Berach Dodi (Make Haste My Beloved)

Yesterday I discussed how to make one’s Seder more Zionistic with bringing in the theme of us returning to the Land of Israel with the Fifth Cup of wine. Today I want to talk about a section of the Passover liturgy that is Zionistic but which we do not read in our congregation: Berach Dodi (ברח דודי), which means “make haste my beloved.”

Berach Dodi is a series of piyutim (liturgical poetry) based of Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs. Shir HaShirim has a number of references to Israel, such as “I am black but you are comely, O Daughters of Jerusalem,”[1] and “This is my beloved and this is my friend, O Daughters of Jerusalem.”[2] For the rabbis who wrote the piyutim, this is not the relationship between two human lovers but rather between G-d and Israel. The final verse of Song of Songs, where Berach Dodi comes from, reads “Make haste, my beloved, and be like to a gazelle or to a young deer upon the spice-laden mountains.”[3] This is a strange verse to be sure! We are certain about the meaning of the end of Eicha (Lamentations), when we ask for G-d to return to us and to restore us as in the days of the Temple. We are certain of the end of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) when we are told the one thing we must listen to is to fear G-d and keep His commandments. In contrast, the beautiful love poetry of Song of Songs ends with a cliffhanger: the two lovers apart, with one beseeching the other to return at gazelle speed.

Rabbi Akiva, a staunch defender of the Song of Songs at times when other rabbis wanted to remove it from the biblical canon, proclaimed “All the ages are not more precious than the day Israel received the Song of Songs. All the Scriptures are Holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies!”[4] He also viewed the Song of Songs as a story about the love between G-d and Israel. As such, the separation between G-d and Israel came to be understood as Israel being in exile. Therefore, the final verse is Israel entreating G-d to return as swiftly as possible so that their relationship can be reunited.

Now enters the rabbinic prayers of Berach Dodi.[5] These are requests for G-d to return to us in the Messianic Age. As in the prayer for the first day of Passover “Make haste, my Beloved, and bring the Messiah before the appointed deadline blows by.” The second day’s prayer is no less urgent, imploring “Make haste, my Beloved, to Jerusalem Your abode. If we have strayed from your path, please peer at us through Your lattice and save the poor and bruised people.” The final member of the triumvirate, the piyut for Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesach (the intermediate Sabbath of Passover) reads “Make haste, my Beloved, to the site of our Temple.”

Why on Passover do some congregations read these prayers? Perhaps it is to remind us of the harsh affliction we felt as slaves in Egypt and that while we have been freed from that, we are still in exile. We need G-d to bring about the Messianic Age, to bring Torah and truth into the world. By reading these piyutim in Shacharit right before we praise G-d for being “Redeemer of Israel” and begin our silent Amidah, we are remembering that we were redeemed once from slavery and yearning that so too do we pray to be redeemed from worldly exile, entering an age of peace.

Do these poems continue to hold meaning for us with the creation of the State of Israel? Some would certainly say yes because even though we have the land of Israel, we do not have the peace and knowledge of the one true G-d that the Messianic Age would bring. Others would say that instead of focusing on worldly exile, we should place the emphasis on redemption, seeing all the wonderful advances that have been created in the Land of Israel and how they lead us to a brighter future. Whatever the case may be, there is still an important place for a prayer like “Make Haste My Beloved,” “Berach Dodi.” How often do we take things for granted, going about our business as usual without a sense of urgency-at least until we feel a fire under us that pushes us forward? How often do we revel in the comforts of our Long Island homes when not recognizing that just down the road there are people who do not have the basic necessities of life? How often do we take our days for granted until a life event shakes us to the reality of the finitude of our lives. Instead of just calling for G-d to make haste, we need to do so as well, living with a sense of purposeful urgency. As we yearn to feel G-d’s presence in our lives, so must we act in a way that demonstrates our active attempts to connect with something greater than ourselves to make our world into a better place.

As we continue to celebrate our Passover holiday, let us strive to wake up and break the chains of exile that we put upon ourselves. May we live each day with purpose and vitality, striving to bring G-d’s presence into our relationships with everyone we touch. As we celebrate our own freedom, let us recognize all those who are enslaved in the world and actively work to make a difference in making them free. May we also recognize the forces to which we are enslaved to and strive to free ourselves from them. In so doing, may we truly have a meaningful and enjoyable holiday, a Hag Kasher V’Sameach.

