• גודל פונט
  • גוונים וקונטרסט

Like a Groom Greets His Bride

When the day of Mattan Torah arrives, Hashem appears first, anticipating His giving of the Torah to Am Yisrael. As it turns out, after three days of preparation and expectation, Moshe must usher the people toward Hashem.

What is the relationship between the "awakening from below" and the "awakening from above"?

The mutual movement of Knesset Yisrael and HaKadosh Baruch Hu toward each other will be explained as a groom-bride relationship, using the two-sided process of tzimtzum, contraction, which occurred during the Creation, as the paradigm.


 

To meet God

On the morning of Mattan Torah, after three days of preparation, the Torah says: "And Moshe brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God."[1] Rashi explains the phrase "to meet God" as follows: "This teaches that the Shechina came out to meet them, like a bridegroom who comes out to meet a bride; and this is [the meaning of] what is said: 'The Lord came from Sinai.'"[2] According to Rashi's interpretation, Hashem came toward Am Yisrael as a groom who walks toward his bride to cover her face with the veil before entering the chuppa together. This is surprising, since a student should wait for his teacher, and not vice versa. But here we find that Hashem came out to greet Israel and waited for them, and only then did Moshe bring the people "to meet God."

Chazal often compared the day of Mattan Torah to a wedding day: "'On the day of his wedding' – this is Mattan Torah."[3] Hashem's approach toward Am Yisrael should be understood in this context. However, we find that in terms of connecting between Hashem and the creation, human initiation, "awakening from below [itaruta diltata]," is considered to be on a higher level than divine initiation, "awakening from above [itaruta dileila]."[4] Therefore, one may wonder: Why did Hashem not wait for Am Yisrael to go out to meet Him, as a bride who goes out to greet her bridegroom with great longing and anticipation? Indeed, in the episode of Mattan Torah there was also an instance of itaruta diltata, when Am Yisrael readily accepted the Torah with the statement: "All that the Lord has spoken we will do;"[5] however, this happened only following Hashem's approach. Why is it that in Mattan Torah, itaruta dileila preceded itaruta diltata?

The aforementioned verse, "and Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God," continues: "And they stood at the lowermost part of the mount." The Gemara interprets this statement to mean that Hashem overturned the mountain above Am Yisrael like a tub.[6] What Chazal mean to say is that B'nei Yisrael went toward Hashem only after Hashem first made contact with them. When Hashem goes out to greet Am Yisrael, who dares to offer a response? Every living being freezes when confronted with such a heavenly revelation. The divine "awakening" left no room for initiative on the part of Am Yisrael.

Tosafot contrast between the Gemara's account that Hashem overturned the mountain above Am Yisrael like a tub, and the fact that Am Yisrael accepted the Torah willingly, saying "na'aseh venishma," i.e., we will do and we will hear. Tosafot resolve the apparent contradiction by suggesting that perhaps the people retracted their acceptance of the Torah upon seeing the great fire. According to this suggestion, the sequence of events was as follows: First, Am Yisrael said na'aseh venishma, which constituted itaruta diltata. Afterward came the itaruta dileila in the form of the great fire, noise, and lightning, causing the awakening of Am Yisrael to disappear. Finally, they received the Torah under the threat of the mountain overturned above them.

The Maharal raises a difficulty with Tosafot's explanation, as the Gemara treats the statement of na'aseh venishma as a testimony of the remarkable virtues of Am Yisrael; if the divine revelation eventually hindered the willingness of Am Yisrael to accept the Torah, how does na'aseh venishma still have any significance? The Maharal answers that the itaruta dileila did not actually block the initiative of Am Yisrael, but rather supplemented it with a critical element. If Am Yisrael would have received the Torah due to their own initiative, the Torah would have been rendered a human doctrine, and would have lost its divine nature. Furthermore, it would have been dependent upon the consent and limitations of its recipients. Since Hashem wanted to give the Torah in its divine breadth, He had to give it with divine initiative and coercively. Hashem gave us a divine Torah, and therefore there is no room for the question of human acquiescence.

