Essay On Parashat Chayay Sarah
Looking at world statistics one will find that the not only the average age of marriage has risen to an all-time high but the numbers of never married adults is also breaking all time records. In other words, people are getting married at an older age or not getting married at all. The question is why? Not finding the sought after qualities in a spouse, the lack of financial stability, and not being ready to settle down are reasons given by recent surveys explaining this trend. In addition, in modern society it has come much more acceptable for couples to live together out of wedlock. The traditional family framework has been challenged.
This week’s Torah portion Chayay Sarah is an amazing lesson on the beauty and importance of marriage. A deep look into the portion can shed a tremendous amount of light on the subject and help rectify the situation by restoring faith in the traditional family unit.
In the beginning of the oral law tractate, Kiddushin, the Talmud discusses the laws of betrothing a woman. Before the Torah was given, all that had to be done to marry a women was to take her home and live with her. Once the Torah was handed down, a special marriage ceremony was required by the Torah. This ceremony is divided into two parts the first part is called the Kidushin or the betrothal and the second part is the Neesuin – taking the bride home. Kedushin comes from the word meaning to sanctify and Neesuin from the word to uplift. We can see from the words used to describe marriage that the process of man and woman building a life together is something holy that must be sanctified.
The Talmud asks: What is the Torah source that a women may be betrothed through money? It answers by bringing the different verses in the bible that teach us this law. The Talmud first brings down the verse in Deuteronomy 24:1 “When a man takes a wife…” It then quotes a verse in this week’s portion “And he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, saying, “But, if only you would listen to me. I am giving the money for the field; take [it] from me, and I will bury my dead there.” (Genesis 23:13)
The Talmud uses a form of exegesis called a “Gizerah Shavah” which is one of the thirteen rules of Rabbi Yishmael that is based on comparing two verses that may outwardly appear as having no connection with one another other than a similar word expression. The Gizerah shavah allows us to compare the verses and unify them under a common law. A law that is taught in one verse will apply to the other one as well, although it is not mentioned there explicitly. One cannot use this type of exegesis without receiving a tradition from a teacher.
After this introduction, we can return to the two above verses. The oral tradition uses the Gezerah shavah to unify the two verses “When a man takes a wife” with the verse regarding Abraham’s purchase of the field saying “take it from me“. In Hebrew the word used for take is “Yikach” This word is found in both of these verses. (I underlined them) We can therefore rule that the law governing the acquisition of land through monetary means will apply to betrothal as well. Just as Abraham’s purchase of the Cave of the Patriarchs was acquired through money a woman can be engaged in the same manner. An acquisition is not to be taken lightly. It demonstrates a powerful bond that is formed between the owner and the item purchased. Abraham’s purchase of the field symbolized the everlasting bond the people of Israel have with the land of Israel.
In Jewish law, the laws of ownership and acquisition are binding. When one purchases something it becomes his and he is now legally responsible for his new purchase. The buyer or seller can no longer renege on the transaction. After an agreement is reached between the buyer and seller, an act of taking possession must be performed. Once this is done, the new owner has total ownership rights and responsibilities over the item purchased. It is important to pay attention that paying for something or not paying for something does not necessarily institute the transfer of ownership. It is the act of taking possession that counts. Among the different types of things being sold, like land, animals, chattels etc., each require their own act of ownership transfer. These include, lifting, pulling, a written contract, building a fence, raising a handkerchief, money transfer, and many more. With this in mind we can now continue.
The Talmud goes on to show that what Abraham purchased the field through a monetary acquisition. This the Talmud assumes since it says in Genesis verse 23:16 “And Abraham listened to Ephron, and Abraham weighed out to Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, accepted by the merchant.” Later in Genesis 25:10 “The field that Abraham had bought from the sons of Heth there Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried.” This seems to show us that the legal transaction that took place between Abraham and Ephron was one of a monetary fashion.
Nevertheless, since we leaned before that it is possible to acquire something in other ways as well. For example Abraham could have begun fencing in the area around the cave, or widened the entrance to the cave in the presence and agreement of Ephron and this would be considered a legal taking of possession although he did not yet pay for it yet. Therefore, the Talmud brings down an additional verse to prove that a monetary transaction was performed. The source used is a verse in Jeremiah 32:44. Men shall buy fields for money and inscribe deeds and sign [them] and appoint witnesses in the land of Benjamin and in the environs of Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah and in the cities of the mountain and in the cities of the lowland and in the cities of the southland, for I will restore their captivity, says the Lord. This is the final proof that a monetary acquisition was used by Abraham to purchase the field.
Now using the Gezerah Shavah mentioned above allowing us to unify the law of land purchase with betrothal we can rule that a women can be engaged through a monetary acquisition. The fact that a women can be engaged in this fashion raises an important question. Does the Torah G-D forbid look at a women as a purchased item? The answer is of course not! That is why in Jewish law the act of acquisition is not making the payment for the object. Its function is to institute ownership by creating a bond between the owner and his new acquisition. This is proven by that fact that a women can be engaged by offering her something with the value of only a prutah (penny). This is where we get our custom of giving the bride a ring. A special bond is being formed between the bride and groom. The Hebrew word for money or silver, “Kesef”, comes from the root meaning to yearn for something. This yearning is what creates the bond. The unification of two souls that were meant for each other.
