Marriage and the merit of living in the Land of Israel have much in common. After Sarah’s death, Avraham buys a portion in the Land of Israel, including the Cave of Machpelah, for the purpose of burying her there. Speaking to Ephron, the owner, Avraham says, “I am giving you the money for the field. Take it from me (kach mimeni) and I will bury my dead there.” (1) Ephron takes the money, and Avraham becomes the official owner of this field, making him the legal landlord of a portion in the land of Israel.
The Talmud connects this incident with the institution of marriage. (2) In Devarim we read: Ki yikach ish ishah – “When a man takes (yikach) a woman [to be his wife]…” (3) Since the same root word – “to take” (kach/yikach) – is used in both Bereshit and Devarim, the talmudic sages draw the conclusion that one should marry one’s wife in the same way that one buys a portion in the Land of Israel, that is, with money, or an object of value such as a ring. This is an application of the hermeneutic rule called gezerah shavah, which can be described as argument by analogy. It infers from two identical words found in different passages that even if they are used in completely different contexts, the legal decision given for one applies to the other as well.
This Talmudic ruling has obviously drawn a lot of criticism. How can one compare both of these cases? Is marrying one’s wife similar to buying a piece of land? This seems offensive and, in fact, in complete opposition to what a Jewish marriage is all about. Nowhere do we find that Jewish law allows a man to treat his wife as his possession. In fact, if he does, the woman is allowed to demand an immediate divorce. Jewish law objects to any such comparison. So why make this analogy?
Many excellent explanations have been given. Notwithstanding their great importance and truth, we would like to suggest a new 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. Buying a portion in the Holy Land is not like buying a piece of land anywhere else in the world. In the case of Israel, one marries the land! The land becomes a loving partner, and one’s love for it is of a singular nature. Jews treat the Land of Israel as they would a living personality with whom they have a deep and emotional connection. We do not relate to it as a possession to use, but rather as a living entity with a neshama. Our love for the Land of Israel is not the love described by a native of any other land. Like a marriage, it is a covenant. And a covenant is founded on the basis of duties, not of rights. It is a pledge, and one does not betray a pledge. Just as during the marriage ceremony one gives his bride an object of value, as a symbolic expression of his willingness to make sacrifices for her sake, so one pays for the land by making a financial offering. Just as in matrimony one marries for high and noble goals, so one betroths the Holy Land to achieve kedushah (holiness), to transform oneself into a more dignified person, and to make the world a better place. The many laws related to the land indicate that one must care for it almost as one tends to the needs of his wife. The Jews’ relationship with the Land of Israel is a love story, and that is why we were unable to divorce ourselves from this land even while spending 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.
Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel (1883-1946), former Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, gave this idea yet another important dimension. (4) Just as giving a valued object to one’s wife at the time of the marriage ceremony is only the first payment, so is buying the land only a first installment. No one should ever believe that Israel is an intrinsic inheritance simply because the Jewish people once bought it. One needs to merit and inherit it anew every moment. Just as no marriage will endure unless one continues to toil for its success, so the Land of Israel demands one’s constant spiritual labor to merit possessing it as well as living in it. Anything less will lead to divorce.
That is what our soldiers are fighting for: a 4,000-year marriage.
1. Bereshit 23:13.
2. Kiddushin 2a.
3. Devarim 22:13.
4. See Drashot El Ami, published in Hebrew by Hotzaat Shem, Jerusalem, 1936.