[1] Song of Songs 1:5

[2] Song of Songs 5:8

[3] Song of Songs 8:14

[4] Mishnah Yedayim 3:5

[5] The prayer recited on the first day was written by Rabbi Shlomo HaBavli of Italy, the second day’s is by his student Rabbi Meshullam ben Kalonymos and the one read on Shabbat Hol HaMoed is by Rabbi Shimon HaGadol of Mainz.

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The Fifth Cup of Wine

 

Every year I look for opportunities to add something to the conversation of the Second Night Seder that might have been lacking on the first night. The theme that I want to focus on today is moving from slavery to entering to the land of Israel. Passover has some very Zionist elements but only two of them are directly incorporated into our Haggadah. First at the beginning of the Maggid section,[1] we proclaim השתא הכא: לשנה הבאה בארעא דישראל, “Now we are here; next year may we be in the Land of Israel.” Then at the end of the Haggadah we state לשנה הבאה בירושלים, NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM! However, there is no direct statement in the Haggadah that the purpose of our being redeemed from slavery in Egypt was to serve G-d in the land of Israel.[2]

It is strange that the authors of the Haggadah chose not to focus on this theme because it is at the core of the biblical exodus narrative. In Exodus Chapter 6 Verse 6, G-d proclaims I will bring you out (והוצאתי) from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you (והצלתי) from their bondage, and I will redeem you (וגאלתי) with an outstretched arm, and with great judgments. In Verse 7 He continues and I will take you (ולקחתי) to Me for a people, and I will be to you a G-d; and you shall know that I am the LORD your G-d, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. The four verbs indicate the movement from slavery in Egypt, the place which is narrow, to becoming G-d’s people. They correspond to the four cups of wine drunk at the Passover Seder. However, there is a fifth verb in verse 8, And I will bring you (והבאתי) into the land, concerning which I lifted up My hand to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for a heritage: I am the LORD.’

To what does the fifth cup correspond? Some argue that it is Elijah’s cup, that which we fill but from which we do not drink. The Babylonian Talmud follows the tradition that we only drink from four cups,[3] stating that the first cup is drunk to sanctify the day,[4] the second cup is poured before the recitation of the 4 questions,[5] the third cup is over the festival meal and the fourth cup is over Hallel and the “Grace of Song,” which according to Rabbi Tarfon refers to Psalm 136.[6] Interestingly, Rashi, the medieval commentator on the Talmud par excellence, writes in his comment on the fourth cup in our version, (הכי גרסינן) indicating that there are other versions of the text. We know that there were multiple manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud (בבלי) as well as the Jerusalem Talmud (ירושלמי).

It is the latter that I wish to turn to now. The Rif, Rabbi Yitzhak Alfasi, an 11th century Moroccan commentator who published a “cliff notes” version on the Babylonian Talmud, begins this section by referencing the Jerusalem Talmud. He cites sections of the text but he references Rabbi Tarfon as stating that Psalm 136 is said over the fifth cup.[7] The Jerusalem Talmud was an earlier version, compiled in the 4th century CE, and thus some argue that we should follow that tradition, even though the Babylonian Talmud has become authoritative. Maimonides references that some have the tradition of pouring a fifth cup but it is not obligatory like the other four.[8]

What does this have to do with us and why would the tradition have changed? One take is that the earliest tradition was the drinking of a fifth cup connected to the fifth verb about being brought into the Land of Israel. When it became clear that our ancestors would stay in exile, the fifth cup, and thereby the fifth verb about being brought into Israel, were omitted. Another take is that the fifth cup represents the fifth enemy kingdom, of Gog, which will lead to the coming of the Messianic Age.[9] I prefer the former take but whether it is historically accurate or not, I feel that we need to do something to acknowledge Israel as part of our Passover Seder. We tell the story of the Exodus, with the 10 plagues and the splitting of the sea, but our story is incomplete without its next chapter, the entering of the Promised Land, just like our Torah is incomplete without the knowledge that Joshua would lead our ancestors to conquer the Land of Canaan.

