The laws of marriage are derived from the Torah portion of Ki Teitzei. The Talmud explains that there are three ways to betroth a woman:
A woman is acquired by (i.e., becomes betrothed to) a man to be his wife in three ways, and she acquires herself (i.e., she terminates her marriage) in two ways. The Mishnah elaborates: She is acquired through money, through a document and through marital relations.
Although this description of marriage may sound legalistic, Judaism’s perspective and insight into the profound meaning, beauty, romance and mystery of marriage can be discovered by exploring the meaning behind the seemingly technical details of the law.
There are three ways to betroth a woman, not merely
|Marriage has three dimensions|
because the Torah would like to give us more options for creating the legal state of marriage, but rather because marriage has three dimensions. Each of the three methods of betrothal express one of the three dimensions of the relationship.
(Practically speaking, even one of the methods of betrothal suffice to usher in all three dimensions of the marriage. In fact, the rabbis prohibited betrothal through intimacy, and it has become the universal custom to betroth through a form of money. Yet, the law offers three forms of betrothal to teach us to be aware of all three dimensions that can be initiated by any one of these forms.)
The first form of betrothal is through money—the groom gives the bride something of monetary value. Money, which is tangible and physical, represents the physical aspects of the relationship. The couple will live under the same roof, eat dinner together, have a joint bank account and file a joint tax return. They will spend time together and enjoy each other's company. Yet, while important, the physical aspect of the relationship is not all there is to marriage.
The second form of betrothal is through writing a legal document. The document itself does not have to have any monetary value; its value is abstract and intangible. The document represents the spiritual aspect of the marriage. The couple will share ideas with each other, and enjoy each other's wit, wisdom and point of view.
Betrothal by document reminds us that marriage is more than just living together; marriage is about creating a bond between two souls (or, as the mystics say: reuniting two halves of the same soul).The document represents the soul connection that is established (or reestablished) through marriage.
The third form of betrothal, marital intimacy, represents the ultimate goal of
|Intimacy is considered a holy experience|
marriage. In Judaism, intimacy in the context of a sacred marriage is considered a holy experience, for it is a fusion of body and soul. It is when the first two dimensions of marriage, the physical unity and the spiritual unity, merge. The physical union expresses the deepest spiritual bond.
The marriage of man and woman is a reflection of the spiritual marriage between G‑d, the groom, and the Jewish people, the bride. Perhaps we can add that our relationship with G‑d is also expressed through these three forms of betrothal: 1) betrothal by money: G‑d blesses us with our physical life, health and necessities, allowing us to enjoy our physical life on earth; 2) betrothal by document: we enjoy a spiritual connection with G‑d, by studying His document, His Torah, which contains the mysteries of His deepest thoughts; and 3) betrothal by intimacy: the ultimate expression of our connection with G‑d is through performing a mitzvah. For the physical act of the commandment is an act of intimacy with G‑d, whereby our body and soul become one with His infinity.