A Jewish Wedding

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


In this study I would like to learn the details of a Jewish wedding.


What is a Jewish wedding like?


Many marriages were arranged by parents from the time that their children were infants. Others, however, went through the following process: At marrying age, the young man might be attracted to a young woman, or his parents might have chosen an appropriate bride for him. The procedure could be followed by one of three different parties: the father making the arrangements for his son, as Samson’s father did for him:


Shoftim (Judges) 14:1-10 Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me (His parents did not know that this was from HaShem, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.) Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of HaShem came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her. Some time later, when he went back to marry her, he turned aside to look at the lion’s carcass. In it was a swarm of bees and some honey, Which he scooped out with his hands and ate as he went along. When he rejoined his parents, he gave them some, and they too ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the lion’s carcass. Now his father went down to see the woman. And Samson made a feast there, as was customary for bridegrooms.


An agent working on behalf of the father, as Eliezer did on behalf of Avraham:


Bereshit (Genesis) 24:1-67 Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and HaShem had blessed him in every way. He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by HaShem, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, But will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?” “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” Abraham said. “HaShem, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give this land’--he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter. Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and left, taking with him all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor. He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water. Then he prayed, “O HaShem, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’--let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.” Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor. The girl was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever lain with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again. The servant hurried to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water from your jar.” “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink. After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not HaShem had made his journey successful. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor.” And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.” Then the man bowed down and worshiped HaShem, Saying, “Praise be to HaShem, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, HaShem has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.” The girl ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and he hurried out to the man at the spring. As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring. “Come, you who are blessed by HaShem,” he said. “Why are you standing out here? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” So the man went to the house, and the camels were unloaded. Straw and fodder were brought for the camels, and water for him and his men to wash their feet. Then food was set before him, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.” “Then tell us,” [Laban] said. So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. HaShem has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, menservants and maidservants, and camels and donkeys. My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, But go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’ “Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’ “He replied, ‘HaShem, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from my own clan and from my father’s family. Then, when you go to my clan, you will be released from my oath even if they refuse to give her to you--you will be released from my oath.’ “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘O HaShem, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. See, I am standing beside this spring; if a maiden comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” And if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one HaShem has chosen for my master’s son.’ “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’ “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So I drank, and she watered the camels also. “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ “She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him.’ “Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, And I bowed down and worshiped HaShem. I praised HaShem, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.” Laban and Bethuel answered, “This is from HaShem; we can say nothing to you one way or the other. Here is Rebekah; take her and go, and let her become the wife of your master’s son, as HaShem has directed.” When Abraham’s servant heard what they said, he bowed down to the ground before HaShem. Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother. Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank and spent the night there. When they got up the next morning, he said, “Send me on my way to my master.” But her brother and her mother replied, “Let the girl remain with us ten days or so; then you may go.” But he said to them, “Do not detain me, now that HaShem has granted success to my journey. Send me on my way so I may go to my master.” Then they said, “Let’s call the girl and ask her about it.” So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?” “I will go,” she said. So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies.” Then Rebekah and her maids got ready and mounted their camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left. Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel And asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?” “He is my master,” the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself. Then the servant told Isaac all he had done. Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.


The bride was chosen by the son’s father or by the young man himself. For illustration’s sake, an example of the last possibility will be used.


A young man went to the home of his potential bride-to-be. He carried three things with him: a large sum of money in order to pay the price for his bride, a betrothal contract called a Shitre Erusin, and a skin of wine. Of course, anyone arriving with these things would immediately be under suspicion. The man approached the girl’s father and older brothers. The contract was laid out, and the bride-price was discussed. Finally, a glass of wine was poured. If the father approved, then the maiden was called in. If she also approved, then she would drink the wine. In doing so, she committed herself to this man, agreeing to follow the contract that now was a legal document between the two. They would be called husband and wife at this time, and their union could only be dissolved by a divorce. However, their status was that of betrothed, rather than that of fully married.


After the wine had been drunk, the man made the statement that he would go to his father’s house and prepare a place for her. This place is known as chadar (chamber), sometimes referred to as chupah (or honeymoon bed with a canopy). From the time that the Shitre Erusin was ratified, the young woman was consecrated, kiddushin - set apart to her husband. She has been bought with a price.


I Corinthians 6:20 You were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.


I Corinthians 7:23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.


She must spend her time preparing to live as a wife and mother in Israel. Her days of waiting for her wedding are spent in learning how to please her husband.