Tonight when you celebrate your Passover Seder, Let us reflect on what we can do to incorporate Israel. For some it might be the singing of Israeli songs before the Birkat HaMazon (ברכת המזון); for others it might be to talk about the significance of living in an age where there is a land of Israel, a land which so many yearned for and dreamed about over the years. While we are not yet at the Messianic Age, an age of true peace and brotherhood, we are at an age where we can return to and embrace our historical homeland and make it part and parcel of every Jewish ritual, thus demonstrating that it is always on our minds and in our hearts. כן יהי רצון , may it be our will to do so.

[1] הא לחמא עניא

[2] The next closest one gets is Dayenu at which point the exodus from Egypt is only the beginning, with the ending being given the Temple to atone for our sins.

[3] Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 108b

[4] Ibid, 114a

[5] Ibid, 116a

[6] Ibid, 117a

[7] Rif on Babylonian Talmud Tractate Pesachim 36b

[8] Maimonides Laws of Hametz and Matzah 8:10

[9] Joshua Kulp, The Schechter Haggadah: Art, History and Commentary (Jerusalem: The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, 2009), 175.

The Day After

Some portions lend themselves easily to a sermon-others not so much. What does the scale disease of tzaraat have to do with a couple getting married? Is there any possible connection? I would argue yes through looking at how tzaraat was treated and juxtaposing it with a couple after their wedding.

The beginning of the portion details the procedure for someone who has tzaraat. Such an individual is sprinkled with a sacrificial mixture seven times, is isolated from his/her community for seven days and shaves off all of his/her hair on the seventh day. At the end of the seventh day s/he enters a natural body of water and is purified. On the eighth day s/he offers an atonement sacrifice which again involves a sevenfold sprinkling on the ridge of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand and the big toe of the right foot of one who had contracted tzaraat.

The key number in this procedure is seven. The sprinkling occurs seven times, and the afflicted individual is quarantined for seven days. Seven is a key number in Judaism, representing a complete cycle. The seven days of creation are why we have seven days of the week with the seventh day, Shabbat, being the day of rest, where we feel complete from all we have created during the week. It is also why we have a seven year cycle for the land, in which the seventh year is the year of rest, where we take a step back from our produce. Similarly, we have a seven day period after one has lost a loved one to give that individual time to grieve and heal before reentering into society. The same is true in our portion, as one who is found with an affliction needs time to recover from it, to reenter society as a whole human being. Why isolate someone? The common answer is that said individual engaged in motzi shem ra, evil speech, and thus needed to have time to think about what s/he did and work towards reforming his/her behavior. Tzaraat is thus an affliction that befalls someone because of a mistake that s/he made-the primary example being Miriam receiving it after speaking against Moses’ wife.

At a wedding, we also have the power of the number seven. We first experience it when the bride circles the groom seven times. This comes from a verse in Jeremiah “a woman shall encircle a man.”[1]  The reason for seven times is to symbolize divine protection; that G-d is looking after the couple and watching over their marital union. The seven circles represent complete connection and union between the bride and the groom.

We also have the Sheva Berachot, or seven blessings said under the wedding canopy, or Huppah. These blessings also have to do with creation. The first blessing, over a cup of wine, is for rejoicing for the marital union, as all celebratory moments in Judaism occur over a cup of wine. The second blessing testifies that G-d created everything for His glory. The third and fourth blessings both end יוצר האדם, the creator of humankind, as we praise G-d for creating us. However, the third blessing focuses on the creation of mankind as part and parcel of the creation of the world, whereas the fourth emphasizes our creation in G-d’s image and our perpetuation of our people. The fifth blessing is about the land of Israel rejoicing. When the First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and our people were exiled, there was fear that we would never return to the land of Israel. Jeremiah countered this fear, proclaiming עוד ישמע בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים קול ששון וקול שמחה קול חתן וקול כלה, “There will once again be heard in the cities of Judah and the courtyards of Jerusalem voices of joy and gladness, voices of bridegroom and bride!”[2] With these sounds of gladness, the land will rejoice. The sixth blessing is one for the happy couple, proclaiming that they are רעים האהובים, beloved companions, and comparing marriage to the paradise of the Garden of Eden. The final blessing once again returns to G-d’s creations but focuses on the bride and groom and their rejoicing together at their wedding. The seven blessings thus go from the macro approach of the creation of the entire world to the micro approach of the joy of this bride and this groom at their marriage.[3] In traditional communities there are seven days of celebration[4] following a marriage with festive meals, each of which contains the recitation of these blessings.
The use of seven to represent completion is beautiful, but I think what is even more beautiful is the notion of the eighth day. Going back to our portion, the person afflicted with tzaraat immersed in the mikveh on the seventh day but could only achieve atonement and rejoin the community on the eighth day. While seven represents completion, eight represents becoming part of our people. That is why the bris for a baby boy, at which he is given a Hebrew name and becomes part of the Jewish people, occurs on the eighth day. Similarly the Tabernacle and the Temple, the central shrines of our people, were both dedicated on the eighth day. In King Solomon’s time, our ancestors celebrated Sukkot for seven days at the site of the Temple in Jerusalem but the building was solemnized as the central worship site of our people on the eighth day.

