Haftorat Parashat Pinchas
This week's Haftorah mentions the beautiful verse that compares Israel's relationship with Hashem to that of a bride and a groom. This metaphor clearly alludes to the exclusive, monogamous marriage as the highest ideal in the Torah. Expanding on this topic, I have included exerts with my response to some of the 17 comments I received in reply to my article on Pilegesh, (Parashat Chukat). I look forward to further discussion.
Comfort After Affliction
This week's haftorah is the first of a series of the three "haftorot of affliction," read during the Three Weeks of mourning for Yerushalayim, between the fasts of 17 Tamuz and 9 Av. Rabbi Avraham ben David of Luneil writes, "From Parashat Bereshit through the 17th of Tamuz, the haftarah is chosen to correspond to the parashah topic by topic; but from there on, the choice of haftarah is determined entirely by the time of year and the corresponding historical events" (Sefer HaManhig, Hilchot Ta'anit, Din 16). When as this year, the 17th of Tamuz falls before Parshat Pinchas, its haftarah begins the sequence of twelve haftarot: Three of Affliction, Seven of Consolation, and Two of Repentance. The three of "punishment" are followed by ten of "comfort" since after suffering it takes a long time to be comforted.
In Spite of Exile – Hashem Never Casts Us Away
The first vision in the book of Yirmeyahu, the vision of the almond tree branch teaches us that just as an almond tree is very quick to blossom, so too, G‑d quickly carries out His plan to punish the Jews for their sins. The second vision of a boiling pot, whose foam was directed northward, was an allusion to the afflictions the Jewish people would suffer, at the hands of Babylon from the north of Israel. The kingdoms of the north would lay siege on Yerushalayim and Judea, because of Israel's idol-worship and abandonment of G‑d. The haftorah ends with a reassuring prophecy. In spite of the punishments, G-d will never ever cast the Jewish people completely away.
As A Bride Following Her Groom to the Wilderness
No matter how much we may stray from His ways, Hashem will always remember our original love and dedication. "…I remember the loving-kindness of your youth, your love as a bride, when you followed Me in the desert, in a land not sown… Israel is holy to Hashem, the first-fruits of His increase; all that devour him shall be held guilty, evil shall come upon them, says Hashem (Yirmeyahu 2:2-3). Rashi explains that the word kelulotayich refers to entering into the chupah (marriage canopy) with Hashem, through the great emunah that Israel had during the Exodus. A bride is called a kalah from the same word, which also means completion or perfection such as in (Eicha 2:15) "perfection of beauty." Likewise, a bride during her wedding is glowing with perfection of beauty (Metzudat Tzion ibid.). According to Metzudat David, Hashem remembers his love for Israel when she was a bride, at the time of the chupah at Mount Sinai, when we received the Torah. That pivotal moment is compared to the wedding of G-d to His people (Radak Ibid). Malbim illustrates the verse as a metaphor in which Hashem is compared to a stranger who came from afar. A wealthy man's daughter brought him into her father's house, and was kind to him. Her soul cleaved to his and she married him. Finally, she left her father's house to go with him to the wilderness, because of her great belief and trust in him. Each of the parts of this metaphor alludes to Israel's merits. 1. "The loving kindness of your youth" – refers to our Avot (forefathers), who taught the whole world about G-d, when He was still unknown among the nations, who worshipped stones and sticks. 2. "Your love as a bride" – The marriage, corresponds to the Exodus and Matan Torah (Receiving the Torah), when Israel entered a covenant with Hashem. 3. The final stage, "When you followed Me in the desert" refers to Israel's strong emunah to follow Hashem into the wilderness with great desire to cleave to Hashem.
Love After Marriage
Malbim demonstrates how the love between the bride and groom gradually increases; reaching a higher level only after the beginning state of marriage, when an even more trusting relationship develops. My personal experience, of having been married for almost thirty years, is that as we mature emotionally and spiritually, we increase our capacity for true love and unity. As a young bride, my own self-expression was the center of importance for me. Yet, as the years pass, I desire much more to unite with my husband in the highest way. Unfortunately, today's world is full of distractions, and we, women, have so many "important" things to accomplish, that our relationship with our husband sometimes is pushed aside. Perhaps this is also a reflection of our relationship with Hashem, which easily goes down the wayside, if we do not exert a conscious effort. The first step to fulfillment in marriage is to place the relationship as the highest priority in our life. Realizing that the relationship between husband and wife is a reflection of the relationship between Hashem and His people, makes it easier to appreciate the fact that there is nothing more important than working on our marriage. The second step is to get used to praying for the success of our husbands daily, in as much detail as we can, including shalom bayit (peace in the home). I have seen incredible changes happen, as a result of a wife's prayer for her husband. We all know the power of prayer. However, the prayer for shalom bayit is especially powerful, because it is like praying for what Hashem prays for already. The final step is to seek spiritual guidance together. Developing a relationship with a Rabbi, helps direct married couples to develop an evermore trusting relationship.