Meanwhile, the young man returned to his father’s home, and the chadar goes under construction. The young Jewish bridegroom would make the following speech as he was leaving:


Yochanan (John) 14:2-3 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.


The room is provided with every comfort, as they will retire here for one week following their wedding ceremony. We see this seven day[1] period in:


Bereshit (Genesis) 29:22-28 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her. And Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to his daughter as her maidservant. When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife.


and in:


Shoftim (Judges) 14:10-18 Now his father went down to see the woman. And Samson made a feast there, as was customary for bridegrooms. When he appeared, he was given thirty companions. “Let me tell you a riddle,” Samson said to them. “If you can give me the answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes. If you can’t tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.” “Tell us your riddle,” they said. “Let’s hear it.” He replied, “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” For three days they could not give the answer. On the fourth day, they said to Samson’s wife, “Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father’s household to death. Did you invite us here to rob us?” Then Samson’s wife threw herself on him, sobbing, “You hate me! You don’t really love me. You’ve given my people a riddle, but you haven’t told me the answer.” “I haven’t even explained it to my father or mother,” he replied, “so why should I explain it to you?” She cried the whole seven days of the feast. So on the seventh day he finally told her, because she continued to press him. She in turn explained the riddle to her people. Before sunset on the seventh day the men of the town said to him, “What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?” Samson said to them, “If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.”


The young man, if asked when the day of his wedding will be, replies, “No man knows except my father.” In Israel the father had to be satisfied that every preparation had been made by his son before he gave him permission to go and get his bride.


The groom secured two close friends to assist him in securing his bride and during the actual ceremony. These two are known as “the friends of the bridegroom.” They functioned as the two witnesses required for a Jewish wedding. One of them was to assist the bride, and to lead her to the ceremony, while the other was stationed with the groom. He performed a special task when the couple retired into the chadar after the ceremony.


During the ceremony, known as Kiddushin, a second contract was brought forth called a Ketubah. This marriage contract was witnessed by the friends of the bridegroom and turned over to the parents of the bride. It contained the promises that the groom pledged to his wife.


When a couple gets married under the chuppah, the husband proclaims to his wife, harei at mekudeshes li, “behold you are betrothed to me,” as he places the ring on her finger. It is with these words and his action that he accomplishes what is called kiddushin (betrothal), which comes from the Hebrew word that means holy and separate. Marriage sanctifies the relationship by making it exclusive. You are no longer “available;” you are mine and I am yours.


The ceremony was very much like the Jewish wedding of today. As at all weddings, focus was centered on the bride and groom. For this one day they were looked at as king and queen. Every effort was taken, and every possible expense was made to insure their joy. On this day, tradition says, their sins are forgiven. They stand pure, without spot or blemish as they are united.


Ephesians 5:25-32 Husbands, love your wives, just as Mashiach loved the church and gave himself up for her To make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, And to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Mashiach does the church-- For we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Mashiach and the church.


Following the ceremony, the bride and groom entered the chadar. Here the groom gave gifts to the bride:


Bereshit (Genesis) 34:12 Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the girl as my wife.”


Bereshit (Genesis) 24:53 Then the servant brought out gold and silver jewelry and articles of clothing and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave costly gifts to her brother and to her mother.


The couple spent seven days under the chupah, or literally in the chamber. The friend of the bridegroom stood at the door. All the guests of the wedding assembled outside, waiting for the friend of the bridegroom to announce the consummation of the marriage, which was related to him by the groom:


Yochanan (John) 3:26-30 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan--the one you testified about--well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Mashiach but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.


At this signal, great rejoicing broke forth in a week long celebration, until the two emerged from the chupah to begin the actual wedding feast.


Revelation 19:4-9 The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!” Then a voice came from the throne, saying: “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!” Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”


The other friend of the bridegroom, the one assigned to the bride, is seen in Shemot (Exodus) 19, as Moses leads Israel, the bride of the Messiah, to meet her God at Mt. Sinai. In fact, Hag Shavout is recorded as the betrothal between Israel and HaShem:


Yirimiyah (Jeremiah) 2:2-3 “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: “‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to HaShem, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’” declares HaShem.


