While Hashem gives license to an individual to take a captive of war into his home to consider her for marriage, tradition teaches that it’s not an ideal decision, but rather one which Hashem simply “allowed”. In fact, Rashi goes as far as to say that the decision may lead to dire consequences. He asks- ‘what do the episodes of a refugee and a wayward son (who is killed, in theory) have to do with each other?’ Why are they situated next to one another in the Torah? Rashi explains that having a captive wife leads to an aggressive and misbehaving son.
While jarring, Rashi’s statement certainly answers the question. The only problem? Those two episodes are not, in fact, next to each other. There’s another episode in between, namely, the laws of the first-born’s inheritance. The verses (21:15-17) describe a situation in which a man has a son from one wife and another from a different wife who he loves more than the first. The Torah makes it clear that the double-inheritance must still go to the son from the “hated wife”. Why is this episode squeezed in between the other two? What is the common denominator between the three of them?
When we consider the captive as a potential marriage partner, the first-born, and the 13-year-old wayward son, the Shem MiShmuel points out a common theme: beginnings. The beginning of a marriage, first child, and a life’s mitzvot all set the tone for the future, and if they’re ill-conceived they can have long-lasting negative consequences. But the opposite is also true- they can serve as tremendous opportunities for growth. But ‘starting off right’ is not only relegated to new spouses, new children, or bar mitzvahs, it’s also important for any new project or time-table, especially in terms of one’s attitude. Rosh Hashana is not simply a Jewish holiday to observe and eat apples with honey. It also sets the tone for the rest of the year. How we prepare for, manage and fulfill our duties during the High Holiday season can determine our attitude for all mitzvot going forward in the next year. If, Gd-forbid, we don’t make the most of the beginning, who knows what unfortunate repercussions it will bring later on.