Thoughts to Ponder Number 68

17 Kislev, 5761; December 14, 2000

To Merit Israel is to Marry the Land

Marriage and the merit of living in the land of Israel have a lot in common. After the death of Sara, Avraham buys a part of the land of Israel which includes the cave of Machpela with the purpose burying her. Speaking to the owner (Efron) Avraham says:

"I will give you the price of the field "kach memeni," take it from me, and I will bury my dead therein." (Bereshith 23:13)

Efron takes the money, and Avraham becomes the official owner of this field and, hence, the legal landlord of a part of the land of Israel.

The Talmud (Kidushin 2a) connects this incident with the institution of marriage. In Devarim we read (22:13): "When a man "yikach" takes a woman to be his wife..." Due to the fact the same phrase, "kach," "take," is used as in the case where Avraham buys the cave of Machpela, the talmudic sages draw the conclusion that in the same way one buys the land of Israel, so one should marry one's wife, i.e. with money or an object of value such as a ring. This is an application of an interpretative rule called a gezerah shava, which states that when two words are identical, even when they are stated in completely different contexts, both passages are subject to the same laws.

This Talmudic ruling has obviously drawn a lot of critique. How can one compare both cases? Is marrying one's wife of a similar nature as buying a piece of land? This seems to be offensive and in fact in complete opposition to what a Jewish marriage is all about. Nowhere does Jewish law allow a man to deal with his wife as if she is his possession. In fact when he does, the woman is allowed to demand an immediate divorce. It is Jewish law itself which objects to any such comparison. So why make it?

Many excellent explanations have been given. Without denying their great importance and truth, we would like to suggest an altogether different approach. It may quite well be that the sages wanted to emphasize the holiness of the land of Israel by comparing it to a marriage. One does not buy a piece of the land of Israel like one buys a piece of land anywhere else in the world. In the case of the Holy Land, one marries the land! The land becomes a loving partner and one's love for this land is of a completely different nature from buying a piece of land or living anywhere else! Jews treat the land of Israel like a living personality with whom one has deep and emotional affiliation. They do not relate to it as a possession to use, but, rather, as a living personality with a neshama. It is not the love for a country of which the average native speaks. Like a marriage, it is a covenant, and a covenant is built on the basis of duties and not of rights. It is a pledge, and one does not betray a pledge. Just as at the time of the marriage ceremony one gives a woman an object of value as a symbolic expression of one's willingness to make sacrifices for her sake, so one "pays" for the land by making a financial offering. Just as in a human matrimony where one marries for higher and noble goals so one betroths the land to achieve kedusha, holiness, to transform oneself into a more dignified person and make the world into a better place. The many laws related to the land show that one needs to care for the land nearly like one attends to the needs of one's wife. The Jewish relationship with the land is a love story and that is the reason why Jews were not able to divorce themselves from this land even when they found themselves for thousands of years in exile. One does not abandon one's wife! For other nations this may be difficult to fathom, for the Jew it is the air he breathes.

It was Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, (1883-1946) Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv who gave this thought still another important dimension (Drashot El Ammi). Just like the giving of a valued object at the time of the marriage ceremony to one wife is only the first payment, so is the buying of the land only a first installment. No one should ever believe that Israel is an intrinsic inheritance because the Jewish people once bought it piecemeal. One needs to merit it every moment. Just like no marriage will endure unless one continues to toil for its success all the time, so the land of Israel demands one's constant spiritual labor to merit living in it. Anything else will lead to a divorce.

Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Reproduction of this essay is permitted when printed in full.

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