Friday, March 31, 2023

Shavuot is an opportune time to reflect on and to revitalize our connection with Hashem and with our family members. Jewish tradition compares Matan Torah, the focal point of the Shavuot holiday, to both conversion and marriage, the two contemporary halakhic mandates for a person to immerse in a mikvah. Immersion offers purification and rebirth, and Shavuot thus symbolizes renewal of our relationship with the Divine, and with each other.

Shavuot is a holiday that celebrates geirut, conversion to Judaism, not only because we read from the parashah of Yitro, the first convert to join the Jewish nation, and read the story of Ruth, another paradigm of a righteous convert, but also because Matan Torah itself was a geirut process for the whole nation. The Gemara in Keritut 9a learns the details of the conversion process from the preparations that Bnei Yisrael undertook at Har Sinai. “Rebbi said, ‘Like you, like your forefathers. Just as your forefathers only entered into the covenant through milah (circumcision), tevilah (immersion) and the sprinkling of [sacrificial] blood, so, too, they [converts] enter only through milah, tevilah and the sprinkling of blood.’” Rambam quotes a verse from the Matan Torah narrative in Parashat Yitro, “sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothing,” as the source for the national tevilah at Matan Torah (Hilchot Issurei Bi’ah 13:3, citing Shemot 19:10). Tevilah was thus an essential aspect of the national conversion process at Matan Torah.

In addition to serving as a halachic model for the conversion process, Matan Torah was also, metaphorically, a marriage. According to Rashi on Shemot 19:17, the words “Moshe brought the people out from the camp to meet Hashem” teach that “the Shechinah came out toward them, like a bridegroom going out toward a bride.” R. Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz (1731-1805), in his Sefer Hafla’ah (7b) points out that the second half of the same verse, “they stood at the foot of the mountain (be-tachtit ha-har),” which literally means “under the mountain,” evokes the image of Bnei Yisrael standing under a chuppah. Finally, Megillat Shir HaShirim, which according to Rashi is an allegory for the love between Hashem and the Jewish nation, refers to “yom chatunato” - “the day of His marriage,” which according to Rashi is “the day of the giving of the Torah” (3:11). From the insights of R. Horowitz and of Rashi on Shemot and Shir HaShirim, we can appreciate Matan Torah as a metaphorical marriage between Hashem and the Jewish people.

Geirut and marriage are not only connected to mikvah and to Matan Torah, they are also connected to each other as well. Geirut is a transformation and elevation of the soul, an achievement of greater connection to Hashem. Relationships, too, transform us and help us grow. Familial ties shape and hopefully uplift our personalities. When theTorah guides our relationships, our connections with other people elevate our character and strengthen our connection with Hashem.

By Shifra Schapiro

(Reprinted with permission from the Teaneck Mikvah Association)

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