Shavuot: Love and Marriage
For mystically inclined Kabbalah Jews, every Jewish wedding is a re-enactment by two individuals of the holy covenant first entered into by God and Israel at Mount Sinai, when God and Israel first chose each other. God chose Israel saying, “You shall be a special treasure for me… a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-5). The Jewish people chose God by answering, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8).
Or as the Talmud puts it, “The groom, the Eternal One, is betrothed to the bride, the community of Israel.” (Talmud Pesachim 106b)
Torah is the Ketubah (marriage contract) between the two covenanted partners. Mitsvot (commandments) are their daily loving interactions. Torah study and worship are the pillow talk between God and Israel. Tikunim: Kabbalistic mystical exercises, meditations and marital sexuality are the intimacies of married life.
Thus, when the Song of Songs refers to the “crown that Solomon’s mother made for him on the day of his wedding”; the Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) glosses ‘his wedding day’ to mean ‘the day of the giving of Torah’, and when Rashi (Talmud Ta’anit 26b) glosses ‘his mother’ to mean ‘his people’; Rashi means Israel crowned God as God by saying “we will do”, just as the bride makes the groom into a husband by accepting a ring and saying ‘I do’.
Although Shabbat and Shavuot share many timeless spiritual aspects also they also differ because Shabbat is a highly structured weekly home and community framework; while Shavuot is an highly unstructured annual esoteric experience involving vegetarianism, mid night Torah study, and mystical imagery of weddings and lovers.
Also, on Shabbat, disciples of the sages have a religious duty to have sexual intercourse with their wives, (Talmud Ketubot 62b; Talmud Baba Kamma 88a; Zohar 3:69a) but there is no such requirement for Shavuot because every Jew, in every generation, both married and single, can and should feel like he or she is a spiritual beloved and/or a spiritual lover of God:
“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in loving kindness and in compassion. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord”. (Hosea 3:21:22)
Finally, I want to share an amazing midrash that offers a great spiritual insight for todays generation of lovers. Most of our rabbis, who themselves were so committed to loving God with all their hearts, with all their souls and with all their commitment, could not conceive that the Jewish people standing at Mount Sinai could hesitate when offered the opportunity to become partners with God.
But the Torah itself faithfully records the frequent mood swings and ambivalences felt by the Jewish people while in the desert on the way to Sinai. God’s proposal was the most awesome offer they had ever received.
If many people today have a problem making a long term commitment, what about people who had been slaves only three months earlier. Some said yes right away. Others thought about it for many hours. After a full day, most of them might have made a commitment, but the rest were still undecided.
The rabbis said that Moses added an extra day for them; but even then there was still a minority, mostly men who were afraid to commit. By the end of the second day the women had convinced almost all the hesitant men.
Only a small minority still held out. So would the fear of making a life long, open ended commitment, by an ambivalent few, keep everyone else in the Jewish people from accepting God’s proposal of a lifetime partnership?
Fortunately, God came to the rescue. According to Rabbi Avdimi, son of Hama, son of Hasa, “The Holy One, blessed is He, lowered the [uprooted] mountain over them like a bucket, and said to them, ‘If you accept the Torah, fine; but if not, there will be your grave.” (Talmud Shabbat 88a)
Sometimes, the ardor of the proposal makes all the difference. The Qur’an itself refers to Rabbi Avdimi’s midrash: “We raised the Mountain over you saying: Hold firm to what we have given you, and study its commandments; so that you may attain piety towards God, (choosing to love God) and His protection (as God’s chosen beloveds).” (2:63)
This means that even when you are chosen by your lover to get married, you still have to chose to make the commitment in return.