The Maharal's answer sheds a new light on Tosafot's explanation: When Hashem overturned the mountain above Am Yisrael, that did not actually hamper their na'aseh venishma, their readiness to receive the Torah. Rather, the divine initiative to give the Torah rendered the opinion and initiative of Am Yisrael irrelevant. The itaruta diltata came first, and then appeared the itaruta dileila, which erased the immediate significance of the itaruta diltata by means of overturning the mountain.

The verses in the Torah indicate that Hashem made sure that the itaruta dileila be preceded by itaruta diltata; He initially presented the matter of Mattan Torah as though it was dependent on human acquiescence, sending Moshe to ask Am Yisrael whether they were willing to accept the Torah. This raises the obvious question: Since the human initiative was rendered irrelevant by the divine revelation, why was it necessary in the first place?

 

Awakening from below

The fact that Hashem asked Am Yisrael whether they wish to receive the Torah can be compared to a man proposing marriage to a woman. By doing so, he allows his future wife to initiate the engagement by her own free will. Indeed, one may also wonder about this social norm as well: Why is it that the man proposes to the woman, and not vice versa? Why does he have such a deep desire that the woman's expressed will to marry him precede his own? And why does a woman, too, prefer to first want the relationship on her own, before the man wants it?

In the process of creating the woman from the man, we find that the man is a complete entity, whereas the woman is originally a mere rib. When a part meets its whole, it feels worthless in comparison. This is especially true when the "part" is human and the "whole" is divine, as the human soul is a part of Hashem; "for the portion of the Lord is His people."[7]

When Knesset Yisrael encounters Hashem, it feels utterly worthless and partial, and fears that such an encounter will nullify the nesira, the separation between the Creator and the Creation, causing it to be swallowed up by the whole, and erasing its independent existence.

This is exactly the fear that a bride fears before her wedding; she worries that the encounter with her groom will cause her to be consumed by him, and her personal identity will disappear. This leads her to question the whole point of getting married. Therefore, before agreeing to enter the chuppa, the bride must be absolutely certain of her total awareness and her genuine, individual desire to enter the relationship, free of any compulsion or coercion. When this happens, and the woman receives affirmation of her right to decide whether to get married, she reveals that "more than the man desires to marry, the woman desires to be married."[8]

Similarly, Knesset Yisrael desired to receive the Torah even more than Hashem wished to give it to them; but nevertheless, they had to feel that they were receiving the Torah from their own free will, as an independent entity. Therefore they needed to be asked first, in order to verify with absolute certainty that they had given their agreement to the partnership out of completely free will.

Rav Kook zt"l similarly explains that the phenomenon of k'fira among Am Yisrael is meant to create a disposition of freedom and independence from which they can develop their own desire for repentance and redemption: "From the permissive, immoral freedom shall come the beloved yoke." Overturning the mountain above Knesset Yisrael like a tub causes them to retract their willingness to participate in the encounter, leading to the sin of the golden calf. The way to prevent this type of sin is for Yisrael to have the complete independence to express its free choice. Without this freedom, this rebellious breaking of Am Yisrael's inherent dependence on Hashem, there is no way to establish the degree to which the participation of Knesset Yisrael stems from their own free will and desire.

From the divine end, as well, Hashem is interested in the initial itaruta diltata, the awakening of Am Yisrael's free will. In terms of the relationship between a bride and a groom, the groom cannot escape his notion that he is forcing himself upon the bride. In order to remove this guilty feeling, he actively makes room for the bride's will, making it seem as though his desire is dependent upon hers, and if she does not wish to marry him, he has no desire to marry her either. Likewise, Hashem asked Knesset Yisrael whether or not they want the Torah because he wished to give them absolute freedom of choice, without coercion. Chazal add that Hashem asked all of the nations whether they want the Torah, implying that He had not yet chosen Knesset Yisrael, as it were; only after they agreed to the relationship, Hashem chose them.

