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When exactly was our marriage to HaShem?

Written by d fine

Just before the marathon description of the princes’ korbanos at the inauguration of the Mishkan, the pasuk says (7:1) ‘and it was on the day that Moshe finished putting up the Mishkan…’ As Rashi notes, the word for ‘finished’ (kalos) is rare,[1] and is similar to the word kalah (a bride). Thus, says Rashi (quoting a Midrash), the pasuk is hinting to us that ‘on the day of the assemblage of the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael were like a bride (kalah) who enters her chupah.’ Beautiful. There is an issue which is touched upon by this Rashi which requires a bit of thinking. Bnei Yisrael’s relationship with HaShem is often described as a marriage; HaShem is the groom and Bnei Yisrael are His bride. See Shir HaShirim for an extended example. But when was the wedding; when did this marriage ‘officially start?’ The problem is that there is a contradiction on this very point

. We have just quoted a Rashi which tells us that the wedding was when the Mishkan was constructed, and the Midrash Tanchuma[2] echoes the same sentiments. But several other sources indicate that Mattan Torah was the wedding. For example, the gemarra[3] describes the sin of the golden calf as ‘how shamed is a bride who cheats [on her husband] during their chupah.’ We see that Mattan Torah was the wedding day, and our ‘worshipping’ the golden calf was a bride (us) cheating on its groom (HaShem). And this is not just a cute piece of symbolism. Rashi points out[4] that Moshe used the Sotah waters to discern who had served the golden calf and who had not; a test reserved for an unfaithful wife. So which is it; was the wedding at Mattan Torah or at the inauguration of the Mishkan? [And I do not think that one can answer that we were married at Mattan Torah, but HaShem divorced us due to chet ha’egel, only to remarry us via the Mishkan, because HaShem forgave us for chet ha’egel – and where do we see that such a ‘divorce’ took place?] This contradiction is dealt with by the Kli Yakar,[5] and the answer he gives echoes an idea pointed out by the Maharsha.[6] There are two stages to a wedding; the kiddushin and the nisu’in. Nowadays, we perform them together at weddings, but it used to be that the two would be a year apart. Kiddushin is the giving of the ring to the woman, accompanied by the words ‘harei at mekudeshet li betaba’at zu…,’ whilst nisu’in is the actual living together as man and wife.[7] Only after both of these stages have been completed are the couple fully married. The Kli Yakar and Maharsha both say that Mattan Torah was the kiddushin, whilst the Mishkan was the nisu’in in Bnei Yisrael’s ‘wedding with HaShem.’ This certainly answers our contradiction above; both Mattan Torah and the Mishkan were weddings; just different stages of the wedding. We shall go on to define kiddushin and nisu’in a bit more precisely, and give illustrations of how these stages were fulfilled in our wedding with HaShem. Remember that HaShem is the groom and we are the bride.
First, to kiddushin. Kiddushin results in two separate effects;[8] the groom designates the bride for himself,[9] and the bride is forbidden to anyone else.[10] In the comparison to our wedding to HaShem, this means that a) HaShem (the groom) designated the Bnei Yisrael as His bride, and b) we committed to each other; not to have the same relationship with anyone else. The first stage (I.e. HaShem choosing us) is evident in the fact that He gave us the Torah. The second stage (committing only to each other) is shown through our commitments not to serve any other gods, and HaShem committed that He would not rest His Shechinah amongst the other nations of the world.[11] Indeed, the gemarra[12] tells us that according to one opinion, the name Har Sinai was only a nickname, and denotes the fact that the other nations began to resent (‘sinah’) us as a result of Mattan Torah; because of these commitments to a special relationship between HaShem and us. We shall move on to another aspect of kiddushin; the respective roles of the bride and groom in effecting the kiddushin. The groom’s role in kiddushin is evident; he gives the bride the ring, declares her betrothed to him, and essentially creates the kiddushin. What is the bride’s role in all of this (apart from the dress and make-up, of course)? The Ran[13] tells us that ‘once the woman agrees to the groom’s kiddushin (if she wants to) she nullifies herself and her wills and makes herself ownerless with regards to her groom, and the groom takes her into his domain.’ In short, for kiddushin, the woman is to make herself ownerless (hefker) by ‘giving up’ her desires and character for that moment. Where did this take place in our marriage to HaShem? Firstly, when we came to Har Sinai, we were ‘like one man with one heart;’[14] we reached a level of unity which can only be achieved when everyone puts aside their personal differences /squabbles and nullifies themselves and their egos. But secondly, and more celebrated, is our declaration of ‘we will do and [then] we will listen;’ we accepted the mitzvos before even knowing what they would entail. We put our trust in HaShem and nullified our egos and desires in subjugating ourselves to HaShem’s Will.
That’s kiddushin. What about nisu’in? Nisu’in is when the bride and groom live together, and the Mishkan was our nisu’in because that was when HaShem’s Shechinah resided amongst the Bnei Yisrael, so to speak: ‘make for Me a Mikdash and I shall dwell within them’ (Shemos 25:8).
Now that we have seen what the processes of kiddush’in and nisu’in are and how they were demonstrated in our marriage to HaShem, we shall mention three illustrations of/sources for Mattan Torah being our kiddushin and the Mishkan being our nisu’in.
Firstly, the gemarra[15] tells a story in which the deal struck between the prospective groom and the bride was that they would do kiddushin, and then he would go off to learn in yeshiva for several years before coming back to perform nisu’in. However, after the prospective bride was presented to him, the groom decided that he would first perform both kiddushin and nis’uin, and only then would he go off to yeshiva. His potential father-in-law told him that this is exactly what HaShem did; initially, He ‘planned’ to only have a Mishkan /Mikdash when the Bnei Yisrael got to Eretz Yisrael, but He then decided to bring this nius’in earlier and have a Mishkan constructed in the desert. We see from here, says the Maharsha, that the Mishkan is our nisu’in. The next two illustrations come from the aforementioned Kli Yakar. The Mishna in Ta’anis analyses a pasuk in Shir HaShirim which refers to ‘the day of his (the groom’s) wedding’ and ‘the day of the joy of his heart.’ The former, the Mishna says, refers to Mattan Torah, and the latter to the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. What the Mishna is referring to, explains the Kli Yakar, is our same distinction of Mattan Torah being the kiddushin and the Mishkan/Midkash being the nisu’in. Lastly, the Kli Yakar points out an extraordinary parallel to cement the proposition that Mattan Torah was the kiddushin and the Mishkan the nisu’in. Practice used to be that there was a ten-month gap between kiddushin and nisu’in in order for the bride to have time to save up to finance her jewellery and for the groom to finance the wedding,[17] which, if combined with the wedding celebrations (sheva brachos and all), make up the gap between Rosh Chodesh Sivan (when our kiddushin at Har Sinai/Mattan Torah began) and Nissan (the completion and inauguration of the Mishkan; the nisu’in).
In summary, we have seen an important principle with regards to the stages of the wedding between HaShem and us in the desert; a principle which has sources to back it up, and answers contradictions as to when our wedding was.
Have a great Shabbos,

[1] The word should normally be kelos, as the brackets in Rashi informs us [2] Midrash Tanchuma Bamidbar 5; quoted in the opening Kli Yakar of Bamidbar [3] Gemarra Shabbos 88b [4] Rashi Shemos 32:20 [5] Kli Yakar, start of Chumash Bamidbar [6] Maharsha Kesubos 62b ‘da’as’ [7] There is a significant dispute amongst the Rishonim as to when exactly nisu’in is fulfilled [8] See Kovetz Shiurim chelek beis, siman 27. The Vilna Ga’on phrases this in terms of the ‘two kisses’ referred to in Shir HaShirim. [9] Tosafos Kesubos 2b ‘matzi’ [10] See Tosafos Kiddushin 2b ‘de’asar’ [11] Rashi Shemos 34:9 ‘yelech’ and ‘unechaltanu’ together [12] Gemarra Shabbos 89b [13] Ran Nedarim 30a ‘ve’isha’ [14] Rashi Shemos 19:2 [15] Gemarra Kesubos 62b [16] Mishna Ta’anis 26b [17] The Kli Yakar says that there was a ten-month gap, but I do not understand this particularly well, because the Mishna (Kesubos 57a) says that there was a twelve-month gap

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