Parshas Va’eira

When man and woman stand under the chuppah to become husband and wife, they begin together a life that surpasses the individual lives they led until that moment, for one who is unmarried, our Sages declare, is considered incomplete.

There is a word in Parshas Va’eira that provides an invaluable insight into the purpose of a Jewish marriage. After delivering the Jews from Egypt, G-d promises to bring them into Eretz Yisrael, stating, “I will give her to you as a morashah” (Shemos 6:8).

This word, morashah, is used in only one other place in the Chumash, when the Torah is described as “morashah kehillas Yaakov” (Devarim 33:4). The Baal Haturim contrasts this word with the word yerushah; the difference in spelling is slight, but important. Both indicate a form of inheritance; but unlike a yerushah, a morashah does not transfer automatically. The word is proactive — a morashah requires effort.

The mishnah in Avos (6:6) enumerates the hardships one must endure in order to achieve excellence in Torah study. Likewise, the Holy Land is acquired only through adversity (Berachos 5a). This is the quality of morashah — it is obtained only with special effort.

Furthermore, our Sages maintain a connection between the word morashah and a phonetically similar word, me’orasah, one who is betrothed (Berachos 57a). There is a connection between a morashah and a marriage. This comparison is telling. To succeed in marriage, a couple must view it as a morashah. They need to understand that the development of a relationship requires effort. They must never take each other for granted and must continually make efforts to be responsive to each other’s needs. For their marriage to succeed, they must avoid turning it into a routine and instead strive to build an inspiring relationship.

Moreover, their marriage must incorporate the morashah of Torah. A successful Jewish family life is dependent on it being patterned in accordance with the Torah’s guidelines. A home where Torah is studied and mitzvos are observed is a home that is blessed with the spirit of G-d.

It is well known that on the day of their wedding, a chassan and kallah are absolved from all their sins. Why should this be so? What is so extraordinary about getting married that it is rewarded with the erasure of one’s entire record of sin?

The Talmud Yerushalmi lists several people whose circumstances cause their slate to be wiped clean: a bridegroom; a scholar who is appointed to a post of communal responsibility; a person elevated to a position of political leadership; and a non-Jew who converts to Judaism. All of these people share a common denominator. Each, by virtue of his new responsibilities, undergoes changes that transform him into a new person. Once considered a new person, the sins of his past are, technically, no longer his.

A chassan becomes truly a new person because marriage calls for the ability to transcend the narrow confines of individualism and commit one’s whole self to another person. As long as one is single, the tendency is to be self-centered, the primary concern is self-fulfillment. After marriage, one understands that “It is not good for man to be alone” (Bereishis 2:18). The realization that “his wife is like his own self” (Berachos 24a) is the first step in a process of liberation from the confines of self-centeredness, extending the range of one’s vision to encompass solicitude for others.

A Jewish home is not a castle shutting out the outside world. At the entrances of Jewish homes are mezuzos, not “do not disturb” signs. This impresses upon their occupants their responsibilities to others, the advice of Yosai ben Yochanan in Avos (1:5) to “let your home be wide open” to offer comfort to others. The harmony and peace prevailing within a Jewish family should not be treated as a haven to escape from one’s responsibilities toward the world. The sense of attachment that the Torah mandates to spouses should generate a broader love and concern for one’s community, nation and all humanity.

The me’orasah-morashah equation provides another vital lesson: In marriage, one’s concern must not be limited to the present. Jews, as custodians of a morashah that must be passed from generation to generation, shoulder a great responsibility for the future. Jews, therefore, need to continually ask themselves whether their lifestyle and value system is conducive to bequeathing to their children and grandchildren a love of Torah and commitment to Eretz Yisrael. The success of a marriage is gauged not only by the measure of devotion cultivated for one another, but also by the degree to which one has successfully transmitted the morashah that has been entrusted to the Jewish people.