The same lesson is true for marriage. After seven days of celebrating, either through the festive meals with the Sheva Berachot or by going on a honeymoon, the true work of becoming a household begins on the eighth day. The question for you, Matthew and Mandy, is what will you do to establish your household as Jewish? Will you celebrate Shabbat and holidays together, purchase and display Jewish artwork and ritual items, attend Jewish Young Professionals programs, have a Passover Seder, join a synagogue? After taking much deserved time to celebrate your marriage, the hard work of going from being individuals to becoming a couple, with values, traditions, goals and aspirations, begins one day at a time. I know that through open communication, through truly striving to understand one another, you will make every day count and will begin to embark on a wonderful life together. Mazal Tov on your upcoming marriage!

[1] Jeremiah 31:21. Interestingly, the original context is Jeremiah rebuking the daughters of Israel for being unfaithful and changing the natural order of things-a woman courting a man.

[2] Jeremiah 33:10-11

[3] My teacher, Rabbi Miles Cohen, taught me that the proper חתימה (ending) for the blessing is משמח החתן והכלה, to demonstrate that it is specifically this groom and this bride, rather than the traditional text, which reads משמח חתן והכלה. The traditional text also indicates that it could be any “groom” with this bride, which is definitely not what we want the message to be!

[4] Also called sheva berachot.

Tzaraat: What Is It?

  1. Read Leviticus 13:1-23, 13:44-54, 14:1-10, 14:34-45

 

  • What are all the things that can be susceptible to tzaraat?
  • Why would God inflict tzaraat on one’s home when entering Israel?!

 

  1. Read Exodus 4:1-9

 

  • Why was tzaraat given to Moshe at this time?

 

רש”י שמות פרק ד

 

ו) מצרעת כשלג – דרך צרעת להיות לבנה  (ויקרא יג ד) אם בהרת לבנה היא. אף באות זה רמז שלשון הרע סיפר באומרו (פסוק א) לא יאמינו לי, לפיכך הלקהו בצרעת, כמו שלקתה מרים על לשון הרע

Rashi Exodus 4:6

 

White as snow-The way of tzaraat is to be white (Lev. 13:4 “If it is a bright white spot.” Also here there is a hint that Moses said lashon hara (evil speech) with his statement (Ex. 4:1 “They will not believe me!”  Therefore, God struck him with tzaraat, as Miriam was struck for lashon hara.

 

אבן עזרא הפירוש הקצר שמות פרק ד

 

(ח) אם לא יאמינו – ידענו כי השם ידע כל העתידות, רק הדבור כנגד משה. אחר שאמר השם ושמעו לקולך (שמות ג יח), אמר משה אפחד אני שלא ישמעו כולם לקולי

Ibn Ezra 4:8

If they don’t believe-We know that God knows the entire future. This statement is against Moses. After God said “They will listen to your voice (Ex. 3:18)”, Moses said ‘I am afraid that they will not all listen to my voice.’

