May I Have Your Daughter’s Hand in Marriage?
“May I Have Your Daughter’s Hand in Marriage”
Since we celebrate receiving the Torah on Shavuos, it would be fitting to discuss the blessings that we recite prior to learning Torah which are called Birchas HaTorah. According to the Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194 Spain-1270 Acco) in Sefer Hamitzvos (mitzva 15), the recitation of Birchas HaTorah is not the fulfilment of Rabbinic Law but rather it is a fulfilment of Torah Law (see Berachos, chap. 3, “Mi Shimeisu”, pg. 21a, based on Parshas Ha’azinu, 32:3).
The Gemara in Meseches Berachos (chap. 1, M’eimasai”, pg. 11b) tells us that there are two blessings to Birchas HaTorah. Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel and Rebbi Yochanan say that the first blessing is, “La’asok b’Divrei Torah” (to engross ourselves in the words of Torah), which concludes with the words “v’Ha’arev Nah” (and please sweeten the words of Torah in our mouths etc.; see Tosafos, Berachos, chap. 7, “Shlosha She-achlu”, pg. 46a, divrei hamaschil “Kol Haberachos”; also see Mechaber and Rema, Orach Chaim, 47:6).
Rav Hamnunah says that the second blessing is, “Asher Bachar Banu” (Who chose us from all the nations and gave us His Torah).
One question which comes to mind is, “Why are there two blessing prior to performing the mitzva of learning Torah?” Every other mitzva only has one Birchas Hamitzvah (mitzvah blessing) recited prior to performing that mitzvah. Apparently, the mitzvah of learning Torah should be no different. Why is Birchas HaTorah different? In order to address this, we will move on to share the following teaching.
In Parshas v’Zos Haberacha (33:4) it says, “The Torah that Moshe commanded us Morasha (is the inheritance) of the Congregation of Ya’akov.” The Gemara in Pesachim (chap. 3, “Eilu Ovrin”, pg. 49b) tells us not to read that word as “Morasha,” but rather, we should change the vowelazation and read it as “Meorasa” (betrothed). Meaning, the Torah is betrothed to the Congregation of Ya’akov.
In his Chiddushe Aggados, the Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, 1555-1631, Poland) explains the reason why this Gemara in Pesachim does not translate the word “Morasha” simplistically as an “inheritance.” It is because the Mishna in Meseches Avos (chap. 2, “Rebbi Omer”, Mishna 12 or 17) quotes Rebbi Yosi as saying, “Apply yourself to learn Torah because it is not a yerusha (inheritance) to you.”
Since the Mishna in Avos states that Torah is not a yerusha, the Gemara in Pesachim was forced to define the word Morahsa differently, by changing the pronunciation of that word to Meorasa.
This comes to teach us that, at first, Hashem gave the Torah to us as an “Arusa” (a term which is used to describe the first stage of marriage). In many places, the Torah is compared to a woman, and Hashem married her off to the Jewish people (the groom). However, the Jewish people are meant to toil in the study of Torah which makes the Torah into our “Nesua” (a term which is used to describe the second and final stage of marriage).
The connection between the Jewish people and the Torah is being compared to a marriage between a husband and a wife. In Talmudic times there were two stages in marriage: 1) Eirusin (by giving a ring), and 2) Nesuin (consummation) which were typically separated by twelve months. Similarly, the Jewish people married the Torah in two stages.
The first stage was when Hashem gave us the Torah at Sinai as an Arusa, and the second stage happens when we apply ourselves to study Torah which makes her (the Torah) into a Nesua.
Now we are going to explore what we are supposed to use as the kinyan (acquisition) in order to make the Torah into our Nesua.
In Pirkei Avos (6:6) it says that the Torah is acquired with forty-eight things. The Bereisa there goes on to enumerate what those forty-eight things are. Based on this, the Reishis Chochma (Rabbe Eliyahu de Vidas, 16th cent. Tzfas-Chevron) in Sha’ar Hakedusha (chap. 4) says that just as a woman can be married to a husband in one of three ways (kesef, shtar, and biya; Mishna, Meseches Kedushin, chap. 1, “Ha-isha Niknis”, Mishna 1, pg. 2a), so is the Torah married to the Jewish people through the forty-eight ways.
