One of the topics in this week’s Parsha is the law concerning inheritance. It is taught because of an incident initiated by five remarkable women, all of whom were daughters of a man named Tzelafchad. This is what they asked Moses:
And the daughters of Tzelafchad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, the son of Joseph… stood before Moses… saying, “Our father died in the desert. He was not among the members of the faction of Korach, who rebelled against G-d, but died because of his own sin; he died without leaving any sons. Why should our father’s name be disadvantaged in his family merely because he did not have a son? Give us a portion of the land along with our father’s brothers.”(27:1-5)
Why was it necessary to trace their ancestry all the way back to Joseph (i.e. six generations)? Rashi explains that Joseph loved the Land of Israel and was passionate about it; he even asked to be buried there. This love was passed on to his descendants and when Tzelafchad’s daughters asked for a share of land, it was the family passion for the Land that was their motivation; their request was not driven by a materialistic or agricultural want. The five daughters weren’t combining resources to create a real estate empire or build a family compound, they simply loved the land and wanted to live in it-but can’t one do that without actually owning the land? [Manhattan is one of the choicest places to live in the world, yet there is an entire population of people who choose to rent rather than own their apartments (see New York Times5/9/17 “They Could Buy, but Why? Meet the High-Renters”)]. If Tzelafchad’s daughters sincerely loved the Land and were planning to live there, (whether they received a share of it or not), why did they insist on owning their own portions?
The Torah is teaching us a lesson; when a person loves something, (s)he should want to own it because ownership is the strongest connection one can have (to a something inanimate). The common denominator of the profile of the renters in the New York Times article mentioned above is that they don’t want to commit either for financial, career, or other reasons. However, when someone really wants something, (s)he wants to possess it. This explains the Halacha (concept in Jewish law) which instructs a person to own a Torah library. If one study’s alone at home, it is should be sufficient to borrow books; why is there a mitzvah to have one’s own collection of Jewish books? The reason is because it helps to enhance one’s love of Torah. The fact that you chose to own them demonstrates your affection for them and the material contained within. One might take out books from the library but (s)he buys the one’s (s)he particularity connects to. The daughters of Tzelafchad loved the Land and therefore wanted to own their own piece of it.
What is ownership? The verb own means “have (something) as one’s own; possess.” Practically speaking, one can only possess an inanimate object, but (s)he can’t possess another human being. Nevertheless, we can apply this idea to human relationships. When a man and woman are in love, neither can possess one another but in Judaism the way to demonstrate this love is to come as close as humanly possible. When they choose to get married, each is making an unstated declaration to the world; hands off, (s)he’s mine. It is not ownership but the moment the ring is given, that man and woman belong to each other and no one else. Each is making the statement, I want you and no one else. If a man truly loves a woman, why wouldn’t he want to be connected to her in the closest possible way? People say, why get married, it’s just a piece of paper; we can live together. One hears this more from men than woman but the question to ask is, “Dude, if it’s just a piece of paper, why not just sign it?” The answer is that we all realize that there is something special about marriage; it is commitment, not just a social construct. (It even affects the nomenclature of other familial relationships. When a woman introduces her daughter’s boyfriend to someone, she says, this is Sam, Emily’s boyfriend. When Sam and Emily get married, the mother says, “this is Sam, my son in law.”).
In Judaism, the moment the ring is given, it is called kiddushin. Although the word is usually translated as “holy,” the literal meaning is “set aside.” Both the man and the woman have consciously chosen to set themselves aside for the other. They don’t own each other but each now has a unique relationship with the other in so many areas of life. They do not live together merely to save money on rent or because one was lonely and needed a roommate; their main motivation was not pragmatism, it was something far more meaningful. Marriage is a value in Judaism because it is the opportunity G-d gave two people in love to show their love in the most powerful, significant, and concrete way. Neither half of the couple owns the other but it’s the closest, most significant and meaningful way a man and woman can appreciate, respect, and share their lives together. This might not be a popular idea in the 21st century but it has been for over three millennia for Jews.
The daughters of Tzalafchad loved the Land of Israel and wanted it for themselves. This idea can be extended to teach that a Jew should own a library of Torah books to show the love of the ideas contained in those books because possession of something is a strong demonstration of love. Finally, when a man and woman are in love, the most powerful way to demonstrate that love is through marriage. It has nothing to do with having children or having any other benefit (even though there are many). Marriage in Judaism is a value and ideal unto itself and the strongest way to say the three words we enjoy hearing most; I love you.
(Sources: Rashi, Numbers 27:1; Darash Moshe ibid; Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 613 quoting Rosh; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah-270:2)