On a deeper level, the groom's desire for his bride's free will can be explained as deriving from his desire for a sincere relationship with her. According to the Midrash, Adam and Chava were originally created as a single androgynous being, back-to-back. When Hashem decided that "it is not good that the man should be alone,"[9] He "sawed off" Chava, turning them into two separate people. From that point on, the relationship between Adam and Chava would not be back-to-back, but face-to-face, as a union of two separate people. This face-to-face relationship is what the man longs for when he proposes to the woman, hoping that when she expresses her free will, her desire to marry him will come to the fore.[EL1] 

On this plane, it becomes apparent that actually, the man desires to be married more than the woman does. This is true of the Divine as well; He is eternal, whole, and all-encompassing all the time. Consequently, His desire, too, is unlimited. The typical relationship between a giver and a receiver is illustrated by the saying: "The cow wishes to suckle more than the calf wants to suck."[10] Indeed, at first the man hides this desire of his in order to make room for the woman's will and to enable her to choose independently; but in a deeper sense, the man's desire is greater than the woman's.

The woman's free will must come before the itaruta dileila, before the overturning of the mountain, because the human vis-à-vis the Divine is like a candle in the sunlight; just as the candlelight has no effect in such a circumstance, so too, the revelation of the divine will is so great that it leaves no room for human will. Had Hashem initiated the process of giving the Torah, the subsequent agreement of Knesset Yisrael would have been meaningless, as it would have been considered forced. Therefore, the itaruta diltata preceded the itaruta dileila.

 

Itaruta Dileila

When the groom makes room for his bride and her personal desire, he is revealing his responsibility for his bride, her feelings, and her well-being. Once Hashem had enabled the human side to reveal its desire, it is the turn of the divine will to be revealed, and the Groom goes out to greet the bride. When a groom walks toward his bride to cover her with the veil, he implies that he is now taking responsibility for her; the part is subsumed within the whole to become one entity.

This raises the question: If the desire of the bride is so essential to the relationship, why is it the Groom who eventually goes to greet the bride? The answer is that when the Groom goes to greet the bride, He is responding to His bride's expression of her free will; by doing so, He is making her feel worthy of such an esteemed and lofty Groom. After all, the bride initially feels, deep down, that her lowly condition prevents her from having anything to do with the Divinity. She asks herself how man can cleave to Hashem, and feels that she is unworthy of such a Groom. This leads her to a hidden feeling that her existence is disappearing; she feels that there is no room for her in the presence of her Groom, and therefore has a deep fear that she is unwanted by Him.[11] A "crisis of confidence" emerges; since the bride feels that she is unworthy of her Groom, she also interprets His behavior as though He doesn't really want her.[12] For this reason, Moshe had to push Am Yisrael to go out toward Hashem; on their part, they felt that they were unworthy.

When the bride experiences this crisis, she asks the groom for just one little sign, so that she will feel safe following Him; "draw me, we will run after you."[13] The Groom also feels that his bride is uncertain of His love for her, so He goes out to greet her. At this point, the bride feels completely sure of her worthiness and desirability to her Groom. This is because when the groom goes out toward his bride, he demonstrates that although superficially a woman desires to be married more than a man, in a deeper sense the man's desire to marry is immeasurably greater than the woman's. The man searches for his lost rib, and all he longs for is to reunite with it.

The process of the woman's creation began with the assertion that "it is not good that the man should be alone." Similarly, even before Am Yisrael came into existence, Hashem loved it and wanted it to be His partner. This is the meaning of Chazal's statement that the divine intention to create Yisrael preceded everything.[14] When a groom walks toward his bride, he is fulfilling his hidden, longstanding desire to reach fullness by finding his partner, his "ezer k'negdo." The reunion between the groom and bride brings the purpose of the nesira, not to mention the entire Creation, to fruition.

Therefore, the reconnection between the Divine and humankind could not have been established without the overturning of the mountain above the people. When B'nei Yisrael learned that Hashem wanted them, their souls departed from their bodies, as they were incapable of containing such a tremendous revelation. Initially, Am Yisrael were ready to receive the Torah by their own initiative; but when Hashem subsequently "awakened" to give them the Torah, Am Yisrael's willingness disappeared, and they receive the Torah coercively.

