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Parshas Ki Seitzei (5769)

The Get We Never Got

Among the many Mitzvos that are discussed in this week’s jam-packed Torah portion, we find the laws of the get. In Jewish Law a get is a divorce document which is presented by a husband to his wife to effect their divorce. The essential text of the get is quite short: "You are hereby permitted to all men," i.e., the wife is no longer a married woman, and the laws of adultery no longer apply. The get also returns to the wife the legal rights which a husband holds in regard to his wife in a Jewish marriage.

The actual Biblical term for the divorce document (see Deuteronomy 24:1) is sefer kerisus (lit. “bill of separation”). The expression get was adopted in Talmudic times as the name for a Jewish divorce document.

The origin of the word get is unclear. Some suggest that get is the Aramaic word for a ‘document’. Shiltei Gibborim quotes the Jerusalem Talmud which says that the get, which signals the erosion and disintegration of the marriage, takes its name from a certain stone called ‘guta’ (agate?) which erodes and disintegrates all stones close to it. The Vilna Gaon made the ingenious observation that in the entire Torah the two letters gimmel and tes (which together spell the Hebrew word get) are never to be found next to one another — neither within one word nor ever as the last and first letters of adjacent words. Since these letters are always separated from one another, they are an appropriate title for an instrument that separates husband and wife from one another

The Tosafos in the beginning of Gittin (the Talmudic tractate that deals primarily with Jewish divorce law) point out that the gematria (numerical value) of the word get is 12 (gimmel equals 3 and tes equals 9), which is the reason why the divorce document is always written on twelve lines.

We are presently in the Hebrew month of Elul, just weeks away from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we stand in front of G-d in judgment and we seek atonement for our sins. Our sages have told us that Elul (spelled alef, lamed, vav, lamed) is an acronym for "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li " – a verse from King Solomon’s Song of Songs which means "I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me". In other words, Elul is a time to focus on the relationship that we are meant to have with our Father in Heaven and to remind ourselves of the bonds of love and commitment that we share with Him. By so doing, we will be moved to do Teshuvah (repentance) and better our ways so that we can once again achieve that closeness that we so desire and yearn for.

The problem is that throughout the year – due to our many negative behaviors and wrongful acts – we distance ourselves from G-d, and our relationship with Him is strained. Sometimes we do things that are so bad that we think that G-d probably never wants to see us or hear from us again. So that by the time Elul and the High Holidays come around, it becomes almost impossible for us to think about any “love relationship” we might have with G-d, and instead, all that is left inside us is a deep-seated feeling of guilt, and a great fear and dread of what He might have in store for us for the coming year.

We need to take a lesson from our great Torah sages, who instituted that for the seven weeks between Tisha B’Av (the fast day upon which we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem) and Rosh Hashanah, the Haftarah portions that we read (following the Reading of the Torah on Saturday morning) are what are called Sheva d’Nechmasa, “seven of consolation”. Each of these Haftaros - all taken from the later chapters of the Book of Isaiah - contains prophecies that offered the Jewish people comfort and hope after the destruction of the First Temple, and are meant to console us today as well.

In one of the seven Haftaros (for Parshas Eikev) we read the following consoling words of Isaiah to the Jewish people: Thus said G-d: Where is your mother’s divorce document with which I sent her away? (Isaiah 50:1). And in the Haftarah to this week’s Torah portion we read: “For like a wife who had been forsaken and of melancholy spirit will G-d have called you … for but a brief moment have I forsaken you, and with abundant mercy shall I gather you in” (ibid 54:6).

In other words, G-d is telling us through His prophet that no matter how bad we might have been – and even though He had to forsake us and kick us out of His house, the Holy Temple, and exile us from His land, due to our many sins and indiscretions - He never gave us a get, a bill of divorce, and our relationship with Him was never severed. In fact, G-d loves us so much that He is just waiting for us to return to Him, so that He can gather us in with abundant mercy and love.

This month of Elul, as we prepare for the High Holidays, let us remember that our beloved Father in Heaven loves us unconditionally – divorce is not an option – so no matter what we might have done in the past, we have only to do Teshuvah and make sincere efforts to improve our ways and G-d will right away take us once again into His loving embrace.

May we all merit feeling the love and closeness to G-d that He truly feels for us. Amen.

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