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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Chayei Sarah 5774 "The Lucky One"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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10/24/13

STAM TORAH

PARSHAS CHAYEI SARAH 5774

THE LUCKY ONE

Adar 5762/February 2002.

It was the day before my wife and I celebrated our first anniversary. At the time I was a member of the Kollel of Yeshiva Shaarei Torah where I was learning full-time.

I approached Rabbi Leibel Reznick shlita, one of my Rabbeim from Yeshiva, to seek some advice and encouragement. Rabbi Reznick is not only an author and a scholar of note, he is also a beloved pedagogue whose wit and insight are legendary. I explained that for the previous fifteen months my life had been a constant wave of excitement. Since my wife and I had been introduced, there was dating, engagement, parties, constant good wishes, preparing for the wedding, culminating with the wedding itself followed by the weeklong sheva-berachos festivities. Even after the sheva-berachos were over we still retained a special status of being in ‘shanah rishonah- the first year’.[1] Thus, throughout the previous twelve months we were still blissfully - as the expression goes - ‘on cloud nine’. Now that our anniversary was imminent, that special status was ending. In effect, “the elongated honeymoon” was over. Undoubtedly, I was excited to spend the rest of my life with my wife, but I still felt that there was a certain magical aspect of the marriage that was slipping away.

Rabbi Reznick insightfully replied that as long as we did not lose perspective that everything was a chessed (a kind deed), the magic of the first year would continue. He explained, “When you first married, everything you did for each other was viewed as special, an act of love and kindness. You must never allow that feeling to dissipate! Every time she folds your laundry you must view it as a special favor and thank her earnestly. When she makes you supper, or works hard to prepare the Shabbos meals, remember that she is doing a chessed out of dedication for you. The same holds true if she brings your children to the doctor or does carpool, it is all chessed. As long as you never ‘get used’ to it and can maintain the feeling that everything you do for each other is out of love and devotion, the euphoria of your marriage will never fade. The only difference is that until now that spark came naturally, and from now on you will have to work to maintain it.”

Maseches[2] Kiddushin is dedicated to the laws and procedures of halachic marriage. It commences by stating that one of the three ways in which a man can marry a woman is by giving her money[3]. As its source the Gemara (4b) employs a gezerah shavah[4] in which the use of the same word in two distinct parts of the Torah allows the application of a detail from one case to the other unrelated case.[5]

In regard to marriage, the verse[6] states, “כי יקח איש אשה – When a man will take (marry) a woman…” The expression used to refer to marriage is one of ‘taking’.

When our Patriarch Avrohom returned home and was informed that his beloved wife Sarah had died, he immediately set out to purchase the Cave of Machpelah, which housed the burial plots of Adam and Chava. At that point the cave was owned by the B’nei Chais and their leader, Ephron. Avrohom knew that Ephron was wily and devious and so he insisted on paying top dollar for the cave, to ensure that his ownership could not be contested at a later time.

When they settled on the price – four hundred silver shekel- Avrohom declared (Bereishis 23:13), “אך אם אתה לו שמעני נתתי כסף השדה קח ממני ואקברה את מתי שמה – Rather, if only you would heed me! I give the price of the field, take it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” The Gemara draws a parallel between the ordeal with Avrohom and Ephron, where the verse utilizes the root-word “take”, and marriage where the same root-word is utilized: Just as in regard to Avrohom the word was used to refer to a monetary transaction, so too in regard to marriage, money (or an object of monetary value) is a valid means with which to betroth a woman.

The Bobbover Rebbe, Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam zt’l, questions the parallel that the Gemara draws between these two diverse concepts. It seems inappropriate to learn about the acquisition of marriage - the most sublime, joyous, and holy union - from Avrohom’s business venture with a most duplicitous individual. What is the philosophical connection between marriage and Avrohom’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah from Ephron?

The Rebbe explained that there is an invaluable message about marriage to be extrapolated from Avrohom’s purchase of the Cave of Machpelah. If we had to guess the thoughts of Avrohom and Ephron after the transaction was completed, we can imagine that both pitied the other. Ephron and the B’nei Chais did not care much for the significance of the cave. To them it was a mundane plot of land, worth no more than the land itself. But when Ephron saw how valuable it was to Avrohom he deviously raised the price.

To Avrohom however, the plot was priceless, holy ground. He would have just as quickly paid double the amount they agreed on if necessary. In other words, each side felt that he had gotten the better end of the deal. In Ephron’s mind Avrohom was a fool for throwing out his money; in Avrohom’s mind, Ephron was an imbecile for failing to realize the treasure he owned.

This idea can be beautifully applied to marriage. A successful marriage is predicated on an inner feeling of appreciation for the internal value and greatness of one’s spouse. Both spouses must always feel in their hearts that he/she got the better end of the deal. “How lucky and undeserving I am to have such a wonderful and special spouse!” It is not the business venture of Avrohom and Ephron itself that symbolizes marriage, but the feeling that each side had gotten the better end of the deal.

When we sent out invitations for our wedding during our engagement, I requested from my Rabbeim that, along with their response card, they enclose a personal written blessing to us. Those letters were and are particularly dear to me. Every now and then I take out the folder and re-read all of the beautiful, personal messages they wrote.

My Eleventh Grade Rebbe, Rabbi Aryeh Feuer, wrote (in-part) the following thought: On Friday Night when we sing the beloved lyrics of “Lecha Dodi”, the melodious hymn with which we usher in the sanctity of Shabbos, we state, “All those who ravaged you will be ravaged, and all those who seek to swallow you will be distanced. Your G-d will rejoice over you as a groom rejoices over his bride.”

The joy of a groom and bride is temporary and fleeting. In fact, the title “chosson (groom)” and “kallah (bride)” is really only applicable from the actual moment when the marriage takes effect until the conclusion of the week-long Sheva Berachos festivities. How can we compare G-d’s rejoicing over us to the transitory joy of a groom with his bride? Shouldn’t G-d’s joy be analogized to something that has permanence?

My Rebbe answered that we must conclude that the joy of a bride and groom need not be ephemeral. It is indeed feasible to maintain the joy, passion, and elation that newlyweds feel for each other, throughout their married lives. But it requires work and dedication, no less than our connection with G-d. The joy G-d feels with us is also contingent on the investments and efforts that we put into the relationship.

One of my older brother’s friends once asked his Rebbe, “How long am I considered a chosson? The Rebbe smiled, “As long as you treat her like a kallah!”

“I give the price of the field, take it from me”

“G-d will rejoice over you as a groom rejoices over his bride.”

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[1] [The Torah (Devorim 23:5) instructs, “When one marries a new wife, he shall not go out to the army, nor shall it obligate him for any matter; he shall be free for his home for one year, and he shall gladden his wife whom he has married.”]

[2] Talmudic Tractate

[3] or anything of value

[4] Lit. "a comparison of equals"

[5] Gezerah shavah is not simply a philological method; it can apply unrelated details relating from one context to the interpretation of the other instance of the word.

[6] Devorim 24:1



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