Parshat Chayei Sarah describes the first portion of land any Jew ever owned in Israel: Avraham’s purchase of the Machpeilah cave in Chevron as a burial plot for Sarah.
Why does our permanent and tangible connection with the Land of Israel begin as the purchase of a burial plot? Indeed, for thousands of years, so many Jews who were never able to actually live in the Land of Israel yearned to be buried here, or at least to include some earth from Israel in their burial.
There is another relationship that seems to be related to the Land of Israel. The Talmud (Kiddushin 2a), in explaining how we know that a transfer of value establishes a state of marriage, says that we learn the essence of marriage from the use of the word “kicha, to take.” When Avraham acquires the field of Efron he says, “…I give you the money for the field, take it from me.” In Devarim 24:1, in reference to marriage, it states: “When a man takes a woman.”
So the very formulation of marriage as an institution is learned from the acquisition of land for a burial plot!
The Torah tells us (Bereishit 3:19) that we are created of the earth, and we will return to the earth, which is our ultimate inescapable connection to the land. And the Torah’s word for “human being” is “Adam,” which is the root of the word adama, or land. On a certain level, we are the land and the land is us! But what does this mean?
Perhaps the Torah is suggesting that to understand the nature of our relationship with the Land of Israel we need to understand the essence of a loving marriage.
We do not define marriage as ownership or “having.” In fact, in Hebrew, there is no actual word for “having.” Even in Modern Hebrew we say “yesh li,” which literally means “it is to me”; we are describing the relationship but not ownership. Marriage is the process of sanctifying a relationship—of making it kadosh, holy. And holiness is all about tapping into our higher and deeper purpose. Holiness is when something is a vehicle for connecting me to Hashem—to a higher purpose, to why we are really here, and what it’s all about. In a healthy marriage, two people come together and become vehicles to help each other achieve their purpose in this world.
And that is the secret of our relationship with the Land of Israel: We don’t own the land, nor do we “have” it; we belong to it. And it is a part of who we are, and who we are meant to be, and how we are meant to get there.
Because we are not just a religion, which is a collection of beliefs, values and ideas, we are also a nation, and a nation is not a nation without a land. Only in this place can we create a model society that is meant to be a light of what the world could look like.
When we die, we discover that we do not really own anything. We are put back into the earth—which calls into question what this journey we call life was all about; what was the point? And that is when we reach for something beyond the physical limitations; we seek to belong to something greater, higher than ourselves, to a higher purpose. The same higher purpose we sense in a healthy marriage, and which we feel when we finally realize, after 2,000 years of wandering the face of the earth, that we are home, at last.
Rabbi Binny Freedman is rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Orayta. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).