Monogamy – Reflecting Hashem's Relationship with His People
The comparison between the relationship of Israel and G-d with that of a bride and a groom is a reoccurring theme in the Torah. This teaches us to value the exclusive monogamous relationship between husband and wife. Just as the Jews had one G-d (Ha-shem echad), G-d chose only one people (am echad). In the Garden of Eden, after creating the first woman, (note, Hashem created just one woman from and for man) Hashem describes the nature of the marital institution as the deepest union between a man with his pre-destined wife: "That is why a man leaves his father and mother, and cleaves to his wife: and they become one flesh (basar echad)" (Bereishit 2:24). The matrimony between Adam and Chava fashioned by no other than G-d, in the Garden of Eden, is a model for the ideal marriage. Noach, too, who, preserved human life after the flood, had only one wife. The "woman of valor" glorified in the Book of Mishlei is not "women of valor," and rare was the rabbi, of the thousands of sages of the Talmud, who in polygamous times, had more than one wife. It is true that the bible includes several cases of polygamy. However, most of these cases were not only with the first wife's consent, but even through her initiative. The rabbinic system of law, the halacha, allows polygamy for Sephardim, however, "In a place where it is not the custom to marry more than one wife, a man is not permitted to marry an additional wife besides his wife, without her permission…" (Shulchan Aruch, Eben Ha'ezer Hilchot Ketubot 76:8). From all this there can be no doubt that Judaism strongly upholds an exclusive, monogamous marriage as the highest ideal.
Frustrations with Marriage and the Diminished Light of the Moon
Unfortunately, innumerable women are single, unhappily married, or divorced. As we see from a few of the comments I received in reply to my writing on pilegesh, many women are rightfully frustrated with the institution of marriage. Gila Manolson, author of "The Magic Touch," commented on my article: "Unfortunately, part of the reason why women are willing to be a pilegesh, is probably the statistical lack of eligible, quality Jewish men who want to get married." Getting a get (Jewish Divorce Certificate) can sometimes be a very difficult dragged out procedure, and even after receiving it, there is no guarantee that the ex-husband will honor the ketubah. One anonymous woman commented on my article: "The ketubah is worth nothing in our day and age. A man can refuse to pay it at the Beit Din or he can refuse to pay it afterwards. No community will put an iota of social pressure on a man who defaults on his ketubah payments or child support and allows his ex-wife and children to starve." Believe me, I do not need to ask "a flesh and blood divorced woman how she feels about a ketubah." I am personally, very keenly aware, to the depths of my prayers, of the difficulties many women encounter both in marriage and with the process of Jewish divorce. However, as frustrating as these situations may be, they still do not undermine the holiness of the Jewish marriage. The fact that Israel made a Golden Calf does not counteract the holiness of Matan Torah and our eternal covenant with Hashem. Hashem did recognize that there is something intrinsically unfair in the very fabric of creation, through the diminished light of the moon, which alludes to the woman. This is why Hashem asked for atonement for making the moon small (Chulin 60b). The suffering of agunot, abused and divorced women, whose ex-husbands dishonor the ketubah are manifestations of the diminished light of the moon, for which Hashem requested atonement. However, we need to strengthen our emunah that the end of days is near when "The light of the moon will indeed become like the light of the sun" (Yesha'yahu 30:26).
Strengthen Emunah and Do Not Tolerate Polygamy and Exile!
The difficulties experienced during our pre-redemptive era, are all part of the contractions and birth-pangs of Mashiach. Just like a woman prepares herself for child-birth, so do we need to come prepared into the marriage, and do everything in our power, through self-development and discernment to avoid entering an abusive relationship. Nothing like steadfast emunah, prayer, and guidance by our true Rabbis and Rebbetzins can help support us through the suffering with an un-holy man in the various stages of marriage and divorce. I hope to strengthen the emunah of the woman who commented on my pilegesh article: "I don't want to marry the kind of human garbage I got divorced from. I want a stable, happy, un-abusive man. Those men are usually already married. I can tolerate polygamy. I can't tolerate taking the risk of marrying another abusive man who won't pay another ketubah." I do empathize with the distress and frustration in marriage that you express, and I understand that after suffering it takes a long time to be comforted. Therefore, it may take time to build up enough trust to take the steps to seek a healthy remarriage. However, like myself, I am sure you know of women who successfully managed to get out of an abusive marriage, and who now are happily remarried to and un-abusive man. "The main thing is not to give up" and settle for less. In spite of all the suffering during the darkness of exile, we need to work on strengthening our emunah every day, to believe that in spite of the punishments, G-d will never ever cast the Jewish people completely away. Hashem will indeed redeem us soon, and renew His marriage to Israel, His one and only people.