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Your "Other" Marriage Contract #780

05/30/2023 12:19:57 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Shavuot
Your "Other" Wedding Contract

Today — Shavuot — marks the wedding anniversary between the Jewish people and God. 

It is probably the most important Jewish holiday. Yet, ironically, most people have never heard of it.

If you were to ask most people what holiday we are celebrating this weekend, chances they would answer "Memorial Day."

You are not alone.

Indeed, if there was ever day in need of a marketing campaign, it is Shavuot, because above all, this holiday commemorates, perhaps, the single most important event in Israel's history.

It defines who we are as Jews. It’s what makes us unique.

In ancient times, there were three major festivals — Succoth, Pesach and Shavuot. Hundreds of thousands of would travel to Jerusalem to mark each of these three festivals.

And, while Shavuot’s two biblical counterparts, Succoth and Pesach, are known for building little huts and eating matzah respectively, Shavuot is too often linked with blintzes and ice cream sundaes — supposedly to symbolize how sweet Torah is.

No, that doesn’t inspire me either.

But let’s take a brief moment and establish why Shavuot is so pivotal to Jewish identify.  

The Torah calculates that 49 days after the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites gathered around Mount Sinai, and there, something amazing occurred that changed the course of history.

Moses placed before the Children of Israel the Ten Commandments.

Some biblical scholars say that up to that point, God and the Jewish people were just “dating.” 

Until then, the Torah relates the wonderful stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. It enables us to witness the Israelites’ enslavement and their liberation from Egypt.

But something remarkable happened on the morning of sixth day of Sivan, 3,316 years ago. The Jews and God entered into the covenant of marriage.

God is the groom. We are the bride.

On Shavuot, we read the Ten Commandments, as we are reminded that with freedom, comes a responsibility to act.

Unlike many other religions, Judaism is less occupied by earning a place in heaven. Rather, we commit ourselves towards creating heaven on earth — a world based on justice, equality and kindness.

Have you looked at the world lately? There is so much still to be done. The Talmud tells us that although we can’t heal the world on our own — that doesn’t absolve us from trying to improve our corner of it.

A report in 2016 compared giving levels of Jewish people to other religions. According to Giving USA, the average annual Jewish household donated $2,526 to charity yearly, significantly more than other religions. Most of it was donated to secular causes. Indeed, the idea of universal charity is embedded within the Jewish DNA.

It is said that during that first Shavuot — more than 3,000 years ago — two Torahs were given on Mount Sinai. One was “the Torah,” which centered around the Ten Commandments, and the other was the “oral Torah.”

The latter has been transmitted from parent to child. It never says in the Torah that we should be kind. That is something we learned from our parents, grandparents and teachers.

It never says in the Torah to give tzedakah — charity. That is something our parents modeled.

So, at this time of the year, we mark the uniqueness of the Jewish journey.

The great Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi noted that each religion brings a distinct perspective to the world. Some are more meditative. Some are more prayerful. Some focus more on doing.

Reb Zalman noted that no religion is inherently better than another. Rather, each brings something unique to the combined spirituality of humankind.

So, in many ways, just as couples celebrate on their wedding anniversary — some renew their vows — at this time of the year, we — as Jews — reflect upon our connection with God and with Jewish tradition.

During the 16th Century, Jewish mystics put this special relationship to paper. They took the ketubah, which is signed by the bride and groom on their wedding day, and adapted it to our eternal marriage with God.

Tonight, as our congregation gathers to mark Shavuot, we will read a variation of that ketubah as once again — individually and collectively — we rededicate ourselves, to Jewish values, and commit ourselves to the future.

We do this through respect, kindness, patience, diversity, empathy, care and compassion.

This is what we will read tonight under a communal chupah

Shavuot Ketubah between God and
Congregation Tifereth Israel

“On the seventh day of the month of Sivan, on Shavuot, in the year 5783, corresponding to May 26, 2023, in the city of Glen Cove, New York, we, the members of the Congregation Tifereth Israel, promise to consecrate ourselves, individually and communally, to your Torah.

“We promise to act in such a way as to make the words of Torah sweet by loving, honoring and cherishing each other and the works of your creation.

“We promise to work together to make this a congregational home, which will be faithful to the teachings of Torah, committed to deeds of lovingkindness and Tikun Olam (healing of the world), filled with reverence for learning and spiritual fulfillment, warmed by loving generosity, open to everyone on their spiritual journey, sanctified by music, candles and wine, and always meriting the presence of God in our midst.

“We promise to act as friends, to give each other joy and to support one another in times of gladness and sadness, to honor our diversity, to strengthen one another, and to bring up this and future generations to be good human beings within the covenant of Israel.

“We promise always to support one another and to act with forgiveness, compassion and integrity, guided by the teachings of Torah and linked eternally to the past, present and future of the Jewish people.

“And we do so with respect for God, each other and all of humanity. ‘May the Bridegroom rejoice with the bride while uttering words of praise.’

"We invoke heaven and earth as reliable witnesses.

“And we all say in joy and happiness ‘Amen.’”

Do you agree? What would you add or change?

And so, 3,316 years after the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, we remember through this little known, but significant Jewish festival what it means not only to be Jewish, but also to do Jewish.

It is a time to embrace who we are.

Happy anniversary, as we celebrate our unique relationship with God and the universe. 

Chag Sameach, and Mazal tov.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Wed, February 21 2024 12 Adar I 5784