found in the following. “My bicycle was stolen! It’s not just the thousand dollars it’s worth – I can get the cash from the insurance. But my whole life went on that machine – I pedaled to work up and down steep hills, I used it to go to shiurim and other activities – in fact it was opposite me in my room at work and its being there gave me a good feeling… Now it’s gone… I feel lost at work, lost going by bus, and strange every time I leave the house and my familiar deep orange, white, and black bike isn’t there waiting to be unlocked. It’s not just the bike that went, but part of me went with it.”

This gives an important psychological insight into the millstones. The wife is not any woman, but husband and wife make each other their own. The millstones are not any old millstones, but the ones he is used to using – day in and day out. They – and similar objects - are part of his familiar environment – and – like his wife – part of his personal identity. So a creditor taking such possessions is not just depriving him of his means of sustenance, but he is detracting from his very identity.

Thus the word ‘nefesh’ in ‘ki nefesh hoo chovel’ has a double meaning. Nefesh – literally ‘soul’ means ‘the means of keeping his soul alive’. According to this explanation, it also means ‘his personal identity’.

This can explain the juxtaposition of these two laws. Both laws have deep psychological roots – to promote the well-being of individuals and families. The first one – exemption of the newly wed from the army – gives the means for the new couple’s identity to be really ‘one’ (c.f. Gen. 2:24). It provides for the husband and wife to become truly attached to one another. The second one – limitations on what may be taken in collateral – recognizes an individual’s personal attachment to articles that he has repeatedly used as tools of his trade. Therefore behind these superficially unrelated laws, may be found a deeper common thread of the Torah’s sensitivity and concern for human psychological needs – in both a person’s inner life, and shared marital life.



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