It is interesting that each of the verses brought down by the Talmud that regarding acquisition by “Kesef” relate to the purchase of land in Eretz Yisrael. The first source is the first historical acquisition ever in of land in Israel, the purchase of the tomb of the Patriarchs. The second one, on the other hand, is the last acquisition performed in the land of Israel, by Jerimiah, only hours before exile.
A question that immediately comes to mind when looking into Jeremiah’s land purchase is -Why would anyone in their right mind buy a field knowing that within hours he will be sent far away and will not be able to reap fruit from his acquisition? The obvious answer is this was a tremendous lesson of faith for the people of Israel. Although we will go into exile for whatever time it may be, the everlasting bond between the land and Israel that begun with Abraham’s purchase will never be severed. We must remember that Hashem will bring us home! G-D will not abandon His people. As the nation of Israel, we must believe in this with all our heart and soul.
Living in our time, witnessing the restoration of the State of Israel after 2000 years of exile is a living testimony of this everlasting bond. The Gizerah Shavah is doing much more that teaching us the laws of acquisition, but in essence it is uniting marriage with the land of Israel. Teaching us that an engagement between a man and women is intrinsically connected to the Eretz Yisrael. A Jewish couple getting married must know that it is not a personal matter but it is on a national scale. Living and building their family in the land of Israel is part of building the Kingdom of Hashem in Eretz Yisrael! That is why we are taught in the Talmud in Brachot 6B that if one makes a bride and groom happy it is as if he has built one of the ruins of Jerusalem. Why is it so important to make a bride and groom happy, they are happy already? The answer is that it is the entire house of Israel’s joy as another brick is placed on the Palace of Hashem. This idea is clearly supported in Genesis 24:5-6 “And the servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman will not wish to go after me to this land. Shall I return your son to the land from which you came?” And Abraham said to him, “Beware, lest you return my son back there.” In other words, Abraham set things straight, if his son’s potential bride will not want to move to Israel then no marriage will take place! In Abraham’s eyes there is no purpose for his son Isaacs’s marriage outside the land of Israel.
On the other hand, one cannot neglect the importance of the personal side of matrimony as well. The opening of this week’s portion with Abraham looking for a burial place for his precious wife, Sarah, testifies to the special relationship that existed between them. Abraham could have easily found another place to bury his wife without having to go through such heavy negotiations and to pay such a huge fortune for the gravesite. This demonstrated his love, honor, and appreciation that he held for his wife. After living together for so many years the pain of separation between spouses is tremendous. Abraham of course knew that one day he will be reunited with his love of life in the world to come. This parallels Jeramiah’s purchasing the field in the land and having to say goodbye to it. This is the terrible pain Israel suffered throughout exile. Nevertheless, Israel knew that they will eventually return home. G-D’s promise not to abandon them will surely be fulfilled.
The Talmudic message through the Gezerah shavah that united the land of Israel with betrothal wants to implant this lesson of faith in the hearts of every person. One needs to have faith in the Creator that He will bring the bride and groom together. He is the matchmaker.
The story of how Abraham sends out his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac demonstrates Abraham’s total faith in G-D as the matchmaker. “The Lord, God of the heavens, Who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and Who spoke about me, and Who swore to me, saying, ‘To your seed will I give this land’ He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.”(Genesis 24:7)
Eliezer, follows the path of faith outlined by Abraham and says: And he said, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please cause to happen to me today, and perform loving kindness with my master, Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the water fountain, and the daughters of the people of the city are coming out to draw water. And it will be, [that] the maiden to whom I will say, ‘Lower your pitcher and I will drink,’ and she will say, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels,’ her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master.”
Eliezer’s prays to Hashem that he will chance upon the bride of Isaac. The Hebrew the word for chance is “מקרה” Mikreh – the same letters that spell רק מה'” meaning only from G-D. In other words, one must always remember that everything is from Hashem and one must rely on Him. There is no chance happenings in this world. Let G-d make it happen.
It is amazing when we see Eliezer returning to the land of Israel with Isaac’s bride Rebecca she happens to stumble across her groom Isaac.
And Isaac went forth to pray in the field towards evening, and he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, camels were approaching. And Rebecca lifted her eyes, and saw Isaac, and she let herself down from the camel. And she said to the servant, “Who is that man walking in the field towards us?” And the servant said, “He is my master.” And she took the veil and covered herself. (Genesis 24:63-65)
This takes place literally when Isaac finished his prayers. At that very moment his bride fell into his hands!
This important lesson must be taught today in all circles. If people will reach the realization that G-D is behind the scene and will bring them their partner in life. Only through this understanding will sanctity and faith be restored to the family unit.
Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith