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HOW IS YOUR MARRIAGE?

Thursday, 19 August, 2021 - 10:00 am

“How is your marriage?” Someone once asked a woman.

Her response: “Before I got married, I was incomplete. Now, that I married, I am finished.”

There is something perplexing concerning the laws of marriage, articulated in the weekly Torah portion Ki Tetzei.

Marriage is one of those issues where the Biblical law is unclear and it requires interpretation. The Torah speaks of “a man marrying a woman,” but does not specify the legal means to affect a marriage. The Talmud presents an oral tradition to fill the gap. A similar expression used when discussing marriage is found once more in the Bible when addressing Abraham’s purchase of the cave after Sarah’s death. Both in the verse on marriage and in the verse about Abraham purchasing the burial plot for his wife, the Torah employs the term taking. Just as Abraham purchased the field and the cave by means of money as the Torah states clearly, so too must a groom give a monetary gift to his bride if he wishes to obtain her hand in marriage.  
 
When the groom places the ring on the finger of his bride and declares “you are hereby betrothed to me…” man and woman enter into the covenant of marriage.
I will offer today two explanations—on two levels, the literal and the other esoteric.

Under ordinary circumstances and during a stable economy, in most real estate deals – both sides come out more or less satisfied.

I sell you my home for one million dollars. You are happy—you got my home. I am happy, I got my 1 million. Everyone gave up something significant, but everyone also received something significant in return. Such is the nature of business. You give and you get.

There was one recorded exception—the sale of the plot of land in Hebron from Efron to Abraham, in order to bury Sarah.

Abraham bought the cave, for 400 silver shekels. This was an enormous sum of money. According to the Talmud, he paid a total of one million ordinary shekels for the cave!

Efron was ecstatic. He just received a huge sum of money for what? For a “hole in the ground,” pun intended. Efron came home, saying to his wife, I can’t believe what I got today. I sold a cave at the edge of my field in Hebron to this Hebrew man Abraham as a burial plot. And he paid for it one million shekalim. I just got the deal of a lifetime: I gave up almost nothing and I made a mint. I can almost retire!

It would be like I sell you my garage in Kentucky, and you pay me ten million
for it…
This was the seller’s perspective.
How about from the buyer’s vantage point?

Abraham came home and said the exact same thing: You would not believe it, Isaac! For 400 silver shekel, I purchased the cave where Adam and Eve – the two people created directly by G-d, the two people with whom all of history began, are interred. And I had the privilege of burying Sarah there.

For such a priceless location, I paid, relatively, a small sum of money.

I received so much more than what I put in.

Ah! Now we understand why the laws of marriage are deduced from this transaction. Do you want the recipe for a good marriage? You got to learn from the transaction of Efron’s field.

The attitude of both the groom and bride ought to reflect the feeling of both Abraham and Efron in that sale. A groom ought to come home in the evening and say to himself: Ah, look what I got! A priceless bride! A gem of a human being. Look how refined, how special, how sweet, how kind, my wife is. What did I give to get this? Not much, just 400 shekalim… but look at what I got in return!

And the bride ought to feel the same.
But if the husband, walks around telling his wife, “Hey, you are so lucky you got me… you should thank your starts to get me as your husband,” if that is going to be his attitude, the relationship will break.

When a husband and a wife both genuinely feel that they are privileged to be with their partner; that they have been given such a gift with this relationship—then the partnership will grow and blossom.

There is an American “short story” about a very poor man who lived with his beloved wife in total poverty.

For their anniversary, his wife craved to buy him a gift, but she had no money. She did have very long, beautiful hair. So she had her hair cut and sold, and bought her husband a band for the one beautiful thing he owned: a gold watch which was passed down in the family over many generations, yet he could not wear it because the band was torn.

In the meantime, the husband was yearning to buy his wife a gift. But he was also penniless. So he went out on the same day and sold his gold watch and bought the most expensive combs for his wife to be able to brush and take care of her stunning hair.

They both returned home with their gifts. She returned home with a short haircut, holding a new watchband. He came home with combs in his hand, but without his watch… He gave her the combs and she gave him the watch band.
Tears flowed simultaneously from their eyes, not for the futility of their actions, but for the depth of their love. He looked at her and said: With the love, I get from you, I don’t need the watch band. She said the same about her hair.
 
This can explain another fascinating and enigmatic verse in our portion.
When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out in the army…,
Yet here we see again how simple the recipe for a loving marriage is presented. Certainly, the meaning of the verse is, that for the first year, the husband should celebrate life together with his wife. But Rashi says, this mitzvah is telling you to focus on your happiness together with your wife you are making an error. A marriage works when each party is trying to make the other one happy.

You have to think: What can I do today to make my spouse happy? All you focus on is how you can bring joy and light to your spouse today. Automatically, you will also become happy as a result.

On April 21, 2014, CNN shared a story about a couple: Helen and Kenneth Felumlee.

Their love story begins on Feb. 20, 1944, when Kenneth and Helen eloped just before Kenneth's 21st birthday after three years of dating. The couple would go on to have eight children, who would be witnesses to their commitment on a daily basis. Their kids say that Kenneth and Helen would hold hands at breakfast every morning, right up until the end.

But here is the catch: Over their 70 years of marriage, the two never spent the night apart! When Kenneth and Helen had to take an overnight ferry many years ago that only had bunk beds, they opted to both sleep on the bottom bunk instead of spending an evening separated.

Two years ago, Kenneth had his leg amputated due to poor circulation and his health started to decline. Helen became his main caretaker, but her condition began fading, too.
On April 12, 2014, Helen passed away at the age of 92.

The next night would be the first time in 70 years that her husband Kenneth would need to sleep alone, away from his wife. For seven decades, he was not away for a single night from her…

But here is what happened. Just 12 hours after her death, Kenneth, 91, died as well.

"We knew when one went, the other was going to go," said their daughter, Linda Cody. "We wanted them to go together, and they did.”

Kenneth was surrounded by 24 of his closest friends and family members when he left to join his beloved wife.

"It was a wonderful going away party," his daughter Cody said. "He was ready. He just didn't want to leave her here by herself."


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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