This teaching of the Reishis Chochma is complemented by another teaching from the Vilna Gaon.
In Mishlei (31:10) it says, “Eishes Chayil Mi Yimtza” (an accomplished woman who can find). The Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu, 1720 Belarus-1797 Lithuania) in his Biur HaGR”A (ibid) says that the Eishes Chayil under discussion refers to the Torah. The reason why the verse calls her “Chayil” is because the Torah is acquired with the forty-eight ways. The number forty-eight is hinted to in this verse because the word “Chayil” in numerically forty-eight.
This numerical equivalency teaches us that the Torah is married to the Jewish people like a woman (Eishes), through the forty-eight (Chayil) ways that the Torah is acquired with.
Rabbi Pinchas Justman (1848-1920, the Piltzer Rebbe, Poland; brother-in-law of the Sfas Emes), in his Sifsei Tzaddik on Shavuos (#10), quotes his grandfather, the Chiddushei Harim, who says that since we marry the Torah as a Nesua through the forty-eight ways, Hashem gave us forty-nine days of Sefiras HaOmer. During the first forty-eight days we are supposed to try to cultivate the forty-eight ways; by focusing on one way each day. Then, on the forty-ninth day, we are supposed to review all forty-eight ways. Then we will be prepared to receive the Torah on the fiftieth day, Shavuos, which we will marry as an Arusa and as a Nesua.
There is an acid test to find out if we have succeeded in marrying the Torah to the point of Nesuin, where the Torah becomes our full-fledged wife. We are going to see what that test is right now.
In Pirkei Avos (6:1), Rebbi Meir says that anyone who engages in Torah study Lishma (for its own sake) will merit many things. Torah secrets will be revealed to him, he will become like a fountain that steadily strengthens, and he will be like an unceasing river.
Based on this teaching, the Degel Machaneh Ephraim (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov, 1748-1800, Ukraine; the Ba’al Shem Tov’s grandson, Parshas Yisro) says that since this Bereisa said that Torah secrets will be revealed to him, we see that the test to know if the Torah became his Nesua is if the Torah reveals her secrets to him.
This is because it is known that a woman only reveals her true innermost secrets to her husband. Therefore, if the Torah reveals her secrets to someone, it is proof that that person completely married the Torah to the point of Nesua.
The Zohar (Parshas Mishpatim, pg. 99a) says that at first, she (the Torah) reveals her pshat to him. Then, as the relationship progresses, she reveals her remez to him. As the relationship intensifies, she reveals her drush to him. Eventually, she reveals her sod to him. The Torah even asks her Father (Hashem) for permission to do so.
Based on this teaching, we will see how these Torah secrets, which are chiddushei Torah, enable us to fulfil a certain mitzva at all times.
In his Sefer Derech Pikudecha, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, Poland (1783-1841; Mitzva Aleph, #’s 25-27) posits that it is possible to fulfil every single mitzva in the Torah at all times, even though the physical components of the mitzva are absent. This is because every mitzva also possesses spiritual aspects, and we can fulfil each mitzva on that spiritual level. After all, the Torah is eternal. Therefore, we should be able to fulfil it at all times.
For example, each and every person can fulfil the very first mitzva in the Torah which is found in Parshas Bereishis (1:28) where it commands us to be fruitful and multiply. Even if a couple do not have physical children, they can fulfil this mitzva by bringing forth chiddushei Torah into the world. Those novel Torah ideas are considered to be their spiritual children that they gave birth to.
The Shvilei Pinchas says that when you put all of the above together, you get something like this. The point of Hashem giving us the Torah as an Arusa was so that the Jewish people would toil in Torah making her (the Torah) into a Nesua, because then she will divulge her innermost secrets to us, and through that, we can always fulfil the mitzva of being fruitful and multiply.
