Four Are Called “Acquisition” (Kinyan)
ארבעה נקראו קנין. ישראל נקראו קנין שנאמר (שמות טו) עם זו קנית. שמים וארץ נקראו קנין שנאמר (בראשית יד) קונה שמים וארץ. בית המקדש נקרא קנין שנאמר (תהלים עח) הר זה קנתה ימינו. התורה נקראת קנין שנאמר (משלי ח) ה' קנני ראשית דרכו. יבואו ישראל שנקראו קנין, לארץ שנקראת קנין ויבנו בית המקדש שהוא קנין בזכותה של תורה שנקראת קנין.
Four things are called “acquisition” (kinyan): Israel is called kinyan, as the verse states: “This nation that You have acquired;” [Exodus 15:16] the heavens and the earth are called kinyan, as Scripture states: “Who acquires heaven and earth;” [Genesis 14:19] the Temple is called kinyan, as the verse states: “This mountain that His right hand had acquired;” [Psalms 78:54] the Torah is called kinyan, as is stated: “The Lord acquired me at the beginning of His way.” [Proverbs 8:22]
Let Israel, who are called kinyan come to the Land which is called kinyan and build the Temple which is called kinyan through the merit of Torah which is called kinyan.
[Mechilta Beshalaḥ 9]
Astonishment at the Midrash
The Midrash states that Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel), the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) and the Torah are interconnected since each is referred to as kinyan.
At first glance, two points are not understood. Firstly, what is the intention that each of these is God’s acquisition? What is the meaning of God’s acquiring heaven and earth? Has He acquired them from someone? The simple intention seemingly is that God is the owner of each of these things. But this, too, is difficult to understand. After all, God’s glory fills the entire world and He is the “owner” of everything, not only of the Eretz Yisrael, Am Yisrael, the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) and Torah. Why, then does the Midrash specify these four things as being God’s acquisitions? Or, more exactly, the question is why the Torah (Scripture) cites only these four things as Divine acquisitions.
Secondly, what difference does it make that all are called kinyan? Is that sufficient reason to see an interconnection among them? Both my shoes and my computer are my acquisitions. Would it be accurate to say therefore that my shoes guide my computer and thereby make me happy? Of course not! A person has many acquisitions, but that does not make them interconnected.
We may suggest that the answers to these two questions are interrelated. In order to explain ourselves, we must first explain the nature of kinyan. In order to do this, we will reflect on a number of halachot which relate to a person’s acquisitions. In so doing, hopefully we will be able to understand the deep essence of kinyan.
On the simple level, kinyan means that a particular object is under my ownership. However, it seems that there are broader implications of the term. The halacha is that if my animal damages someone else’s property, I am obligated to make restitution. But why? After all, it was the animal I own which caused the damage, while I myself inflicted no damage. Why should I be responsible? The apparent answer is that my responsibility arises from the fact that I did not guard my animal and prevent its doing damage. However, this answer is not at all simple. My failure to guard my animal did not directly damage anything, but merely facilitated my animal’s causing damage. The halachic term for this is “grama” (causality), and grama in monetary damages is exempt from payment. This being the case, how can I be held liable for damages resulting from my failure to guard my animal? Necessarily, there must be a different basis for my responsibility. Rabbi Shimon Shkop ((בחידושי רבי שמעון שקופ ב"ק סי' א)) explains that the failure to guard my animal is a condition for responsibility for the damage it causes - if one guards his animal and yet the animal somehow escapes and causes damage, the owner will be exempt from payment for the damage – however, the failure to guard the animal is not the cause of the responsibility. The source of the obligation is that, on some level, the damage done by one’s property is considered as having been done by the owner. Just as if one slaps another, he cannot claim that it was his hand, not he who is responsible, so too concerning damage done by one’s animal. Rabbi Shkop explains that acquiring an object establishes a connection between the object and the owner, to the extent that the object as it were is an extension of the owner.
Rabbi Shkop’s novel approach asserts that on some level “You are your property.”