Even as the first trump (shofar) announced the betrothal, so the last trump announced the wedding. In Tehillim (Psalms) 45 we are brought to the biblical portrayal of not only the wedding of the Mashiach but also his coronation. The guests are assembled, and gifts are distributed:


Tehillim (Psalms) 45:1-17 {For the director of music. To [the tune of] “Lilies.” Of the Sons of Korah. A <maskil.> A wedding song.} My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one; clothe yourself with splendor and majesty. In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds. Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies; let the nations fall beneath your feet. Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy. All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad. Daughters of kings are among your honored women; at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir. Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear: Forget your people and your father’s house. The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord. The Daughter of Tyre will come with a gift, men of wealth will seek your favor. All glorious is the princess within [her chamber]; her gown is interwoven with gold. In embroidered garments she is led to the king; her virgin companions follow her and are brought to you. They are led in with joy and gladness; they enter the palace of the king. Your sons will take the place of your fathers; you will make them princes throughout the land. I will perpetuate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever.


The following passage shows the glory of the bride and groom bedecked in all their wedding finery:


Yeshayah (Isaiah) 61:10 - 62:5 I delight greatly in HaShem; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign HaShem will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of HaShem will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in HaShem’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for HaShem will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.


It is interesting to note that the only time, in Luqas (Luke), that Yeshua speaks of the bridegroom is just before the second Sabbath of Pesach week in:


Luqas (Luke) 5:30-35 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners‘?” Yeshua answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” Yeshua answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”


A chupah is:


2646 chupah, khoop-paw’; from 2645; a canopy:-chamber, closet, defense.


This word, chupah, is used in only a few places in scripture:


Tehillim (Psalms) 19:1-5 {For the director of music. A psalm of David.} The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, Which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.


Yoel (Joel) 2:16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.


Yeshayah (Isaiah) 4:1-6 In that day seven women will take hold of one man and say, “We will eat our own food and provide our own clothes; only let us be called by your name. Take away our disgrace!” In that day the Branch of HaShem will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. Then HaShem will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.


It is from here that our sages understood that this is exactly what happened when the children of Israel left Egypt:


Shemot (Exodus) 13:17-22 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.” After leaving Succoth they camped at Etham on the edge of the desert. By day HaShem went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.


Our sages understood that the cloud first covered the Israelites at Succoth after they left Ramases. So, Succoth was aptly named by this event.


Our sages therefore see this as the betrothal:


Vayikra (Leviticus) 22:32-33 Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites. I am HaShem, who makes you holy And who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am HaShem.”


The Sfat Emet[2] said that this verse should be translated as:


Vayikra (Leviticus) 22:32-33 I shall be holy in the midst of the Children of Israel; I am Hashem, Who betrothed you while taking you out from the land of Egypt to be for you a God; I am Hashem.


6942 qadash, kaw-dash’; a prim. root; to be (causat. make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally):-appoint, bid, consecrate, dedicate, defile, hallow, (be, keep) holy (-er, place), keep, prepare, proclaim, purify, sanctify (-ied one, self), x wholly.


So, a betrothal is a kiddushin. The Encyclopedia Judaica indicates that a betrothal was a two step process. The betrothal, erusin or shiddukhin, was followed by the kiddushin.


The only time that the word “betroth“ is used in relation to HaShem and Israel is in Hoshea and is obviously yet future:


Hoshea (Hosea) 2:16-20 “In that day,” declares HaShem, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked. In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge HaShem.


Betroth 781 ‘aras, aw-ras’; a prim. root; to engage for matrimony:-betroth, espouse.


It is interesting to note that this was close in time to when Israel is first called a congregation (community) or church:


Shemot (Exodus) 12:1-3 HaShem said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.


At the wedding the bride and bridegroom are consecrated (kiddushin) with these words:


“By this ring you are consecrated to me in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel.”


Note the similarity to this passage:


Shemot (Exodus) 19:9-15 HaShem said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told HaShem what the people had said. And HaShem said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes And be ready by the third day, because on that day HaShem will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain.” After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.”


Curiously, this is the first time that the Torah uses this word regarding His people. He used this term in Bereshit (Genesis) to describe the seventh day, and he used it to describe the firstborn at Pesach.


Before the wedding the groom required three days to prepare, according to the encyclopedia Judaica.


Selected Essays:


SHABBAT SHALOM: We’re b-a-a-c-k!

By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin


Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:32 And you will I scatter among the nations, and I will draw out the sword after you; and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities a waste.


