“You are hereby sanctified to me” is the formula that every Jew says to his partner and intended wife at the time of marriage. The formula of the blessing is similar: “Who sanctifies his people, Israel, through marriage [‘chupah’] and betrothal [‘kidushin’ – sanctification].” There are other marriage pronouncements one can use, as the Braitha states (Kiddushin 6a): “[If he says:] ‘you are hereby my wife,’ [or] ‘you are hereby my arusah [lit. ‘fiance,’ - it means the first stage of legal marriage],’ [or] ‘you are hereby acquired to me,’ she is married.” Yet the accepted articulation through the ages is kidushin by sanctification. The relationship between man and wife does not only exist in order to enable the continuation of the human race, although the Talmud (Bava Batra 12a) says: “But wasn’t the world created only for propagation, as it says, ‘He did not create it a waste, He formed it to be inhabited’ (Isaiah xlv, 18)?” This commandment is considered a “great commandment,” i.e. an important commandment, as the Divine purpose of revealing His blessed name in this world is dependant on mankind. Each person, created in the Divine image, reveals a unique aspect of the Divinity that could only be revealed by him. Nevertheless, the relationship between husband and wife possesses additional spiritual meaning.
In the Book of Genesis (ch. ii) the Torah describes the creation of woman, and when G-d brings her to man, “(And) the man said: 'This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of man'” (23).
Man recognizes the special connection between him and woman, which is unlike the connection between male and female in the animal kingdom. This connection is one of life and perfection. Thus the Torah continues by stating, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh” (24). The immediate continuation of this passage reads: “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord G-d had made” (25; iii, 1). Rashi explains: “What is the connection?...Rather it comes to teach that the snake saw the man and his wife naked, involved in intercourse openly, and he lusted after them.” The Netziv observes that this is surprising as all creatures lust after their own species exclusively. The point is, however, that the snake sensed that the cleaving between man and wife was not sporadic, finding expression only in the intermittent moments of intercourse, but a continuous relationship, and the snake was jealous of this.
Earlier (ii, 18) the Torah states, “And the Lord G-d said: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a help meet for him.’” The Netziv explains, in a similar vein, that the intention is not that mankind should have a female sex, for it is obvious that humans could not be worse off than the rest of creation. Rather, the meaning is that in the rest of creation there is no essential connection between the male and the female and this is “not good” because man needs a spiritual layer of existence. This can be found only when man and woman are connected through a deep and spiritual relationship; the only way the world can fulfill its spiritual purpose is through such a relationship. Therefore this connection is a holy one, and if the couple is worthy “the Divine Presence abides with them” (Sotah 17a).
In the chapter on the sotah it says, “If any man's wife go astray, and act unfaithfully [lit. trespass] against him” (Numbers v, 12). Rav Hirsch explains that since the intimate relationship between man and wife is sanctified to G-d, the expression “trespass” is used here, a word usually deployed in connection with a violation of the Temple or its sanctified objects.
The references to impurity and purity, which are found a number of times in this chapter, also come from the subject of the Temple and its sanctified objects. In the words of the “Kuzari”(3:49): “Impurity and holiness are two things that always oppose one another, one cannot be found without the other; where there is no holiness there is no impurity.” When we understand marriage as an expression of holiness and a life of holiness, the trespassing and impurity that result from a destruction of the family trust are made clear.
From this we learn that the appearance of holiness in the world is firmly connected to family sanctity. The perfection of each individual is dependant on the finding of a partner, as “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis ii, 18). In other words, for man to be “good” (=whole) he must find his partner (Unfortunately, there are tendencies in the religious community to postpone marriage until an advanced age, which is a late effect of foreign influences. They do not understand that for individual and general perfection, and for true spiritual advancement, man must establish his family).
