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Wedding from Dating to Marriage
Adam, the first man, enters center stage in the Creation story and does not frolic in the Garden of Eden. According to the Midrash, he mopes. He completes his first assignment, naming the animals, and notices he is alone. All the animals have a mate, and he has no one.
“It is not good that man should be left alone,” booms the Torah. Viola! Eve is created. Shortly afterward, the Torah gives the first salute to marriage: “Therefore man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:18)
From the first couple onward, Judaism has celebrated marriage.
“Enjoy life with the wife you love all the fleeting days of your life that have been granted under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:9) “He who finds a wife finds good.”(Proverbs 18:22) “A man without a wife exists without joy, blessing or boon.” (Yevamot 62a)
In addition to hailing marriage as an exalted, happy state, Judaism also takes the commitment of matrimony very seriously. Of the 63 tractates in the Talmud, four heavyweight volumes deal with relationships, marriage and its implications: Kiddushin, Yevamot, Ketubot and Gittin.
In the Jewish view, marriage is the natural state of adults, a holy mission. This is a distinct difference from other religions where holiness and sex are mutually exclusive for their religious leaders. Vows of celibacy are not part of the Jewish tradition. Only three of the hundreds of major scholars mentioned in the Talmudic “Who’s Who” were unmarried: Ben Azzai, a personality in the Mishna; Yehudah Bar Ilai, a seventh century physician, philosopher and talmudist; and Isaac Israeli, a tenth century physicist and scientist scholar.
Furthermore, the Talmud includes marriage and family in the three questions the heavenly courts ask each soul: Did you buy and sell in good faith? Did you have a set time for Torah study? Did you raise a family? (Shabbat 31a)
Marriage gives a place for the fullest expression of unity between body and soul, a goal of Jewish life. At every turn, Judaism looks at physical needs and sees an opportunity for spiritual growth. Wine is a mode for making kiddush,, a sanctification of the day, and an important blessing. Candles bring more than light, they radiate with the glow of Shabbat and the pride of Chanuka. And in the same vein, Judaism glorifies physical desire. Channeling sexual desire to build intimacy and closeness with another person through marriage is one of the thoughts behind the Hebrew word for the marriage ceremony, kiddushin, which shares its root with the Hebrew word for holiness, kedusha.
Kedusha, holiness, connotes a degree of separation. Something becomes holy by setting it apart from its everyday usage. Shabbat is holy and is set apart in time from the rest of the week. Synagogues are holy spaces different from general places of gatherings. By terming marriage as kiddushin, a couple is setting themselves apart for each other – exclusive to all others.
By recognizing and treasuring how different this relationship is from any other, there is an opportunity for true holiness. Mystical sources view marriage as parallel to the closeness we are to feel with God. This relationship reflects back on God. Outside of the love between a husband and wife, no other relationship is powerful enough to fathom the depths of God’s love for humankind.
Another reason for Judaism’s high regard for marriage is its importance to the survival of the Jewish People. Each couple has the potential to create children, Judaism’s hope. Reference after reference is made to the couple’s creative power during the ceremony. Most of the marital blessings, sheva berachot, speak of creation. Blessing number two of the seven thanks God for creating humankind.
Blessing number three praises God for creating people in the divine image. Each person is holy The world becomes a better place when couples treat each other with the respect and consideration, sanctifying their lives together. Judaism looks at the new couple and sees a possible paradise. A better world built two by two. Blessing number six wishes the couple the “happiness of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.” According to some commentaries, this speaks of the couple’s ability to hasten the arrival of the Redemption, when there will be new era of peace, a paradise like the one Adam and Eve found in Eden.
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