On Lag B’Omer I was invited to participate in two Zoom weddings. One was in the Barn Estate in Clayton, Ohio. Yes, the wedding was taking place…in a barn! Only family attended, but since they had many brothers and sisters, they needed a large open area. This huge farm facilitated social distancing. The other wedding took place in the rural hills of Pennsylvania on a huge open field. Although the setting of either wedding was not what the chasan and kallah had dreamt of, each wedding was one of great joy.
In truth, this reminds me of my grandparents’ wedding. Theirs was the first wedding to take place after the war in the Eisenmann Shul, the only shul in Antwerp, Belgium, that was not destroyed by the Nazis. There were 35 people at the wedding, and unfortunately their parents were not in attendance since they did not survive the war. Yet, my grandmother told me the wedding was incredibly joyous.
Having a wedding in an isolated place is nothing new to klal Yisrael. The first Jewish “wedding” was in the middle of the desert at Har Sinai, with the giving of the Torah! Only the marrying parties were there: the Jewish nation and Hashem. The wedding was broadcast to the entire world. The entire world shook when Hashem said “Anochi, I am Hashem.” This was the first Zoom- equivalent wedding!
The Midrash says Hashem gave the Torah in the desert to impress upon us that the Torah is free for the taking just as the desert was open land and free for the taking. During the giving of the Torah, fire and water were also present, to symbolize that Torah is easily available and free like the elements around us.
But why does the Midrash not mention a baser element that is free for the taking, air?
The Ben Yehoyada brings a Gemara that tells us that when Hashem was giving the Torah, He took the mountain of Sinai and held it over klal Yisrael “as a barrel” and said, “If you accept the Torah, good. If not, I will place the mountain down over you.” The Maharsha comments on the comparison of the mountain to a barrel. When placing an inverted barrel down, it traps whatever is underneath it. Klal Yisrael would not be squashed by the mountain; rather, they would be stuck inside the hollowed-out part of the mountain. Since fire was blazing as Hashem gave the Torah, the fire would suck up all the oxygen and there would be no air to breathe inside the mountain.
That’s why the Torah is not compared to air, because without the acceptance of the Torah by klal Yisrael, there would have been no air! Why the threat to remove the air? It signifies that the Torah is our oxygen and we can’t live without it.
But I would suggest a different approach. The Torah way of life creates its own life-supporting environment. Rabbi Akiva compared a fish needing water to a Jew needing Torah learning. Fish live in a different environment from humans. They have an entirely different way of breathing. Fish also need oxygen, but they get it from the water, something human bodies can’t do. In an analogous way, the Torah provides a life-supporting environment for its followers within klal Yisrael.
At the start of Sefer Bamidbar, the Torah outlines the journeys of the Jews in the desert. We see a unique nation, not yet arrived at its promised land. This is a nation defined by its marriage to the Almighty, with the Torah being the marriage contract. The message for us is clear: We may live in the world together with other nations, but we in fact live in an entirely different environment. We get our oxygen through Torah study and fulfillment of its mitzvos.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.