Under the Wedding Canopy
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein | February 17, 2017
“Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” — Isaiah 6:10
The Torah portion for this week is Yitro, which means “Jethro,” from Exodus 18:1–20:23, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 6:1–13.
Every wedding is beautiful, and Jewish weddings are no exception. But we do something that may seem a little strange to an outsider. As the bride and groom get ready to become husband and wife, they stand under a beautiful canopy called a chupah. There, in front of their family and friends, the groom gives the bride a ring and declares that she is his wife. Then the wedding document, known as the ketubah, is read. Everyone is smiling and teary-eyed, but not everyone realizes what this document says.
The ketubah is, in fact, a contract stipulating the terms and conditions of the marriage. It talks about the obligations of the groom to his wife and what he would owe her if he left her. It’s an important document, no doubt. But under the chupah? The couple hasn’t been married more than two minutes and already we are talking about divorce?
Judaism doesn’t mean to take the fun and romance out of a wedding, but it does mean to interject a very important concept: Marriage is a wonderful privilege, but it is also an incredible responsibility. Good marriages are about love and commitment. Love without commitment is not dependable. Commitment without love is dry.
When God gives the children of Israel the Ten Commandments and the Bible, it is compared to a marriage between God and His people. The children of Israel say: “We will do everything the LORD has said” (Exodus 19:8), and they accept God’s gift. But then, according to Jewish tradition, God does something a little strange. He holds a mountain over their heads and says in essence, “Keep the Torah, and if not, you will be buried here.” The Jewish sages explain that holding the mountain over their heads was like the chupah and God’s words were like the ketubah. God was telling His people that commitment must accompany their love for Him.
In this week’s Haftorah portion, we read about what happens when the contract between God and His people is breached. In Isaiah 6:10, God said that His people weren’t seeing, weren’t listening, and they were not thinking. If they had, or if they did, God said they would know that they were disobeying the Bible and bringing destruction upon themselves. And if they had understood that, they might repent and change. God was telling His children that they had broken the contract and now would pay the price.
The message here for us is that our service to God must be filled with love and commitment. That means that we may have to take certain actions, even when we don’t feel like it and speak up even when it is tough. But love is a commitment – and it goes both ways.
Re-commit yourself to God today, and He will do the same.