Before we answer the original question that was raised above, we are going to share a teaching from Rabbenu Yona (Gerondi, Spain, 1200-1263; Meseches Berachos, pg. 5b). Rabbenu Yona says that the second beracha of Birchas HaTorah (Asher Bachar Banu) is going on Torah Shebichtav (the Written Law), whereas the first Beracha of Birchas HaTorah (La’asok b’Divrei Torah) is going on Torah Sheba’al Peh (the Oral Tradition).
Immediately, this raises a question because it seems backwards. Apparently, the first beracha should go on Torah Shebichtav which we received first, and it would seem that the second beracha should go on Torah Sheba’al Peh which we received second.
The Shvilei Pinchas suggests that the reason why Birchas HaTorah is put into this order is because of what the verse in Shir Hashirim says. In Shir Hashirim (1:2) it says, “May He kiss me with the kisses of His mouth, for Your love is better than wine.” In Shir Hashirim Rabba (1:18) it expounds on this verse by saying that it was said in the name of Rebbi Yochanan that the words of the Scribes (the Sages of Torah Sheba’al Peh) are more cherished than the words of the Torah itself [Torah Shebichtav].
Since Oral Law is even more beloved to God than the Written Law, we recite a blessing over the Oral Law first to show its importance.
The Shvilei Pinchas goes on to say that this answers the question as to why there are specifically two blessings which we recite over the mitzva of Torah study and not just one blessing like we do by all other mitzvos.
It is because we said above that Hashem gave the Torah to us as an Arusa, but through our efforts in learning Torah, she becomes our Nesua. Therefore, the beracha Asher Bachar Banu which goes on Torah Shebichtav that we received at Sinai is Birchas Eirusin. However, the beracha La’asok b’Divrei Torah which goes on Torah Sheba’al Peh that we acquire through toiling is Birchas Nesuin. In other words, we need specifically two berachos for the two stages of marriage that we have with the Torah: Eirusin and Nesuin.
The Shvilei Pinchas concludes by saying that based on all of the above, we will have a better insight into the Gemara in Meseches Sanhedrin (chap. 7, “Arba Misos”, pg. 59a) which says that if a non-Jew studies Torah, he is liable the death penalty. The reason given for this is the verse which says, “It (Torah) is Morasha (an inheritance) to the Congregation of Ya’akov” (Parshas v’Zos Haberacha, 33:4). The Talmud says to read the word Morasha as Meorasa (betrothed).
The Shvilei Pinchas explains that since the Torah is married to the Jewish people, when a non-Jew studies Torah, it is like he is having an intimate relationship with a married woman, and one who is intimate with a married woman is liable the death penalty. This is why a non-Jew who studies Torah deserves the death penalty.
Practically speaking, when we recite Birchas HaTorah each and every day, let us keep in mind that the beracha “La’asok” is going on Torah Sheba’al Peh, and the beracha “Asher Bachar Banu” is going on Torah Shebichtav. Let this serve as a reminder that Hashem first married off the Torah (His daughter) to us as an Arusa (Asher Bachar Banu-Torah Shebichtav), but it is our duty and privilege to make her our Nesua.
Let us also keep in mind that we must try to cultivate the forty-eight ways into our systems even more so, and we must also toil a little bit more in our learning in order to make that happen. Because when we do, she will reveal all of her secrets to us.
So, we have already been blessed by God Who chose us to give us His daughter’s hand in marriage, which is Torah Shebichtav – our Arusa, and may we continue to be blessed with the willingness, fortitude, and strength to bring her into our homes and into our hearts by investing the time and effort to try to understand her more and more by absorbing the forty-eight ways into our systems even more so, making her into our full-fledged wife, and thus benefit to receive her deepest secrets found in Torah Sheba’al Peh, and may we express our gratitude by making some blessings of our own, namely, Birchas HaTorah with even more appreciation.