 

Tzimtzum: Restriction and Amplification

We may reveal a deeper meaning of the Groom's going out toward the bride by observing the process of the Creation. According to the idea of Tzimtzum, before Hashem created the world the divine light spread out without limitation. When Hashem wanted to create the universe, He had to make room for it, so He restricted His light, as it were, thereby created an "empty space" where the universe could be created.[15]

The Hebrew word tzimtzum has two opposite meanings. The basic translation of the term is reduction or decline. This can clearly be said of the divine light in the process of the Tzimtzum; at first it was endless, filling all of space, and the Tzimtzum process reduced the light in a specific area, leaving only an impression ["reshimu"] of the light.

However, the word tzimtzum also means concentration, e.g., the way light going through a lens contracts to one point, where the light is concentrated and thereby amplified. When Chazal speak of the tzimtzum of the Shechina between the staves of the Aron, they do not mean that the Shechina was reduced, but rather that it was concentrated in one spot. This, too, is called tzimtzum.[16]

The Tzimtzum that occurred in the process of the Creation can be understood to have included both meanings of the term. This may be compared to the way light is concentrated by means of a lens; a magnifying glass concentrates the sun's rays into one sharp point due to the concave in the glass.  Surrounding this point, a wide area of shade is formed, where only an impression ["reshimu"] of light remains. Similarly, when Hashem restricted His light, forming an empty space, He did so by concentrating the light, as it were, in area surrounding this space, thereby reducing the light within the space. This can also be compared to the process of digging a hole; the dirt is emptied from the hole and is piled up on its sides. In order to create the universe, Hashem reduced the light in the area where the universe was created, but on its borders He formed a large concentration of the light that was removed from the space.

Chasidim suggest that Hashem realized that "it is not good that the man should be alone" from His own self; Hashem felt lonely, as it were, and needed a partner. Therefore He created the world, limiting Himself in order to make room for the universe, like a groom who allows his bride to express her individual desire to get married. However, by making space for his bride's free will, the groom's desire for her increases, revealing the fact that deep down, the groom wants to get married more than the bride does. The divine desire for Knesset Yisrael increases immeasurably when their individual will is expressed, just as the divine light becomes greater in the process of the Tzimtzum. When exploring the inner divine will, we discover that it is the space where the light is lacking that answers the deep divine desire for a relationship. By removing the light from the space, Hashem gave the universe His special attention.

 

"And God spoke all these words, saying"

The Creation of the universe is understood here as a matter of making space. The Hebrew word for creation, b'ria, also means cutting down a forest,[17] because one cuts down a forest in order to make space by removing the trees. Hashem performed the Tzimtzum with His name that is referred to as the Lower Name of Elohim: "In the beginning, Elohim created the heaven and the earth." This name is used in contexts of restriction, and in this context, it refers to the restriction of the divine light in order to make space for the universe. But as stated above, by removing the light from the space where the world was created, Hashem caused an amplification of the divine light and will. This increased light became part of the infinite, pre-Tzimtzum light, which was never restricted in any way.

Before the Tzimtzum, Hashem and His name were one; but after the empty space was created, the now-greater light displayed a greater divine will to give and reveal Himself. This concentration of increased light is described as the Upper Name of Elohim, which is above and beyond any definition, even a non-limiting one. The essence of this divine light is the light of Torah, which Hashem gave to Am Yisrael with his Upper Name of Elohim: "And Elohim spoke all these words, saying."[18] The Torah is the exalted expression of Hashem's desire for a partner and for the creation of the universe. For this reason, it was given with the divine name that indicates tzimtzum. But whereas the universe was create with the reduced light in the shadow, the root of the Torah is from the concentration of light that is much greater than the infinite light that existed before the Tzimtzum.

The distinction between the Lower Name of Elohim, with which the universe was created, and the Upper Name of Elohim, with which the Torah was given, is described as Elohim diltata, or Elohim d'Bereishit, and Elohim dileila, or Elohim d'Torah. These names are two sides of the same coin, as they are two opposite attributes of the Tzimtzum process: Reduction of light and its amplification. The creation of the world was a process of reducing the divine light, enabling the creation of the universe, whereas the giving of the Torah was an expression of the amplified light and the resulting increase in the divine will due to the Tzimtzum.

