When I got engaged to my wife after Pesach, we planned a late summer wedding so I could go back to the Mir Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael for the spring/summer z’man. We would not see each other for close to three months! Everyone in yeshiva was excited for me. One person said, “Oh, being engaged is the best. You found your mate, but you have no responsibilities! Now you can really focus on your learning with a clear head!” Here was a guy who was obviously single, as he had no clue about being engaged. My head was so far from clear! I felt like I was in limbo in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t “single,” but I wasn’t married. This in-between stage was very confusing. I just wanted to get married already.
On Shavuos I ate by one of my best friends and chavrusa, Rabbi Avrohom Weinrib, who had just recently got married. At the meal he asked a question that really struck me. When we wind the tefillin around our finger each weekday morning, we recite the verse “V’erastich li l’olam...”(Hashem says) “I want to be engaged to you, klal Yisrael, forever.” What kind of blessing is that? Can you imagine being engaged forever?? No marriage? That’s utter torture!
In fact, I know some people in a similar predicament right now due to the COVID-19 situation. Their wedding has been pushed off and they are not sure when or where the wedding will take place. Talk about a state of limbo!
Rabbi Weinrib told me a perspective he heard from Rabbi Shimshon Sherer during his own engagement period. When someone gets engaged there is an extra-special adoring feeling that develops toward one’s soon-to-be spouse. In the bracha for tefillin, Hashem is saying He wants to always have that adoring feeling toward klal Yisrael, even after marriage.
Last year, a few weeks before Shavuos, I was in Flatbush for the Shabbos aufruf of my soon-to-be son-in-law, Tzvi Sontag. As we were walking to shul, my mechutan pointed out the home of Rabbi Shimshon Sherer. “Actually, he’s my cousin; maybe I’ll visit him in the afternoon,” I said. Later on I made my way to the Sherer home. We talked about the family and I mentioned to him the explanation my friend told me, in his name, and how it resonated with me so much when I was an engaged young man. “Allow me to expand on that explanation,” he said excitedly.
The bracha on tefillin depicts the love Hashem had for klal Yisrael when He was giving them the Torah. The Gemara tells us Hashem held the mountain over the heads of the entire nation and threatened to kill them if they would not accept the Torah. Why this show of force, when just a few days earlier, they said they would gladly accept the Torah by proclaiming the words, “na’aseh v’nishma, we will do and we will listen”?
The Maharal answers that klal Yisrael was entering into a binding relationship with Hashem and his Torah, similar to a marriage. Yet we know that some relationships end in divorce. But Hashem loved us so much that He wanted it to be binding forever! Therefore, Hashem chose to force the relationship, as the Halacha states: “A man who forces himself on a woman must marry her and may never divorce her, as long as the woman wants to be married.” Therefore, with Hashem’s show of force with the mountain, our link to Hashem is forever.
The Gemara lists several ways to bind a husband and wife in marriage, but the custom is to give the bride a ring. This reminds us of our marriage to Hashem when the mountain above us surrounded us like a ring. And every morning, when we wind the tefillin around our finger, we recite this verse: I shall be engaged to you forever. This reminds us of the love and passion Hashem has for us and that He wants that state of adoration to last forever.
Maybe we can now better understand why the Torah doesn’t describe Shavuos as the day the Torah was given. At first glance, that might seem odd! The Kli Yakar explains it’s because Hashem wants us to feel an excitement for Torah every day, as if we received it that day. Hashem orchestrated the giving of the Torah in such a way as to awaken in us the feeling of engagement that a chasan feels toward his kallah, a state of excitement and passion that we can put into our daily Torah learning.
Every day that we study Torah with true engagement, we keep our relationship with Hashem as vibrant and exciting as that of a bride and groom.
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.