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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Vayechi 5774 "Sacred Union"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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A young man and woman, both of whom had grown up in completely irreligious homes and had struggled mightily to keep Torah and mitzvos, finally stood under the chupah together, preparing to unite as husband and wife “כדת משה וישראל – According to the dictates of Moshe and Yisroel.” A Rabbi who was close with the young couple and familiar with their challenges, spoke under the chupah and recounted the following thought:

The Dubner Maggid related a parable about a king who had three daughters. When the first daughter became engaged she approached the king. “Father, I will soon be married and living a great distance from the palace. I will not be able to see you for long intervals of time. If you would give me the priceless vase that adorns your dining room table I will place it upon the dining room table in my new home and it will remind me of you constantly.” The king acquiesced.

Some time later the second daughter became engaged as well. She too approached her father prior to the wedding with a similar request. “Father, if you would give me a ruby from your crown, I will place it on a ring that I will wear on my finger. Whenever I look at it I will remember your home and all the lessons you taught me.” The king lovingly gave her the ruby for her ring.

When the third daughter became engaged the king waited to see what she would ask for. When she approached him he was surprised by her request; she wanted the blueprints of the palace. The king was bewildered, “Your sisters asked for expensive items. Why would you want the plans for the palace?” She explained, “Father, if I take a particular item from you it will remind me of you whenever I see it. However, I wish to build my home as an exact replica of yours. In this way, everything about my home – in fact my home itself - will remind me of you and I will think about you all day long.”

The Dubner Maggid explained that there are those who leave a portion of their homes unfinished as the Gemarah instructs. The unsightly unfinished remains serve as a perennial reminder of the exile and that G-d’s Home, as it were, still lies in ruins in Yerushalayim. But on a higher level there are those who transform their homes into a Temple. They infuse their homes with the sanctity and holiness that was omnipresent in the Bais Hamikdash. In such homes, the home itself is not a reminder of the glory that was lost but is a spiritual replica of G-d’s Home.

The Rabbi speaking under the chupah concluded, “Our bride and groom had to traverse many hardships to be where they are right now. They are not looking to build a home that will reflect the Glory of G-d. They are working to build a home for G-d.”

After Yaakov Avinu concluded blessing his children individually and collectively, he addressed them one final time: “I shall be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave…in the field of Machpelah…There they buried Avrohom and Sarah his wife; there they buried Yitzchok and Rivkah his wife; and there I buried Leah.[1]” Following his request, Yaakov, the last of the Patriarchs “expired and gathered to his people[2].”

It seems strange that when Yaakov listed the distinguished personalities who were buried in the cave of Machpelah he mentioned Avrohom before Sarah and Yitzchok before Rivkah when, in reality, Sarah died before Avrohom and Rivkah died before Yitzchok? It is also perplexing that Yaakov mentioned his parents and grandparents by name.

HaRav Shimon Schwab zt’l[3] explains that Yaakov’s reference to Avrohom and Sarah as well as Yitzchok and Rivkah was not in the capacity of parents and grandparents, but as couples who represented greatness and spiritual distinction. When people mentioned “Avrohom and Sarah” it immediately conjured up images of extreme kindness, love, and unyielding faith. In their home the Divine Presence was tangible and their names represented what they stood for. In a similar vein, “Yitzchok and Rivkah” brought to mind devotion, fear of G-d, and Divine Service on the highest level. The Patriarchs were living examples of the Gemarah’s statement “A man and a woman, if they merit it, the Divine Presence is between them.”[4]

When a couple gets married and set out to build a home and family together, the principles and ideals that they value and base their home on become synonymous with them. Thus, if a family is dedicated to helping others, a mere mention of the family will bring to mind the family’s kindness and goodness.

