Till Death Do Us Part

With thanks to my Chavruta Rabbi Jan Katzew Ph.D who refines and redefines what a (learning) relationship can be.

The Story of Ruth read on Shavuot sheds remarkable light on relationships, much can be learned from the abundance of examples and they merit revisiting particularly in light of the ways our societies are failing in this area. The dialogue between Ruth and Naomi in the opening chapter when reread slowly affords striking insights both in respect to the qualities in a personal intimate relationship and the connection one develops with one’s people.

In urging her daughters in law to return home after the death of their husbands, Orpah with tears in her eyes reluctantly agrees and then turning to Ruth, Naomi beseeches her by declaring (in Verse 15)    

וַתֹּ֗אמֶר הִנֵּה֙ שָׁ֣בָה יְבִמְתֵּ֔ךְ אֶל־עַמָּ֖הּ וְאֶל־אֱלֹהֶ֑יהָ שׁ֖וּבִי אַֽחֲרֵ֥י יְבִמְתֵּֽךְ

And she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her god; return after your sister- in-law.”

The sequence; “returning to her people and her God” is particularly noteworthy.  Might it become the precursor for the astonishing, now iconic, response of Ruth to Naomi in the following verse?

וַתֹּ֤אמֶר רוּת֙ אַל־תִּפְגְּעִי־בִ֔י לְעָזְבֵ֖ךְ לָשׁ֣וּב מֵֽאַֽחֲרָ֑יִךְ כִּ֠י אֶל־אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֵּֽלְכִ֜י אֵלֵ֗ךְ וּבַֽאֲשֶׁ֤ר תָּלִ֨ינִי֙ אָלִ֔ין עַמֵּ֣ךְ עַמִּ֔י וֵֽאלֹהַ֖יִךְ אֱלֹהָֽי

And Ruth said, “Do not entreat me to leave you, to return from following you, for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God.

This in itself is breathtaking the continuation almost overwhelming;

בַּֽאֲשֶׁ֤ר תָּמ֨וּתִי֙ אָמ֔וּת וְשָׁ֖ם אֶקָּבֵ֑ר כֹּה֩ יַֽעֲשֶׂ֨ה יְהֹוָ֥ה לִי֙ וְכֹ֣ה יוֹסִ֔יף כִּ֣י הַמָּ֔וֶת יַפְרִ֖יד בֵּינִ֥י וּבֵינֵֽךְ

Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. So may the Lord do to me and so may He continue, if anything but death separate me and you.”

Perhaps here lies the origin for the phrase  “Till death do us part”, a loving and lifelong commitment to one another.  

Resuming our examination of the term;

כִּ֣י הַמָּ֔וֶת יַפְרִ֖יד בֵּינִ֥י וּבֵינֵֽךְ׃

With some poetic licence which the Megillah begs, I think we may translate as ONLY death can part us. No difference of views, background, people, despite all of these, we are able to, as so exquisitely stated in verse 14  וְר֖וּת דָּ֥בְקָה בָּֽהּ But Ruth clung to her. We do not put aside our differences we actually cling or embrace them and one another. This formidable concept read, more learned, on Shavuot, the time of receiving the Torah, could well also be held as the celebrated  affirmation stated by Hillel in the famous encounter with the man who wished to convert to Judaism, that which is hateful to you do not do to others, זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך פירושה הוא – זיל גמור This (principal) is the very essence of the Torah, the rest is interpretation, go learn it.  In the case of Ruth it is the convert teaching us rather than Hillel teaching the convert. What a way to receive the Torah!

Returning to the phrase “Davek”, how could we hear this and not be thrown back to Paradise Lost,  the first time this phrase is used in Bereishit 2:24? At the conclusion of the enigmatic creation of woman where ; “God fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman” we receive the directive;

עַל־כֵּן֙ יַֽעֲזָב־אִ֔ישׁ אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וְאֶת־אִמּ֑וֹ וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד׃

Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh.

Leaving aside the fact that Adam and Eve had no parents to leave so using this precedent is somewhat puzzling, the expectation to cling, hold, embrace is so poignant. Here too we are introduced to the very core of the purpose and potential of being in a relationship. Our relationship with one another and the way we receive her/him, is potentially a precursor or guide to how we receive the Torah. How apt that in the opening chapters of the final Book of the Torah, bookmarking, through the use of the very same phrase, the lessons in relationships exemplified through Adam and Eve, we are instructed or perhaps assured  by Moshe, (Devarim 4:4)

וְאַתֶּם֙ הַדְּבֵקִ֔ים בַּיהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם חַיִּ֥ים כֻּלְּכֶ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם׃

…While you, who cling to the LORD your God, are all alive today…. Till death do us part…  In this…for life!

Chag Sameach.

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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