Republished from August 2009
When we move from sefer Vayikra to sefer Bamidbar, we are finally moving away from Har Sinai, where Bnei Yisrael have been for almost a year. From the middle of Shemot through the end of Vayikra, they have been encamped at the foot of Har Sinai, having received the Torah, mitzvot and laws, and then all the laws of the Kohanim, through Kedoshim and Behar Bechukotai. It is only because we lose sight of this that the opening of Behar takes us by surprise. “What does Shmitta have to do with Mt. Sinai?” Rashi asks. The answer is obvious—because they are still there, and the parsha is reminding us of that, as it draws to wrap up their experience at Har Sinai.
Now, this experience at the foot of Har Sinai can be likened to the period of the chuppah and the sheva berakhot. The moment of the giving of the Torah was the moment of marriage (nissuim). The intimacy, intensity, and immediacy of the connection and self-revelation that occurred between God and Bnei Yisrael is like the coming together of chatan and kallah, the consummation of the betrothal (kiddushin). In addition to the intensity of the love, the brit is actualized and the full obligations of the relationship are accepted—the mitzvot and the laws—with the sefer habrit being, in essence, the ketuvah, with all its reciprocal obligations.
Now, however, as we move to Bamidbar, it is time to move away from the chuppah, and to move on with our lives. The question will be—how has our life changed and how will we move forward? The Torah tells us that when we camp elsewhere, the encampment must always be with the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, in the center. Even when we break camp and move forward, the Mishkan must move in the center. As the Torah says in Terumah—“and I will dwell in your midst”. Even when we depart Har Sinai, when we are distant from the immediacy of the Shekhina, we must always encamp around the Mishkan—we must orient our lives towards God and God’s presence. And when we move—it is in the context of our relationship to God—“by the command of God they encamped, and by the command of God they moved.” Thus, no matter how geographically distant we are, we will not lose our way if we continue to orient ourselves to God—“around the Mishkan they shall encamp.” The way I read it, the remainder of Bamidbar is the working out of this challenge—can Bnei Yisrael depart from Har Sinai, and continue to keep God in their midst, and orient themselves towards God’s presence? We know this is not trivial—it can be a real challenge.
This is also the challenge as a couple moves from the chuppah and the sheva berakhot and begins to move forward and continue with their life. Sometimes one of the couple will need to travel geographically, or will need to involve him or herself in career, education, or other demands or pursuits. This is a necessary part of life. We must move from Har Sinai. But if we have worked on the relationship, and continue to work on the relationship, then wherever and whenever one travels, the other will always be their center, and all that we pursue will be with the other in mind. William Donne put it best in his “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”:
Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.
But we, by a love so much refined
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two:
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do;
And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like the other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
Let us constantly work on our relationship with our spouse, and our relationship with God, so that when we leave the chuppah and we leave the experience of matan Torah, and that wherever and however far we doth roam, that the other will be our center, so that we will make our circle just and end where we had begun.