" Wherefore say unto the children of Israel: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burden of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians." Ex 6:2-7
Slowly the bride circles the groom under the chuppah, her face turned toward him as the betrothal is announced, her face radiant with happiness of the night of the wedding festivities. With the richnes and fulness of wine, they drink of life to the fulness of marriage and its joys. Without a help meet, man is incomplete, facing life and all of its worries alone without support in times of sorrow or companionship in joy. As the groom slides the ring onto the bride's finger, he pronounces, "Behold, thou art consecrated unto me by this ring according to the Law of moses..." as they stand beneath the canopy representing the house they will share together and the ehavens spread over them which is the throne of God.
The Kethubah, the marriage contract is read, "Behold I will work for thee, I will honor thee; I will support and maintain thee in accordance with the custom of jewish husbands who work for their wives, and honor, support and maintain them in truth..." And he promises to protect her even though, "all my property, even the mantle on my shoulders shall be mortgaged for the security of this contract and this sum."
So calls to Moses, making a marriage contract for all time with his beloved people, " and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments: and I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians." Ex 6:7
God calls to us, offering a marriage contract. We re like the bride who stands under the chuppah, turning and turning around the groom, with our faces attentive to the beloved in the center of our lives. The contract is not one-sided, but commitment must come also from the bride.
When Abraham sent his servants to seek a wife for his son, Rebekah was not given away by her parents. First her opinion was first sought, her mother pleading with her to delay and it was Rebekah, herself who made the decision to leave immediately.
Marriage is more than the outcome of a heady romance; the passion echoed in the Song of Songs, "My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice. My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone." S S 2:9-10
Marriage involves commitment, endurance through hardship so the vows include a firm commitment from the groom to the wife. Why? Because the rabbis reasoned that woman is the spiritual complement of a man, she gives good counsel and wisdom in time of great need and being physically weaker, she desrves the added protection from social instability. It is far more difficult, even today, for a woman to support herself and be independent, than for a man, particularly if she has the added burdens of raising chidren. Therefore the man was obliged to support her. But in Jewish social law, provision was made always for the redemption of near kin should they fall in debt or be taken as captives, there was always the obligation of society to redeem them from captivity or provide for them. So God offers the contract, but also provides the dowry. He makes provisions for those who accept that they should have land and an inheritance and that he shall look over them and deliver them of their burdens. But the contract must be entered into freely of one own's will.
When Moses climbed up the mountain, he brought down the words of God, but first called the congregation together, asking them if they would accept.
"And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. And the people answered together, anmd said: "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do."
The groom throws the glass on the floor, smashing it underfoot, sealing the contract. Through good times and bad, they are bound, even when the sharpness of life cuts through their heels and the wine tastes bitter in the cup, they are bound to each other.
Throughout scripture there are references to the tenderness and love that God has for his people, watching over them, guarding them through the night. His love is compared the eagle's wings spread over the young; his strength to the eagle that bears its young on its back . "Say unto the children of Israel.." is repeated throughout the Pentateuch; but who is the Father, if not God? The Father of all Creation. The psalmist sings, "But I refrain my soul, and keep it low, like as a child that is weaned from his mother : yea, my soul is even as a weaned child." Ps 131:3 We cling to the hope of a loving God, a redeemer who brings us out of the bondage of daily life and sorrows and watches over us when we sleep. The promises of deliverance is to all who accept the offer given, but it comes with a contract to fulfill His commandments and follow His will.
How can we fulfil the commandments? As Jesus rightly pointed out, there are two. The first being,
"thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thine soul, and with all thine might. And these words which I teach thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sitteth in thy house, and thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them as a sign upon thy hand, and the shall be as frontlets between thy eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates." Dt 6:4-9
But he didn't say that—but he did.
He cited this passage and anyone hearing it in his day would automatically repeat the rest silently, just as they would today. It is the central prayer to Judaism, called the Shema, recalling to mind the love of God and the copmmitment of the marriage vows made at Mt Sinai. It does not say with your heart, but "levavacha" with a reduplicated syllable: to love with both sides of your heart—your good and your bad. When you sit, stand, lie and rise, when you exit and when you enter... there is no time and no place when you should not be aware of the presence of God in your life, or the commitment given to him. The hand as well as the mind should be dedicated to his service. Like a marriage, the chuppah of heaven is over you and you like the bride, circle the groom, with your eyes searching for the love within his heart and face.