Torah | An orderly life not always best way to live a full lifeby rabbi judah dardik
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Draft exemptions from service in the Israeli military have been a hot topic of late. The platform of the leading government coalition calls for the draft of many more haredi Jews, as well as
Arab Israeli citizens, into the Israel Defense Forces and civilian volunteer corps, though the details remain to be worked out. The domestic responses in Israel have been intense, with each side claiming that the other is harming its ability to function as a society.
While the exemption for yeshiva students from the Israeli military dates back only to the 20th century, the concept that certain people do not serve in a Jewish army is nothing new. A list of those freed from front line (and in some cases all) military service appears in this week’s Torah portion.
In describing the scene as the people gather before battle (20:5–7), the Torah directs: “Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Who is the one who has built a new house and not inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house … And who is the one who has planted a vineyard and not [consumed its fruit after its fourth year]? Let him go and return to his house … And who is the one who has become engaged but not yet married? Let him go and return to his house.”
These people are assumed to be unable to concentrate properly on the task at hand and are sent home. Others suggest it would be tragic if their efforts to move life forward came so close to fruition and were sadly halted on the eve of completion.
In his Mishnah Torah, Maimonides (Laws of Deot 5:11) notes that these verses teach an important lesson about properly ordering life endeavors. Directly referring to the verses above as his source, he states, “It is the way of a wise person that first he establishes a good living, then buys a home and then gets married.” The Torah is teaching us to take each step in its properly ordered time, making sure that we can support ourselves before paying for a residence and that we have a place to live before marriage and family life.
But upon a more careful look, the Kessef Mishnah notes something that quickly becomes glaringly obvious: That isn’t actually the order given in the Torah! The Torah asks first about soldiers who have built houses, and only then about the vineyards that symbolize making a living. How could Maimonides present a specific order based on a Torah verse that gives the opposite sequence?
Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky noted a further complication, namely that elsewhere in the work (Laws of Kings 7:3), Maimonides quotes the proper order of the verses. His simple point suggests how to make sense of Maimonides: We do not accomplish these tasks overnight.
Because the Torah prohibits eating the fruit of a tree or a vine during its first three years after planting, one plants a vineyard and then waits until its fourth year to reap it. Thus once a person establishes the basis for making a living (even if the produce is not yet available to him), he then can buy a house and get married. Once he knows there will be income in the future, he doesn’t have to wait for it to begin the next steps. So Maimonides is correct in saying that this person’s activities start with employment and then go on to housing and marriage.
There are implications here for life in our times, as well. Yes, it is important to have our “ducks in a row” and move through life events in order. But if we wait to move on until each step is completed, we pay a price. Might we not spend our whole lives on the sidelines watching and waiting?
Maimonides is directing us to broaden our vision and be prepared to engage the next life step even as we are still putting the finishing touches on this one. What are we waiting for? There are dreams we all have that are waiting for “someday when I’m done with this.” When are we going to be more ready to pursue them? We can begin now. Shabbat Shalom.
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