Recoupling – Parshat Mishpatim 5778

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Maintaining intimacy in a marriage after having children can be challenging, and we’re not the first couple to face that challenge. It isn’t for lack of trying, but with two kids (one of whom slept in a Pack ‘N Play in our room for 12 months) plus my own early bedtime to try to compensate for the kids’ early wake-ups, it can be very difficult to find adult time to reconnect with one another. We often find that if we can steal away for a midweek lunch or happy hour on a Friday that we’re much more likely to be better partners in parenting and in life.

When we build relationships, whether with a life partner or with friends and family, we arrive at a mutually agreed upon set of guidelines. These “guidelines” may remain unspoken, but in a healthy relationship there’s at least a presumed give and take. No one likes to feel as though they are being taken advantage of or giving more than they are receiving in a relationship.

The Torah we read this week comes from Parshat Mishpatim. Parshat Mishpatim is based on the notion that actions inspire other actions. The text begins with laws dealing with Hebrew workers and the if/then sequence determining how long a worker stays with his or her owner and what obligations the owner has to the workers based on their own family status. The text continues to discuss laws dealing with accidental versus intentional harm caused to others, followed by the repercussions of stealing, and then ending with the covenant that God makes with the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. Each of these laws is based on a reaction for an initial act, a balance in the relationship.

Chapter 21, verses 10-11 teach “If he marries another, he must not withhold from this one her food, her clothing or her conjugal rights. If he fails her in these three ways, she shall go free, without payment.” In other words, in a partnership, both partners are entitled to food (nourishment), clothing (comfort and warmth) and intimacy. These three building blocks maintain a relationship by encouraging growth, trust, and commitment.

The Torah this week reminds us that when we don’t take time to connect with each other, we “go free” from that partnership. We unbind ourselves from one another, which is the opposite of what a relationship should do. Whether it means taking time for a lunch date or even just a phone call where you don’t try to multi-task, the important relationships in our lives demand that we dedicate time to them to make them – and us – stronger.

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