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Giving or Taking?

By Rabbi Yehonatan Salem

The Torah teaches us a lot about the commandment, incumbent upon a man, of getting married. Due to its importance, the mitzvah “to be fruitful and multiply” is the first commandment to be mentioned in the Torah. Getting married, building a relationship with our spouse, and establishing the next generation is our main agenda. Nevertheless, in this week’s perashah we find many restrictions as to whom a person may marry. Many relationships, especially those of close family are prohibited.

This is a very interesting scenario. Unlike other positive commandments or prohibitions, where an action is either permitted or forbidden, here we find that the Torah advocates marital relationships, yet it qualifies which ones are suitable and which ones not.

The Seforno (Acharei Mot 18:6) explains that in fact it would be advantageous to choose a marriage partner from close family. Being that they are “closer to home” in mentality, nuances, ideas, ways of doing things etc., one would be more naturally attracted to them. Nevertheless, the Torah forbade many of these relationships as it does not want people to build relationships based on lust and desire. Such a relationship, where the spouses are only thinking about what they can take from their marriage would not produce good results. It comes out that the difference between  a  relationship  being permitted or forbidden depends upon the thoughts and intentions with which it will probably be made. If lust and desire are the main drive in one’s marriage, the relationship will be one of “self-centred” kindness – being “kind” to oneself by feeding one’s desires. Such    a relationship will never provide any meaning or satisfaction. They have “missed the boat” understanding what marriage is about – an emotional relationship. This being so, the only way that a relationship will provide true emotional and physical nourishment, is when both partners enter it in order to do genuine kindness, i.e. for the other one. Then, when each one gives, there will be a receiver, thereby giving a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction to the giver.

Although we say that our relationships should be built on giving and not on taking for ourselves, nevertheless, the receiver of any kindness should graciously accept it. If instead, one just allows it to be given, or, refuses to receive it altogether, the giver’s sensation of fulfilment will be dampened, which is the opposite of giving. I will never forget, as a guest, that I once spent time and energy selecting some delicious chocolates to give my hosts. When I presented them with the chocolates as thanks for their hospitality, their reaction was: “Oh, you really didn’t need to, it wasn’t necessary”. What a “let-down” I felt!

Let us try and discern if our relationships are truly ones of giving, or if we are just granting ourselves our desires, lusts and satisfactions under the guise of an altruistic relationship.

Shabbat shalom

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