|Yitro 5765 - Chuppah of Glory|
by Rabbi Russ Resnik
Why do we drink four cups of wine at the Passover Seder? The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 6:4) says that they are a reminder of the Lord's four-fold promise of redemption for Israel (Ex 6:6-7).
"I will take you." reflects the language of courtship and marriage. The whole story of God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt has been compared to a romance, as for example in Jeremiah 2:2. "Thus says the LORD: 'I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown."
The climax of this romance comes at Mount Sinai, where the Lord brings Israel into covenant with Himself, under the canopy of smoke and glory-cloud. In his classic work, The Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg paints a picture of the encounter at Sinai, based on a number of early rabbinic commentaries:
Owing to the brevity of the summer nights, and the pleasantness of the morning sleep in summer, the people were still asleep when God had descended upon Mount Sinai. Moses betook himself to the encampment and awakened them with these words: "Arise from your sleep, the bridegroom is at hand, and is waiting to lead his bride under the marriage-canopy." Moses at the head of the procession hereupon brought the nation to its bridegroom, God, to Sinai, himself going up the mountain. (The Legends of the Jews, Vol. III [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1987], p. 92.)
In this version of the story, the tablets of the Ten Commandments are the ketubah, or marriage contract agreed upon by bride and groom, just as the glory-cloud over Sinai is the chuppah or marriage canopy. This perspective is surprisingly up-to-date, as modern archaeology has uncovered many ancient Near Eastern covenant documents that reflect the same basic structure as the Ten Commandments. It is indeed a covenant document, sealing the union of Israel and Lord: "I will take you as My people, and I will be your God."
In the beginning, marriage was created as an end in itself, instituted because "it is not good that man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18). Woman completes man and is his true counterpart. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Marriage became a social institution and a means to various ends, but in the beginning, it was an end in itself. God's relationship with Israel reflects this primal reality. His betrothal to Israel is a marriage not of convenience, but of passion. God does not rescue Israel from Egypt to accomplish some task within the divine agenda, but as He tells them, "to take you as My people."
Nevertheless, out of this relationship, which is an end in itself, comes much fruit. Most obviously, especially in the context of the Genesis story, marriage leads to bearing children. But even couples without children often have an impact and fruitfulness in life beyond the sum of the two parts. Thus, at Mount Sinai, the Lord anticipates great fruitfulness in His marriage to Israel. Through Moses, He reminds His people (19:4-6):
You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
We can derive three lessons from these words, not only for Israel gathered at Mount Sinai, but for ourselves today.
First, God's love and mercy are the framework of the entire story. He took the initiative to rescue us from Egypt, to split the waters of the Sea, to bring us out into the wilderness, and to reveal Himself to us there in all his glory. The metaphor of eagles' wings captures the sense of God's transcendence and power, mercifully applied on our behalf. J. R. R. Tolkien beautifully employs the same metaphor as he describes the rescue of Frodo and Sam from the volcanic collapse of Mount Doom.
And so it was that Gwaihir [the Eagle] saw them with his keen far-seeing eyes, as down the wild wind he came. two small dark figures, forlorn, hand in hand upon a little hill, while the world shook under them, and gasped, and rivers of fire drew near. And even as he espied them and came swooping down, he saw them fall, worn out, or stricken down by despair at last, hiding their eyes from death.
Side by side they lay; and down swept Gwaihir, and down came Landroval and Meneldor the swift; and in a dream, not knowing what fate had befallen them, the wanderers were lifted up and borne far away out of the darkness and the fire. (The Return of the King [New York: Ballantine Books, 1973], p. 282.)
When we were helpless and lost, God sent Messiah Yeshua to rescue us and bring us to Himself. We must remember this element of the story always, especially as we face difficulty and disillusionment.
Second, God requires that we take our place in this story through obedience. This may sound contradictory to the first point, but we must embrace both truths. The story depends entirely on God's initiative, yet we have a part in it only as we respond to Him. The Lord says, "If you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me." We need to cultivate obedience if we are going to play out our part in the divine story.
And what is our part? This question leads to a final point.
God chose us for a purpose far beyond ourselves. Israel saw what God did to their oppressors (negatively) and to them (positively), but there was still more-they were to be a source of blessing to all the earth. The Lord says, "All the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." A priest is one who lives for the benefit of others. Israel's deliverance from Egypt was ultimately for the benefit of all the nations, that they might know that the God of Israel is the one true and living God. It was part of God's promise to Abraham, "In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3).
In 2005 we emphasized the theme of Chadesh Yameinu, "Renew our Days." Spiritual renewal always entails a renewal of our vision of God. We cannot have a big vision of God and a small, narrow, self-centered vision of our own lives. As followers of Yeshua, we need to remember that our salvation in Him isn't just about.our salvation. It is part of a far grander divine purpose of representing the goodness and mercy of our God to those around us. It means a life of service to our neighbors and faithfulness to the covenant expressed in Torah and all the Scriptures based upon it.
This is how we respond in gratitude to Him who bore us on eagles' wings and brought us to Himself.