You shall perform no labor, neither you… nor your beast [Shemot (Exodus) 20:10]
Another example of the concept that one’s possessions are an extension of the person can be seen in the laws of Shabbat. The Torah requires one’s animals to refrain from labor on Shabbat ("ויום השביעי שבת לה' אלוקיך לא תעשה כל מלאכה, אתה ובנך ובתך עבדך ואמתך ובהמתך"). Since an animal is clearly not obligated to fulfill mitzvot, why must it refrain from labor on Shabbat? The answer follows from the approach presented above. If we understand that one’s animal is an extension of the person, the animal’s working on Shabbat means that its owner is not completely refraining from work. Since all of one’s acquisitions are part of him, it is necessary that they all rest on Shabbat, or the owner’s rest is incomplete.
Marriage also entails a kinyan as Chazal (our Sages) taught: "בשלושה דרכים האשה נקנית" (“A woman is acquired (in marriage) in three ways”) [Gemara Kiddushin 2a]. We must understand the meaning of acquisition in the framework of marriage. After all, a husband is not free to sell or rent out his wife. Rather, as explained above, kinyan is not simply a monetary act, but establishes a connection between the acquirer and the acquired, to the extent that the owner is expressed through his acquisitions. The chatan (groom) “acquires” the kallah (bride) in the sense that she is especially connected to him, and becomes part of the definition of who he is. Chazal [Gemara Yevamot 63a] expounded the posuk (verse) "זכר ונקבה בראם ויקרא את שמם אדם" (“Male and female He created them, and He blessed them, and He called their name man”) [Bereishit (Genesis) 5:2] to mean that only when spouses are together can they be called “man”, but prior to marriage one is not considered a man. The essence of man can be manifested only through his spouse, who is his “kinyan.”
Four Are Called Kinyan
The definition of kinyan which we presented explains the Midrash which we quoted and resolves the questions we raised. Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) and the Torah are called God’s kinyan not because He acquired them from someone and not because these alone are his kinyan. Everything is God’s, but these four things are those which most clearly reveal His presence in the world, those things which are most especially His. Torah is an expression of the Divine will, as Chazal taught, the initial word of the Ten Commandments "אנכי" (anochi) is an abbreviation of the words which translate: “I (ana) Myself (nafshi) have written (kethibah) and given (yehabith)” the Script. [Gemara Shabbat 105a] Am Yisrael is the chosen nation, "בני בכרי ישראל" (“My firstborn son is Israel”) [Shemot (Exodus) 4:22] – the nation which expresses God’s will in the world. The Beit Hamikdash (Temple) is the place where the Shechina is manifested. Each of these three things is connected to the land which is God’s kinyan, Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel).
Thus, it is clear why the four acquisitions are interconnected – each is an expression of God’s presence in the world and they must exist together. If any of these four things were lacking, then God’s revelation in the world would be incomplete.
Not that many years ago, in the Diaspora we had only two of the four kinyanim – the nation and Torah, and even these were insufficiently developed. Am Yisrael experienced terrible suffering and at times the status of Torah was not good. Even when Torah was studied, it was Torah of the Diaspora, which is on a lower level than Torah of the Land, as Chazal taught "במחשכים השיבני כמתי עולם" “(‘He has made me dwell in darkness’) [Lamentations 3:6] refers to the Babylonian Talmud.” [Gemara Sanhedrin 24a]
Thank God, in our generation we have been privileged to have the nation returned to the Land, and therefore another of the four kinyanim has been added. The return to the Land not only added the third kinyan, but allowed the previous ones to flourish – the nation is healthier and stronger and has established its own army, economy, etc. Torah too has been strengthened, both in terms of its being the Torah of Eretz Yisrael and in the number of yeshivot and Torah students within the Land, which continues to grow.
May it be His will that the fourth kinyan, the Beit Hamikdash (Temple), be built soon. In completing the four kinyanim, the stature of the first three will be greatly increased, as the status of the first two was increased with the return to the Land. And with the building of the Beit Hamikdash (Temple), we will be privileged to experience God’s full revelation in the world. May it be speedily in our days. Amen.
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