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WHAT ARE THE LIFE ALTERING WORDS AT EVERY CHUPPAH?

Friday, 15 July, 2022 - 3:10 pm

Jewish trivia question: Under each Jewish chuppah, the groom utters the nine life-altering words of the marriage declaration, as he places a ring on the finger of his bride: "Behold you are consecrated to me, with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and Israel."
Giving a ring to the bride for the sake of marriage is essential to the halachik process of entering a marriage. But why does the groom add these words: “according to the law of Moses and Israel?” Every mitzvah we do is “according to the law of Moses and Israel.” Why don’t we say this before we eat the matzah, blow the shofar, don tefillin, or affix a mezuzah on our door?
Better yet, we should have said “According to the laws of Torah,” or the “laws of G-d?” why the need to mention Moses?
To understand this, let’s explore two personalities in the weekly portion, Balak.
In this portion, we are introduced to a unique personality: Bilaam.
An archeologic discovery in 1967, at Deir ’Alla at the junction of the Jordan and Jabbok rivers, uncovered an inscription on the wall of a pagan temple, dated to the eighth century BCE, which refers to a seer named Bilaam son of Beor, in terms remarkably similar to those of our Parsha Bilaam was a well-known figure in the region.
His skills were clearly impressive. He was a religious virtuoso, a prophet, a sought-after shaman, a spellbinder, and a miracle worker. Balak says, based on experience or reputation, “I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed.”
Bilaam—the spiritual prophet hired to curse the Israelites—is seen as parallel in some ways to none other than Moses.
Having failed to curse the Israelites, Balaam eventually succeeded in doing them great harm. He ends up being slain in the war of the Jews against Midian, at the young age of 36.
What led to his downfall and to his reputation as an unscrupulous fellow, one of those mentioned by the Mishnah as having been denied a share in the world to come?
Does the Talmud ask what is the meaning of the name Bilaam? Answers the Talmud: it means, “a man without a people”.
What does this mean?
Bilaam is a man without loyalties.
Like a contract killer of a later age, Bilaam was a loner. His services could be bought. He had skills, and he used them with devastating effects. But he had no commitments, no loyalties, no rootedness in humanity. He was the man “belo am,” without a people.
Where do you see this more than in that fantastic exchange he has with his donkey?
As the Torah relates:
Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing on the road with a drawn sword in his hand, it turned off the road into a field. Balaam beat it to get it back on the road.  Then the angel of G-d stood in a narrow path between two vineyards, with walls on both sides. When the donkey saw the angel of G-d, it pressed close to the wall, crushing Balaam’s foot against it. So, he beat it again. Then the angel of G-d moved on ahead and stood in a narrow place where there was no room to turn, either to the right or to the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it lay down under Balaam, and he was angry and beat it with his staff.
G-d opened the donkey’s mouth, and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”
Balaam answered the donkey, “You have made a fool of me! If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now.”
The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have ridden all along to this day?! Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” he said.
Then G-d opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel standing in the road with his sword drawn. So, he bowed low and fell facedown.
The angel asks Balaam why he beat his donkey three times? Balaam says that he sinned, as he did not know that an angel was obstructing the road.
What was the donkey telling him? And why is it important for the story that a donkey gave a sermon to the great and skilled prophet?
The donkey, who by nature is an animal fiercely loyal to those he trusts, was imparting a keen message to Bilaam. You have no loyalties.  
Where is the loyalty, Bilaam? You have spent years with me, and you know that I am obedient and well-behaved. I don’t just crush your feet to a wall, or crouch down in laziness. Instead of beating me could you not show loyalty and wondered why I deviated today from my ordinary behavior? Is this the way you treat a loyal donkey? The moment I do something you don’t like you beat me and want to kill me? Bilaam, you are a user; you know not the meaning of dedication and trustworthiness.
And who was the stark contrast to such behavior? A man who after the way he was treated had all the good reason to show disloyalty, yet never was fickle and never betrayed his people? It was Moses.
What is the first story the Torah relates about Moses?
“And it was in those days that Moses grew up, and he went out to his brothers, and he saw their suffering…”
This would become the pervading feature of his life. Fourteen times does the Torah tell us that the Jews rebelled against Moses. Yet throughout it all, he never deserts his people. He never becomes a person without a nation. He remains attached to them, he is dedicated absolutely and unwaveringly.
In fact, it is the description G-d gives to Moses:
“He is loyal in all My house.”
Moses is the paradigm of loyalty, faithfulness, devotion, and allegiance.
This then is the deeper meaning in that marital declaration: "Behold you are consecrated to me, with this ring, according to the Law of Moses and Israel."
This is more than a legal declaration; it is the foundation for the marriage. “According to the law of Moses and Israel.” Moses and Israel did not always see things eye to eye. There was discord, contention, disputes, and trauma. At times Moses felt terrible about himself and incapable. But throughout it all—the loyalty never wavered. The trust, the commitment, and the dedication were absolute. The Jews, at the end of the day, knew that Moses got their back; and Moses knew, at the end of the day, the Jews got his back.
Rashi says: that Moses is Israel and Israel is Moses! The leader of a generation is one with the whole generation, for the leader is one with everybody.
This is the groom’s statement at the moment of marriage. We shall be married like “the law of Moses and Israel.” We can disagree; we may have to work through issues and challenges—but trust and loyalty shall never falter.
Once a father and son went to the kite flying festival. The young son became very happy seeing the sky filled with colorful kites. He too asked his father to get him a kite and a thread with a roller so he can fly a kite too. So, the father went to the shop at the park where the festival was being held. He purchased kites and a roll of thread for his son.
His son started to fly a kite. Soon, his kite reached high up in the sky.  After a while, the son said, “Father, it seems that the thread is holding up a kite from flying higher. If we break it, it will be free and will go flying even higher.  Can we break it?”
 So, the father cut the thread from a roller.  The kite started to go a little higher; the boy was overjoyed.
But then, slowly, the kite started to come down. Soon it fell on the terrace of the building. The young son was disturbed. He had cut the kite loose of its thread so it can fly higher, but instead, it fell. He asked his father, “Father, I thought that after cutting off the thread, the kite can freely fly higher. Why did it fall?”
The Father explained, “Son, the thread was not holding the kite from going higher; it was helping it stay up high when the wind slowed down, and when the wind picked up you helped the kite go up higher in a proper direction through the thread. When we cut the thread, it lacked the support you were providing to the kite through the thread.”
“At the height of life that we live in,” said the father, “we often think that some things we are tied with are preventing us from going further higher. Sometimes we feel that we can progress quickly and reach newer heights in our life if we are not tied up with our family,  our marriage, our friends, or our community. But we fail to realize that our family, our loved ones, through their loyalty and support, help us survive the tough time in our lives, and encourage us to reach higher heights in our life.  They are not holding us back but are letting us fly. Never let go of them.”

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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