Monday, September 06, 2010

Tefillin, Bridegrooms, Deserts & Days of Awe

One of the things I always adored in Jewish liturgy is the passage men say when they lay tefillin. I only discovered it about a year ago (maybe less) and I think it's so divinely beautiful:

"And I will betroth you to me forever, and I will betroth you to me with righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy. I will betroth you to me with fidelity and you shall know God."

In Made in Heaven, page 50, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes:

When a man puts on tefillin, he winds the strap three times around his left middle finger and says, "I will betroth you to Me forever. I will betroth you to Me in justice, love and kindness. I will betroth you to Me in faith, and you shall know God" (Hosea 2:21, 22). The strap is thus a renewal of the "marriage" between God and Israel, and it is therefore wound around the finger just like a wedding ring. Then, just as the strap binds man to God, the wedding ring binds the bridegroom to his bride.

I find that image so incredibly, deeply powerful. It's an image which is echoed in so many of the Rav's writings, as he consistently speaks of his romance with the Creator. I love the idea of the relationship between man & God as being that of a lover and beloved, a bride and bridegroom.

I was thinking, in fact, of a point that is often raised in Israel's favor by God. God tells Jeremiah to call through the streets that He remembers the kindness of Israel's youth, how they followed him into the desert, a land that had no food.

ב הָלֹךְ וְקָרָאתָ בְאָזְנֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם לֵאמֹר, כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, זָכַרְתִּי לָךְ חֶסֶד נְעוּרַיִךְ, אַהֲבַת כְּלוּלֹתָיִךְ--לֶכְתֵּךְ אַחֲרַי בַּמִּדְבָּר, בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא זְרוּעָה. 2

Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: Thus saith the LORD: I remember for thee the affection of thy youth, the love of thine espousals; how thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.

The commentaries to this verse say that Israel here put her total trust in God; she followed Him even though the land was not sown and she did not know where she would get food to eat or water to drink from. She loved Him and this was enough for her.

I think the same relationship occurs by the bride and the bridegroom. Every marriage, even if one knows the other person well, allows for some uncertainty, so that one follows the other blindly, trusting to them and hoping that in the end all shall be well.

Betrothing oneself anew to God every morning is a re-commitment to Him and to loving Him for that day and a recognition, once again, that we shall follow Him into the desert despite their being no food, borne aloft simply by our love for Him.

It's very exciting because we are so close to the Birthday of the World, Rosh Hashana, the day that God created man, who then consistently chooses to bind himself to his Bridegroom. Rosh Hashana is like our anniversary; it's the day we came into being, the day that relationship between God and man was founded, the day we get to begin again. It's a joyous day- a holy day- such a happy day! We come happily to pray to the God who loves us and who formed us on this, the Birthday of the World.

"Hayom haras olam," was, since I was a little girl, my favorite part of the Mussaf Amidah. It made me very happy to think of the world having a birthday and of Hashem celebrating it with all of us present, of the way that we would go home to eat festive meals with pretty translucent honey-jars and have birthday parties in honor of creation. For me, birthdays were always so special- so it followed that the Birthday of the World was even more exciting!

And here we go again- we get to experience betrothals and birthdays anew in just a couple more days. Tis very happymaking.


harry-er than them all said...

I have to find it in my notes somewhere, but R' Kook has a beautiful piece on those pesukim and sheva brachot (ive used it in a speech once)

TPW said...

I love that pasuk as well ("lekhtekh aharai..."). One of my favorite quotations is from Menachem Begin's inaugural address. He was the head of the Irgun in the early days of pre-state Israel, and his wife accompanied and supported him through a lot. When he was elected, he thanked her by saying, "asher lekhtekh aharai b'eretz zeru'at mokshim"--rather than in an unplanted land, "you walked after me in a land planted with landmines."

GaretBenson said...

Once my father asked me whether I say those verses when I put on tefillin. "No," I replied, not mentioning that I follow a custom that does not include it.
"Say it!" he said. Now I wonder whether I'm obligated by my custom or kibud av ve'em (honoring your parents).

GaretBenson said...

I'm often moved by similar imagery toward the end of "Lecha Dodi."

Gavi said...

I always like to point out another interpretation of "Haras" from the shoresh "resess" or trembling (from the Ra'avan). It fits the rest of the tefilla a little bit better than the standard "creation" pshat.

tefillin rabbi said...

Thank you for your meaningful article. I came accross it when searching for "tefillin".
chag sameach and shanah tovah!

Anonymous said...

Yes, really. It was and with me. Let's discuss this question. Here or in PM.