30 Shevat 5781

February 12, 2021

On Sunday, some will celebrate the holiday of roses and candy hearts. Even though Valentine’s Day got its start as a Christian liturgical celebration, this week’s Torah portion coincidently contains some interesting points about intimate relationships. Specifically, the Torah discusses how proper relationships should be formed and provides a literal explanation of a “stolen heart.”

In last week’s portion, among the laws the Israelites received to govern their society were the Ten Commandments. A handful of those ten, including the prohibition against stealing, are applicable beyond the religious setting and have a place in our secular laws as well, but how far does the definition of “stealing” actually reach? Does is have any application in relationships?

This week we read Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18), the middle section of text in the book of Exodus. The Israelites are on their way out of Egypt and to Israel. As we read last week, they have begun to set up their own system of laws and rules, and interpersonal relationships make up the core of the laws set forth in this section of text. After first establishing a basic framework to guide our lives, the Torah then turns toward how we treat one another personally and professionally.

In particular, chapter 22:15 turns to the ways in which intimate relationships might be formed. The Torah teaches, “If a man seduces a virgin for whom the bride-price has not been paid, and lies with her, he must make her his wife by payment of a bride-price.” That is to say that the Torah views this form of seduction as monetary theft, not just emotional theft. For our modern sensibilities, we might extend this to mean we shouldn’t deceive our potential partners. By not sharing who you truly are or being honest about your intentions and expectations, you have “stolen” the opportunity for others to make their own informed decisions. In fact, this concept is referred to in our tradition as gneivat da’at, or stealing someone’s opinion.

What better time than in a nation’s infancy to establish laws requiring the Israelites to be open, honest, and true to who they are? A society built on deception (like a relationship built on seduction alone) doesn’t adhere to the standards set in our portion and cannot thrive. Instead, God creates a guide for us to build our community on mutual respect. Unfortunately, “We mutually respect each other” doesn’t quite fit on a candy heart.