Midrash Tanchuma Haazinu brings this hauntingly beautiful story that seems to have nothing to do with the parsha.
A tale of two brothers
There were two brothers who lived far from each other. One was very wealthy and he had one child – a beautiful and pious daughter. Unfortunately, her first two husbands died on their wedding night. When it happened a third time she realized, with great sorrow, that she can never marry again.
The wealthy man’s brother was very poor. He had 10 sons who worked very hard cutting down trees and selling lumber. Despite their efforts, they struggled to put food on the table. The oldest son, sensing the pain of his father over their desperate situation, prayed to God for assistance and resolved to visit his rich uncle. The young man was warmly received at his uncle’s house. After he settled in and felt comfortable, he mustered the courage to declare that he wanted to marry his uncle’s daughter – his cousin.
Everyone began to cry.
They explained that he was putting his life in danger. His uncle offered him a large sum of money to abandon the idea, but the young man insisted. The young woman agreed. The parents reluctantly proceeded with the wedding.
Among the wedding guests was Elijah the Prophet, disguised as an old man. He took the groom aside and advised him that a hideous-looking, poor man will show up at the wedding. When the groom sees this man he must show him great honor and give him food and drink. Sure enough a man who fit this description appeared and the groom seated him in a place of honor and provided him with many delicacies. After the ceremony, the unsightly-looking man took the groom aside and informed him that he is the Angel of Death and he came to take him. The groom pleaded for one week with his bride (Sheva Brachot), but the Angel of Death would not even grant him one day. The groom asked permission to say goodbye to his bride. This request was granted. When his bride heard the news she told him that she needed to speak to the Angel of Death alone. She approached the Angel of Death and told him that under no uncertain terms can he take her husband because it would constitute a violation of an explicit verse in the Torah.
כִּי יִקַּח אִישׁ אִשָּׁה חֲדָשָׁה לֹא יֵצֵא בַּצָּבָא וְלֹא יַעֲבֹר עָלָיו לְכָל דָּבָר, נָקִי יִהְיֶה” לְבֵיתוֹ שָׁנָה אַחַת וְשִׂמַּח אֶת אִשְׁתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר לָקַח (דברים כד, ה).
“When a man takes a woman for a wife, he shall not be conscripted to the army nor be assigned to it for any purpose; he shall be exempt for one year so he can be home to bring joy to his wife that he has married” (Devarim 24:5),
She added: וְהַקָּ”בָּה אֱמֶת וְתוֹרָתוֹ אֱמֶת “And the Holy One, Blessed Be He is true and His Torah is true”
But the bride did not stop there. She threatened to take the Angel of Death to heavenly court if he dared repudiate the truth of the Torah by taking her husband’s soul. Her stirring words reached the heavens and God himself intervened and rebuked the Angel of Death, who immediately departed.
In the middle of the night her parents got up, assuming they would once again have to dig a grave. To their surprise the groom was still alive in the morning. When the word spread, the whole community celebrated together. That’s how the story ends.
Why is Midrash Tanchuma bringing this story? Perhaps because Haazinu is read before Yom Kippur and this story carries a critical message about the raw power of prayer. When there’s so much at stake – like on on Yom Kippur – if your arguments are holy and legitimate, don’t be afraid to bare your soul to God