By Rabbi Dan Lewin
In general, every Torah portion has a connection with the time of the year when it is read. This week’s parasha, Bamidbar, is usually read on the Shabbat before Shavuot. This upcoming festival, which commemorates
G-d’s giving of the Torah to Israel, is called the wedding of Israel to G-d (Taanit 26b).
The basic elements of a wedding are planted within the narrative. There’s the metaphorical proposal: “And now, if you are faithful to keep My covenant, you shall be my treasure out of all peoples, for the entire earth is mine.” (Exodus 19:5). Israel accepts as “all the people replied in unison, ‘All that the Eternal has spoken we shall do!’” (Exodus 19:8) There is a countdown until the big day, a spiritual cleansing in the mikvah, all leading to the climax of uniting under the canopy at the foot of the mountain, which was filled with smoke. The commandments, engraved in stone tablets, are then given as the marriage contract.
On the Shabbat before a Jewish wedding, the groom is customarily called up to the Torah as a preparation. In this sense, Bamidbar is viewed as the main preparation for the day commemorating that special union between G-d and His people, which came through their receiving the Torah.
An infinite union
To better appreciate this powerful but abstract image of a global spiritual wedding, it is helpful to examine the mystical features of the microcosm, the most sacred bond between two individuals that we refer to as “a marriage.” Traditional Jewish weddings take place in two general stages, called kiddushin (betrothal) and nisuin.
This process reflects the idea that that the more potential holiness there is within an event, the more careful preparation is required to reach it. On a simple level, two distinct individuals, with different background and perspectives, join to journey through life together. On a deeper level, marriage is a merging of souls — a heavenly reunion on earth — where the result is far greater than the sum of its parts. Connecting two people, in this case, represents more than “a couple.” The transformation, as the ring meets the bride’s finger under the chuppah, incorporates an aspect of the divine — a union unattainable through human effort.
That’s why the Hebrew word for marriage shares a common root with both “distinctive” and “holy.” The sacred ceremony (with all its stages) is the instrument that produces the possibility for the most complete unity that will evoke eternal blessings, infused within the generations to come.
The weekly marriage
Every meaningful union in Jewish life contains an initial giver and recipient, a (nonliteral) male and female element. And to get to the desired connection, there must be a preparation that creates the proper setting or atmosphere for a deeper, more personal union. As it pertains to the weekly cycle, the six days leading up to Shabbat are the “giver,” the stage in which we toil to arrive at the seventh day of spiritual rest.
This seventh day is the recipient, the climax of the week — a product of our six days of effort in earning a living. We can then reflect and devote ourselves to the higher affairs, sanctifying this material world through lighting candles, challah, partaking of a great meal, spending quality family time and community prayer. In this vein, the Talmud remarks that only someone who toils on the eve of the Sabbath (i.e. the days leading up to it) will truly enjoy the fruits on that special day.
But once that happens, Shabbat also becomes the giver — the source of blessings for the coming week. So, the seventh is both the end goal and the beginning of blessing. Mystically, this dual role is secret of the feminine power of malchut, whose deep roots in the system of creation are revealed through the proper union. And once that unification is complete, the interaction switches — she takes the lead. As King Solomon declares (Proverbs 12:4): “A woman of valor is the crown of her husband.” That’s also why, throughout our prayers, Shabbat is repeatedly referred to as “the bride.”
Preparing for the big day
Shifting back to the global marriage on Shavuot, the commandments of the Torah that we received have served as “our life and the length of our days.” Throughout the long and miraculous history of the Jewish people, a nation made up of different races and cultures, dispersed across the world, the spiritual glue — the only constant that has endured — is the distinct mitzvahs.
As we move toward the Shabbat and the festival, we reflect on what we, as individuals and a people, have received and how we can “give back” in the form of increased Torah study, Jewish education and good deeds — causing pride on high.
Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit www.maayanchai.org.