Rav Schwab explains that when the Patriarchs and Matriarchs were buried in the cave of Machpelah, the cave became a symbol of the values and ideals that they embodied during their lifetimes. When Yaakov requested to be buried in the cave of Machpelah he wanted to be buried in the vicinity of “Avrohom and Sarah his wife” as well as “Yitzchok and Rivkah his wife”, not simply because they were his flesh and blood, but because of the greatness they represented and the holiness of their burial plot. Yaakov recognized that forevermore the cave of Machpelah and the city of Chevron would be transformed into a symbol of faith and the ideals of those who were buried there.[5]

The Torah-source for the laws of marriage, divorce, illegitimate children, and the complex laws of Yibbum[6], are found in Parshas Ki Setzei, a parsha in Chumash Devorim (Deuteronomy). Rabi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt’l[7] notes that the mitzvos commanded in Chumash Devorim are exclusively those that apply to the king or the entire nation. Chumash Devorim was Moshe’s final discourse to Klal Yisroel prior to his death, and therefore he only discussed those concepts and mitzvos that were applicable on a national level.

In essence, his words were meant to guide and inspire the nation when - under the leadership of Moshe’s successor Yehoshua - they would conquer Eretz Yisroel from the Canaanites. This being the case it would seem that the laws of marriage, which are a private endeavor, are incongruous with Chumash Devorim. It would have been more appropriate for those laws to have been commanded in Chumash Vayikra (Leviticus) alongside the laws of immorality and forbidden relationships?

Rabbi Kamenetsky explains that we must conclude that the laws of marriage and everything connected to marriage are not a private endeavor. In fact, the nation as a whole has a vested interest in every marriage, because Klal Yisroel is built on families and the familial structure. The holiness of Klal Yisroel is inextricably bound to the holiness that radiates within a Jewish home predicated on Torah and mitzvos. Conversely, when a marriage is forced to end or when one is deemed unfit to marry and create a new family within Klal Yisroel, it is a tragedy of national proportion. Therefore, the laws of marriage indeed belong specifically in Chumash Devorim.

This idea can be further demonstrated based on the fact that when a chosson (groom) celebrating sheva berachos[8] is present in shul, the entire congregation omits the recitation of tachanun[9]. [This is in contradistinction with the law pertaining to a mourner. Although if services are held in the home of a mourner tachanun is omitted, if the mourner davens in shul tachanun is recited.] The implication of this law is that the mere presence of a groom is considered such a congregationally joyous event that it warrants the omission of tachanun.

It is for this reason that when a young couple becomes engaged we bless them that they merit building, “A bayis ne’eman b’Yisroel- A trustworthy home in Klal Yisroel.” Their marriage is not a personal event but one which affects our entire nation. We are hopeful that they will build a home where the Divine Presence will rest and the continuity of Klal Yisroel will be guaranteed.

In addition, there is an ancient Yiddish blessing that is wished upon a bride and groom, “דער זווג זאהל עולה יפה זיין”[10]. The Satmar Rebbe, HaRav Yoel Teitlebaum zt’l, offered a novel witty interpretation based on the literal text of the blessing:

In various places[11] the word “ עולה- olah” is used to connote the gematria (numerical value) of a phrase. Thus, the blessing can be reinterpreted to mean that the new match should have the numerical value of the word “יפה – yafeh”, which equals 95. According to the calculation of the Sefer HaChinuch, the ninety-fifth commandment in the Torah is “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell amongst them.[12]

In other words, our blessing to the young couple is that the home they build should be a sanctuary for G-d’s Presence, just as the Mishkan and Bais Hamikdash were.

“There they buried Avrohom and Sarah his wife”

“A trustworthy home in Klal Yisroel”

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[1] Bereishis 49:29-31

[2] 49:33

[3] Ma’ayan Bais Hashoeivah

[4] Sotah 17a

[5] [It was only out of humility that Yaakov said, “there I buried Leah,” and not “there Leah is buried,” since Yaakov was requesting that he be buried alongside her.]

[6] if a man dies without children his brother is obligated to marry his brother’s widow (known as ‘Leverite Marriage’)

[7] Emes L’Yaakov, Parshas Ki Setzei

[8] the initial festive week following a wedding

[9] the supplication that is omitted on holidays and other joyous occasions.

[10]Der zivvig zohl olah yafeh zain – literally - The match should ascend nicely”

[11] e.g. Tosefos Megilla 13b

[12] Shemos 25:8

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