 

ספורנו שמות פרק ד

 

ח) והאמינו לקול האות האחרון. כי יותר רחוק אצל הטבע לרפאת את הצרעת העזה כשלג אשר היא כמו מות לאותו אבר אשר היא בו בלי ספק

Seforno Exodus 4:8

 

They will believe the power of the second sign-It is much harder according to nature to heal tzaraat, mighty like snow, which is like death to the entire limb that it encounters! (Hizkuni says, similarly, only God can heal it).

  • For which of these reasons (or another) do you believe that God struck Moses with tzaraat?

 

 

III. Read Numbers 12:1-16

 

רש”י במדבר פרק יב

 

י) והענן סר – ואחר כך והנה מרים מצורעת כשלג, משל למלך שאמר לפדגוג, רדה את בני, אבל לא תרדנו עד שאלך מאצלך, שרחמי עליו:

Rashi Numbers 12

 

And the cloud was removed-and after that “And behold! Miriam was metzoraat like snow.  It is like a parable where a king tells his son’s teacher “Afflict my son, but do not afflict until I leave you, for I have mercy upon him.”

  • Is there any merit to this statement? How do you show mercy if you are still causing someone to be afflicted?!

 

 

אור החיים במדבר פרק יב

 

ט) ויחר אף ה’. פירוש גירה בהם הנחרים בהם שהם כת האף, וילך כדי שיעשה האף מה שהורשה, והגם שבסנה אמר הכתוב (שמות ד’) ויחר אף ה’ במשה, שם רשם שיעור אשר יפעול בו האף והוא שיסור ממנו כח הנשמה שהיא בחינת הכהונה ותנתן לאהרן כמאמר רז”ל (זבחים קב. שמו”ר פ”ג) שהרושם הוא הסרת הכהונה, וכאן עשה האף משפט גדול שהצרעת היא כמיתה כאמור בענין, ובשניהם היה העונש כאומרו בם, וכן אמרו רז”ל (ספרי) ויפן וגו’ פנה מצרעתו, אלא שמרים לא נתרפאה כאהרן תכף ומיד:

 

Or HaChaim Numbers 12:9

 

And God was wrathful with them-An explanation: he incited their nostrils against them, for nostrils are a part of the nose. And he left, so that the nose would do what it was permitted (let in the leprosy?).  Also with the bush the verse says (Ex. 4:14): “And God was angry with Moses.”  There it lists the measure that the anger will enact, that the breath of life that is the priesthood will be taken away from him and given to Aaron as the sages teach (Zevachim 102a, Shemot Rabbah Chapter 3) that the measure is the removal of the priesthood.  And thus the anger enacted a great judgment, as tzaraat is like death, and for the two of them the punishment is like what was said by them (about Moses’ wife). And thus said the sages (Sifrei) “And Aaron turned away”-he turned away from his tzaraat.  However, Miriam was not healed immediately as Aaron was.

  • What does Or HaChaim teach us here about tzaraat?

 

 

אור החיים במדבר פרק יב

 

י) והנה מצורעת. לא היה צריך לומר הדבר אחר שכבר אמר והנה מרים מצורעת וגו’ ולפי דבריהם ז”ל (ספרי) שאמרו שגם אהרן נצטרע ירצה לומר הנה היא עדיין מצורעת ולא פרחה ממנה כאהרן ואמרו עוד חז”ל (שם) שדוקא כשהיה פונה היתה מצורעת וכשהיה מחזיר פניו היתה פורחת ממנה,

 

Or HaChaim Numbers 12:10

 

And Miriam had tzaraat-It does not need to say this, since it already said “And behold: Miriam had tzaraat.” According to the rabbis, who said that Aaron was also afflicted with tzaraat, it wants to say that she still had tzaraat; it did not remove itself from her as it did from Aaron. The rabbis also said that specifically when he turned away he had tzarrat but when he turned back it removed itself from him.

  • Why do you think tzaraat removed itself from Aaron but not from Miriam?

 

Commentator Index

Hizkuni: Hezekiah ben Manoah; 13th Century France

Ibn Ezra: Abraham ibn Ezra; 1089-1164; Spain and Italy

Or HaChaim: Chaim ibn Attar; 1696-1743; Morocco and Israel

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak; 1040-1105; Troyes, France

Seforno: Obadiah ben Jacob Seforno; 1475-1150; Italy