The relationship between God and Israel is often compared to a marriage. The biblical Song of Songs, the Friday evening Sabbath prayer “Come my beloved, greet your bride,” and many of the customs linking a Jewish wedding with the revelation at Sinai all point toward this stunning metaphor. Indeed, when a Jew dons his tefillin each morning, he is putting on a wedding ring: “I shall betroth you to Me forever; I shall betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in loving kindness and compassion; I shall betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know God.” (2:21-22)


The problem with these words is that we would like to believe that our relationship to God is an eternal one, yet divorce statistics suggest that contemporary marriage is more temporary than permanent. Furthermore, add to this fact the biblical law which forbids a husband from taking back a wife who has committed adultery, and our metaphor slams the door on the return of Israel to her Husband in Heaven after having been involved in foreign entanglements!


What we must do - as indeed the Bible does - is to add to our symbol of husband and wife a second metaphor: the unique bond between the Israelite and the Land of Israel.


One of the Torah’s major motifs, constantly repeated in our prayers, benedictions and festivals, is the incomparable relationship between the Jewish people and the Land. Every significant prayer, from the daily Amida to the Grace After Meals, serves as an occasion on which we emphasize the tie between the land and the people, the people and the land.


Israel is a part of the very air we’ve been breathing during our almost 2,000-year exile. After all, what better way to keep alive the dream of Israel than to thank the Almighty after every meal with bread “for the land [of Israel] and the sustenance,” and to climax each Yom Kippur fast and Pesach Seder with the declaration: “Next Year in Jerusalem!”


The relationship between the land and the people has a parallel in the relationship between husband and wife. For example, the people have obligations to the land, (the Sabbatical shmita year, when the land must lie fallow, and various prohibitions of mixed plantings, etc.), just as a husband has obligations towards his wife for food, clothing, and conjugal rights. In the sexual relationship, a wife “gives” herself to her husband, and the land “gives” its produce to the people. The word used for entering the land, ki tavo (Deut. 26:1) comes from the same verb used for sexual intercourse, biya. Regarding the jubilee year, the Torah specifically says that in the 50th year, the land is sanctified, and sanctification (kiddushin) is the precise mishnaic term for betrothal.


BETRAYAL between husband and wife results in divorce, and betrayal between the people and the land also results in divorce - exile. Hence the Torah portion, Behukotai, is known for its chastisements, and at its climax, the Torah delineates what will happen if the people don’t keep the land’s sabbaticals: “And your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. Then shall the land be paid back her [disregarded] sabbaticals.” (Lev. 26:34)


Rashi even calculates that the seventy years of Babylonian exile correspond to the number of sabbatical and jubilee years ignored by the people during their 430-year presence in the land. The land will insist on being paid.


However, just as the jubilee year guarantees that individual parcels of land are eventually returned to their original owners and so the land becomes redeemed, similarly does the Bible guarantee that ultimately the land of Israel will return to the people of Israel, and then we will be redeemed. God’s covenant with Israel promises an eternal relationship between the land and the people, between God and His nation.


Thus the sting of the curses is ameliorated by the eventual affirmation: “Then shall I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac and so also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.” (Lev. 26:42-43) These verses reflect not only return but forgiveness. The metaphor of the land holds the possibility of repentance - and therefore redemption.


The reading from the prophets (Jeremiah 32) gives this idea practical significance. Jeremiah is the prophet of doom, who must foretell the destruction of his beloved Jerusalem, and the exile of his errant nation. In the midst of his tear-drenched elegies, his uncle Hanamel asks him to redeem his ancestral land in Anatot, outside Jerusalem. Jeremiah writes out a contract and pays a high price in order to buy back (redeem) his uncle’s property.


At first glance, Jeremiah’s action defies all logic! How can the prophet who foresees Israel’s doom and banishment, pay good money for real estate on the very eve of destruction? One can imagine what a nosedive the real estate market must have taken during the period immediately prior to the prophesied destruction!


But Jeremiah’s action is the ultimate expression of Jewish faith that the relationship between the people to the land is eternal. Jeremiah demonstrated by his purchase and “redemption” that it’s only a a question of time before the “children shall come back to their own border” (Jer. 31:16), and that “there will yet be heard in the cities of Judea sounds of joy and happiness, sounds of brides and grooms.”


And Jeremiah was right! The children have returned.


* * *


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501


Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/


(360) 918-2905


Return to The WATCHMAN home page

Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: gkilli@aol.com

[1] Midrash Rabbah - Genesis III:6, Midrash Rabbah - Ecclesiastes I:35, Kethuboth 4a

[2]  “The Three Festivals“ - by Sfat Emes, page 319. Published by Mesorah Publications Ltd.