Marriage? Romantic. The source?
Not so much! 

The Torah describes that a man gets married by “taking” a wife (D’varim 24:1). What does “taking” entail? Chazal note the appearance of that same word, “taking,” by Avraham’s purchase of M’aras HaMachpeilah to bury Sarah (B’reishis 23:13). Based on context, Chazal conclude that the Torah’s definition of “taking” involves handing over money. This is the source that a man can betroth a woman by giving her money, or any object of value (e.g., a ring).

While Avraham’s commitment to pay any price for Sarah’s burial is touching, it seems to be the most unusual and depressing of places to learn the fundamentals of marriage! What is the connection between burying the dead and getting married? (Insert marriage joke here.)

My rebbe, Rav Zvi Sobolofsky shlita, explained with a beautiful idea. Burying the dead is known as chesed shel emes, the truest form of kindness, because it is a benevolence that one does for someone who can never reciprocate the favor. While that term, chesed shel emes, is colloquially used in the context of caring for the deceased, the reality is that any act of goodness can be labeled as “the truest form of kindness,” as long as it is done entirely for the sake of giving while expecting nothing in return (see Sifsei Chachamim to Rashi, B’reishis 47:29). This attitude is the foundation of a strong marriage: each side focused exclusively on giving, instead of receiving. The source of Jewish marriage teaches us that, much like caring for the departed, it must be built on chesed shel emes.

Or, to use a quote often hanging in the offices of marriage counselors: Marriage is not a 50-50 partnership; it is 100-100. It isn’t dividing everything in half, but giving everything you’ve got!


Rabbi Yaakov Abramovitz is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, while also pursuing a Psy.D. in School and Clinical Child Psychology at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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