Sunday, August 22, 2010

G-d's Marriage with the Jewish People

The very first law that opens the Tractate of Divorces deals with the unusual case of delivery of a divorce from a husband who is overseas. Why did the great sage, Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, open this tractate with this rarity, when a more common law would seem appropriate?

We know from many sources, the event at Mount Sinai sanctified the Jewish people (the "bride") via their engagement to G-d (the "groom"). For this reason, e.g., when Jews make blessings prior to certain observances, they say, "Blessed are You, G-d, ... Who sanctified us with your commandments ...." The entire book of Song of Songs has this metaphor as its subject.

Then came the successive destructions of the two temples in Jerusalem, followed by the exile of the Jews from their land. This era, therefore, represents the divorce by G-d of the Jewish people, which continues to this day.

It is also taught that the future's Era of Redemption, which Moshiach's arrival will debut, will consummate the former act of marriage.

Wait a minute! Wasn't the engagement broken?

A ironclad law of divorce asserts a divorce must originate in and leave the domain of the husband and arrive into the domain of the wife - for that divorce to be considered valid.

But if we speak of the bond between G-d and the Jewish nation, how can a divorce of the Jewish people be valid if the document must leave the domain of the groom, for Whom the entire universe is His territory?

In fact - it can't. No breakup ever took place. It only appeared as if G-d divorced the Jews. As long as a temple stood, ten daily miracles therein could be seen and G-d's presence could be felt. Once the temple was destroyed, daily miracles vanished and Jews felt estranged, especially so when they suffered banishment from their land, and especially so when they suffered oppression at the hands of their host countries. But G-d remained true to His original vows, albeit covertly.

This is exactly the point made by opening the Tractate of Divorces with the case of a husband that sends his wife a divorce from overseas. "Overseas" represents a distant place, just as G-d had made His presence appear distant from the Jewish people. Moreover, "overseas" implies a sea of separation exists, to symbolize a distance so vast as to appear insurmountable.

Nevertheless, as it says in Isaiah (50, 1), "When you went into exile, where is your mother's divorce document she received from Me?" In other words, there never was one. Had G-d been disgusted with the Jews, the banishment from the temple and from Israel indeed would have been everlasting - for in a case of disgust, divorce is final. But in this case banishment came from anger at having been insulted. In time, Jews could have remorse and repent, for which they can then be forgiven.

This then is the intimation of this Tractate's first law. It represents a relationship wherein the distance, which from our perspective appears as an insurmountable separation, will, in fact, in the final era, be removed, past improprieties will be wiped clean, and a stronger and enduring union will resume.

Which, by the way, is why Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi arranged for the Tractate of Marriage to follow the Tractate of Divorces, to symbolize this final, eternal marriage of G-d with His Jewish people.

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