THE NAME OF DIVORCE.
A section of this sidra deals with divorce procedures. The Torah calls the divorce document “Sefer K’ritut”, literally “a document of cutting off” (Deut. 24:1). For some reason the document is known as a “gett”.
There is a grammatical explanation which I heard from Professor MD Goldman of Melbourne University; the Talmudic Encyclopedia quotes it in the name of the K’hillat Ya’akov of Rabbi Ya’akov Algazi.
This view says that in Hebrew linguistics the letters gimmel/tet never come in that order, and if anyone tries to unite them the union cannot be sustained. Sometimes two human beings cannot sustain a marital union and need to be separated by a gett.
The Targum Onkelos renders “sefer k’ritut” into Aramaic as “gett p’turin”, a deed of dismissal, so “sefer” in Hebrew and “get” in Aramaic may be saying the same thing. Perhaps the word gett may be from the root “h-t-t”, to engrave.
If we move from the academic to the human issue, it is important to note that most people who go through the difficulties of divorce are far from giving up on the institution of marriage as a whole. Almost all embark on a marriage to a new partner. The first marriage brought its disappointment and tragedy: older and wiser, the divorcee is far from being defeated. The divorce statistics are not the whole story.
At the end of this week’s portion comes a command to remember (“Zachor”) what Amalek did to us (Deut.25:13).
In itself it is a highly significant and easily understandable command. Amalek tried to obstruct Israel’s progress through the wilderness, not by sending trained soldiers to fight the strong young men marching at the head of the Israelite column, but by targeting the weak and weary children and women who were bringing up the rear. No wonder we are told to remember Amalek’s nastiness. No wonder we must not and dare not forget.
But then the passage tells us almost the opposite: “Efface the memory of Amalek from under the heavens”. How can anyone remember, and efface the memory, at one and the same time?
The answer – distinguish between Amalek and Amalekism. Don’t be obsessed with Amalek the individual, wicked and brutal though he was. Look at the symbolism of Amalekism, an idea, a policy, a philosophy that stands in direct contrast to what Judaism and its Torah represent.
The sages say that what Amalekism did was “asher kar’cha baderech” – not just that “he encountered you on the way” but (using the root “k-r-r”, to be cold) “he cooled your enthusiasm, he tried to eradicate your faith and sense of purpose”. He tried to deflect Israel from its morality and humanity. Amalekism is a threat to civilisation whenever and wherever it appears.
EDOMITES & EGYPTIANS
Four ancient nations rate a mention in the sidra, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Edomites and the Egyptians. Ammonites and Moabites were to be treated harshly; there was to be no intermarrying with them or “seeking their peace and prosperity” (Deut. 23:4-7). The Edomites and Egyptians, on the other hand, were not to be abhorred (Deut. 23:8).
The problem with the Ammonites that they “met you not with bread and water” – i.e., they were deficient in ethics. The Moabites “hired against you Bil’am the son of B’or” – i.e., they wanted to destroy Israel. But the Edomites? Though not friendly towards Israel, they were nonetheless brothers: Nachmanides says, descendants of Abraham. And the Egyptians? “You were a stranger in their land”. The Egyptian period was one of slavery and degradation, but they did take the Israelites in and give them a home and food in time of famine, and this should not be forgotten.
Four principles can be deduced from this passage:
1. Refusing to care for fellow human beings in time of hunger or any other need is unforgivable.
2. Wishing to wipe out another whole people compromises your nation’s right to exist.
3. Family remains family even when its members fail to act in a brotherly way.
4. Hospitality should not be forgotten (there is a saying, “I fed you bread – don’t throw back stones”).
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.