The "walking" of the Groom toward the bride at Har Sinai symbolized the amplification of the divine light and will as a result of Knesset Yisrael's desire for a relationship. The tzimtzum, the Groom's self-restraint in which He made room for the bride, actually increased His desire, causing an even higher light to be revealed. This is the deeper meaning of the words "it is not good that the man should be alone;" this statement symbolizes the desire for a higher existence of partnership and unity than that which exists in a state of lonely completeness. This desire is the Torah itself, which connects between the divine and the mundane. The light of the Torah indicates the divine desire, the amplified divine light that surpasses the infinite, pre-Creation light. Whenever a Jew learns even one letter of Torah, he is touching the divine desire to connect with a partner from the mundane world, which is even greater than the human desire to get married. He is connecting with the wedding day of Hashem and His Shechina.

As opposed to the Lower Name of Elohim and the Upper Name of Elohim, the shem havaya brings the divine light from beyond the Tzimtzum into the reality of Tzimtzum, the mundane world. This is a miracle that occurs within this world. Therefore, the details of the Torah were given with the shem havaya; the divine light is revealed in this world of limitations and darkness by means of the Torah's itemization and its discussion of worldly matters. All the details of the Torah's mitzvot are capable of bringing the exalted divine light of the desire to create the universe, that which is beyond the Tzimtzum, into this world. Therefore, when the Groom goes out to greet the bride, it is not beneath His dignity; on the contrary, it is an expression of the divine love for Am Yisrael from even before they were created.

When Am Yisrael said "na'aseh venishma," expressing their itaruta diltata, they effectively made themselves capable of receiving the divine light, for which the world was created. In fact, this was not an isolated event that happened at the foot of Har Sinai, but a phenomenon that continues with Am Yisrael, throughout the generations. Whenever a person longs to receive the Torah again, the deepest of unions is created, and he has the privilege of connecting with Hashem where the pre-Tzimtzum divine light exists.

May we merit the reception of the Torah with love, joy, and a full heart, each and every time; "statements of Torah should be new to you as though they were given today."[19]



[1]  Shemot 19:17

[2]  Devarim 33:2

[3]  Ta'anit 26b

[4]  "Rabbi Yitzchak says that Rabbi Ami says: If the woman emits seed first, she gives birth to a male, and if the man emits seed first, she gives birth to a female" (Nidda 31a). This statement is interpreted by the Ba'al HaTanya to mean that when humankind, symbolized by the woman, takes initiative, the offspring is on a higher level than when the "man," Hashem, takes the initiative. See: מאמרי האדמו"ר הזקן תקע"ב ד"ה "שוש תשיש".

[5]  Shemot 19:8

[6]  Shabbat 88b

[7]  Devarim 32

[8]  Ketubot 86a

[9]  Bereishit 2:18

[10]  Psachim 112a                       

[11]  In modern times, many attitudes have been reversed; the groom now has a feminine side, and the bride has a masculine side. As a result, today more than in previous generations, it is the frequently the groom who feels unworthy of his bride.

[12]  The crisis in recent generations in the relationship between Knesset Yisrael and Hashem is comparable to this phenomenon. After two thousand years of galut, Knesset Yisrael has a deep feeling of insecurity about Hashem's love toward it. Therefore, it has expectations that Hashem reveal Himself toward it, as a sign that He wants it.

[13]  Shir HaShirim 1:4

[14]  Bereishit Rabba 1:4: "Rav Huna, and Rav Yirmeya in the name of Rabbi Shmuel son of Rabbi Yitzchak, said: The intention of [creating] Yisrael preceded everything."

[15]  It is stated in Sifrei Kabbalah that that Tzimtum occurred in the center of the infinite Divine light. It is difficult to interpret this statement literally, as there is no middle to infinity. Rather, it seems that the correct explanation is that before the Tzimtzum, the infinite light had no middle; however, after the Tzimtzum, the empty space became the Archimedean point to in relation to which the light is defined. When a single point is placed within an infinite space, it becomes the middle point.

[16]  See Midrash Tanchuma, Vayakhel 37:7: "As HaKadosh Baruch Hu restricted His Shechina within the Aron, but even withing the Aron made by Betzalel, He restricted His Shechina."

[17]  See Yehoshua 17:18

[18]  Shemot 20:1

[19] Rashi, Shemot 19:1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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