If the woman was not impure then “she shall be cleared, and shall conceive seed” (v, 28). Rashi explains (based on the Talmud in Sotah): “If she used to give birth in pain she shall give birth with ease, if she used to give birth to dark children she shall give birth to light-colored children.” Why does this woman, who secluded herself with another man whom her husband had admonished her not to see in secret, merit a greater blessing than she had before she drank the waters? Perhaps the answer is that her consent to a drinking procedure that is demeaning to the woman proves that her relationship with her husband was deep and real, only it had a few flaws that could be mended. Therefore G-d grants her the blessing of children in order to make her family life happier and so that her house will be rebuilt on the foundations of love and companionship. Marriage crises do not prove that the relationship should be broken up quickly, rather they are “signs” that we must begin to rebuild the relationship on a deeper level, and when there are efforts from below, assistance comes from Above.
Our Sages learn from the sotah portion (Chullin 141a): “great is the peace between man and wife! For the Torah said that the name of G-d, which was written in holiness, should be blotted out.” Likewise, the Priestly Blessing ends with “and give you peace” (vi, 26). The question posed is how can the priests’ blessing help give us peace. Thus we learn in the Tanchuma (Nasso viii): “The Assembly of Israel said to G-d, ‘Master of the Universe! You tell the priests to bless us?! We need only Your blessing and to be blessed by Your mouth, as it says, ‘Look forth from Your holy habitation, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel’ (Deuteronomy xxvi, 15).’ G-d said to them: ‘Even though I told the priests to bless you, I will stand and bless you.” This answer is provided by the Torah: “So shall they put My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers vi, 27). The priest himself possesses no mystical power with which he can make abundance and blessing flow to the people of Israel. Rather his task is to implant the name of G-d inside the people of Israel, and then life in all its forms will attain a Divine aspect that will cause the blessing to rest on the nation. This is what “and I will bless them” means. The priest who is involved in the holy service and in the spiritual influence of the people - and he possesses this ability as a descendent of Aaron - is the one capable of bringing to light the Divine strength hidden in the people who are “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus xix, 6). The priest draws his strength from the nation – he is not above them – which is why the priests do not begin to bless until they are told to, as the Shulchan Aruch states (Orach Hayyim 128:10): “If there are two of them, the Leader of the Congregation calls to them, ‘Priests!’” The Leader must also read it out to them word by word, and they answer him with each word (ibid 3). Only when the priest understands that the strength of his blessing starts from the congregation will he succeed in placing the name of G-d on the people and the blessing will be effective. The climax of this blessing is the Blessing of Peace, a harmonization of all worldly forces out of the clear recognition that the name of G-d is revealed in every place and through every phenomenon.
When we say the blessings of the Torah each day, we immediately recite the verses of the Priestly Blessing. This is because the basis of the blessings of the Torah is our election as a people - “Who chose us from all the nations” – and the priests’ function is to establish the Torah in Israel – “They shall teach Jacob Your laws, and Israel Your Torah” (Deuteronomy xxxiii, 10). “By the fixing of the priestly sanctity in the nation, the entire nation will eventually become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Therefore the connection between the blessings of the Torah and the Priestly Blessing is significant” (Olat Re’ayah A, p. 21).
This understanding can be found in G-d’s words, “So shall they put My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them.”
A similar idea is applied by Boaz, who instituted that a person should bless his fellow with the name of G-d (Ruth Rabbati 4:5). When Boaz arrived at his field, “and he said to the reapers: ‘The Lord be with you.’ And they answered him: ‘The Lord bless you’” (Ruth ii, 4). As a result of this institution the blessing returned to the fields of Bethlehem after the great famine that caused Elimelech and his family to leave for Moab. The reason for this is that from the moment that the name of G-d is regularly used by people in their relations, all of life becomes uplifted and heightened and a blessing rests on the work of their hands.
The more successful we are in living with the name of G-d in a meaningful way, the more will peace rest in our homes. On the national level too, we will have a real peace, rather than the appearance of peace based on life’s weaknesses; a peace that will increase G-d’s sanctity in the world, as it reveals itself through the perfection of the lives of Israel.
Print this page
Send to friend
Top of page