“Parsha and Purpose” – Naso 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha
“Renewing our Vows” with God
“Renewing our Vows” with God
We’re on the balcony of my Ohr Torah Stone office in Gush Etzion, overlooking Highway 60, the road which the Jewish people would take, as they were oleh regel – as they ascended to the Beit haMikdash – three times a year; the road from which the Romans conquered and pillaged Jerusalem; the road on which we, the Jewish people, reconquered Jerusalem, as well as the environs of Gush Etzion all around us.
It’s the road of Jewish history, right outside my office, and you’re all welcome to come and visit it in person.
“Vayehi bayom kalot Moshe lehakim et haMishkan.” It is the day on which Moshe finishes the construction of the Mishkan, after seven days of taking it apart and putting it back together again. Numbers 7:1
Rashi comments on this verse, Kalat ktiv, that it’s written as “kalat.” Rashi on Numbers 7:1 You see, Rashi’s version of this verse is different than ours; we have a vav in the word Kalot, but Rashi has it without a vav. For Rashi, the word means, “kalat ktiv” – it’s like a bride and groom. Rashi is trying to explain why it is that Moshe, a man, a leader north of 100 years old, needs to deconstruct and reconstruct the Mishkan for a week. After all, he’s not the moving company, responsible for moving the Mishkan from place to place. There’s a message that Rashi is trying to communicate, in his very cryptic language, and that is that the Mishkan is not an end in itself, but a means to an end: to create sacred moments in time with God.
And therefore, what Rashi is highlighting is that Moshe has to take it apart and put it back together again to signify to the Jewish people that the structure is only important when we imbue it with relevance and holiness.
This is exactly the message that the prophets give to the priests when they say “be careful,” when the Temple was being abused and becoming not a place of holiness, but rather of idol worship, as happened at various points in history.
And Rashi is trying to highlight the fact that the Mishkan represents the relationship between the bride and groom. It’s for this same reason that every bride and groom has Sheva Brachot. What is Sheva Brachot? Sheva Brachot is the ma’ase nisu’in – it’s the act of marriage. It’s the responsibility for seven days to take apart the marriage and renew it, to highlight that the institution of marriage itself is not the mitzva. There’s no special bracha on the marriage; it’s what you do with the marriage. That’s what’s critical, that’s what’s important.
And therefore Rashi says, Moshe takes apart the Mishkan and puts it back together again, like a Chatan and Kallah, as a Chatan and Kallah “renew their vows” for seven days, to highlight that what’s important in a marriage is not the institution, but what we do with the institution, how we infuse it with relevance.
What an important message for all of us. It’s important for us on two levels. Because of corona, our weddings are looking so different now than they did not so long ago. It’s no longer about the pomp and circumstance, it’s about understanding the meaning and the beauty. It doesn’t matter if the wedding is in a hall with 500 people, or in a backyard with 50 people. What counts is the message of “kalat,” the message of consecrating a relationship between a bride and groom.
What counts, as we read this parsha, is how we re-consecrate our relationship with God. It’s about taking it apart, evaluating, where are the weaknesses, and where are the strengths, and rebuilding our relationship to God. Or, as we journey through this age of corona, to remind ourselves of the opportunity even during tragedy to renew our relationship with God, to create a renewed bond, a renewed relationship, a new face. Because ultimately, our commitment to a relationship is what imbues the structure with holiness and purpose.