It has been a true pleasure to attend many weddings in the last month or so (including that of my own daughter). In honor of all of the smachot I would like to dedicate this shiur to the Haftara of this week.
In general the Haftara is a selection of Navi that relates to the main theme of what we read in the Torah in that particular week. However there are many examples of portions that are selected to do with the present point on the calendar and not the parsha. When Rosh Chodesh is on Shabbat or on Sunday we have relevant haftarot that relate to that particular situation. The three weeks that lead up to Tisha B’av have sections that all deal with the prophecies of doom, while the next seven weeks, which we are in the final stages of now, are all sections that focus on prophecies of consolation. In this brighter section we read of visions of ultimate redemption and the return of both Am Yisrael to our land and God to the mikdash.
Our Haftara from Yishayahu 61 is a very moving and inspirational prophecy. The major motif sets the stage for understanding our relationship with God in a new fashion. In addition to the two standard models that we find in most places, that of parent/ child or that of master/ servant, we are presented with a third model, that of bride and groom. (In fact the original Ashkenazi minhag was to read this haftara for all chatanim regardless of the time of year.)
God is presented as the groom and we are the bride. This is a relationship of a very different nature than the other two. (I write this not only based on the modern version of marriage, which is, thankfully, much more equal than in the past, but even the Biblical model of marriage was significantly more contractual and bilateral than the other models mentioned above.)
Our Haftara starts off with the verb אשיש, to rejoice. “I will rejoice”, where the speaker is Am Yisrael declaring our joy in rejoicing with God. The bride is in love with the Groom and rejoices with Him. A few verses later we read that “ומשוש חתן על כלה ישיש עליך א-לוהיך“ – “as a groom rejoices with the bride, God will rejoice with us”. Here we have the reciprocal side. The groom is the one rejoicing as a result of his close feelings for the bride. This is a clear indication of a mutual relationship where, thankfully, it is impossible to figure out who is rejoicing more! This is the vision of the couple on the wedding day.
Famously this image was incorporated by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz in Lecha Dodi (while he flipped the order of the sentence to conform to the poetic needs of his song) in the verses that refer to the final redemption and is possibly one of the longest lasting wedding songs around the world.
This theme was also picked up by Chazal when they established the sheva brachot. These are brachot that we say under the chuppah at the wedding and then for the rest of the week following the wedding, after festive meals. Given the context of the brachot one would have guessed that the theme in these brachot would revolve around the bride and the groom, however things are a bit more complicated than that. Let us try to summarise the basic ideas of each of the brachot.
- שהכל ברא לכבודו – This is a very vague bracha and according to Rashi (Ketuvot 8a) is aimed at the gathering itself of any people who have joined to be part of a mitzvah.
- יוצר האדם
- אשר יצר את האדם – These two brachot refer to the creation of man and woman, which is not a surprising theme when we are celebrating the union of just such a couple.
- שוש תשיש – The idea here is that the barren woman will rejoice as her children rejoin her (we will explain soon).
- שמח תשמח – We pray that God makes this couple as happy as the couple in Gan Eden was.
- אשר ברא – This bracha as well prays for the happiness of the couple along with the joyous sounds of weddings in Yerushalayim and surrounding areas.
(The seventh is the bracha on the wine; under the chuppah it is actually the first of the series and at the meal it is the last.)
The fourth bracha is clearly the one that seems out of place. The full text of the bracha reads:
The Barren woman shall rejoice as her children are gathered to her in joy. Blessed are you God He who causes Zion to be happy with her children.
The barren woman is clearly Zion, as indicated in the end of the bracha and it turns out that she is not barren after all. She appears to be barren because her children are far away from her but when they return she will rejoice. Had I not already given you a clear clue, this bracha would seem to be out of context. Why is this at all relevant to the occasion of a marriage?
The opening phrase שוש תשיש is an obvious reference to this week’s Haftara where we read about the mutual rejoicing going on as part of the ultimate redemption.
If we try to summarise the content of the brachot we can say: We start off the series of brachot with recognition of the Creator and the fact that He created us differently, in this case male and female, and it is the diversity itself that leads us to find the “missing half” to continue His work of creation.
At the end we, predictably, pray for the stability and joy of the union.
In the middle bracha we look at what we have in front of us: a bride and a groom who are almost in a competition as to who can make the other one happier. It is at this point we turn to God and say “This is what Yeshayahu meant. Look! They are the model that You promised to follow”. God will rejoice with you like the groom rejoices with the bride.
This Haftara is the concluding member of the seven of consolation. Our ultimate yearning for God, and our hope that He will reciprocate with His love will lead us into the next part of the year where we can recognize the power of teshuva and new beginnings. May all of our new brides and grooms provide good solid examples of commitment and caring for each other so that they can help us demand the fulfilment of the entire prophecy.