This week’s Torah portion comes from our friend Joshua Kuritzky. Want to post a d’var Torah on PunkTorah? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
At the outset of Parashat Vayetzei, Yaakov, weary from traveling, lies down to rest, using a rock as a pillow. Let’s let him sleep for now—he’s tired and has earned his rest—and talk about another Yaakov: Yaakov ben Pesach Kuritzky, otherwise known as Joshua Kuritzky. (Yes, yes, I know: Why isn’t my Hebrew name Yehoshua? Just as valid and strong a biblical namesake, but, alas, not the name my parents chose.)
On the 14th of Elul, 5768, I married my sweetheart, Bayla Rivkah (English name: Beth). We had a traditional Jewish wedding service, which included the Badeken ceremony, in which the groom veils his bride. It is said that this custom originated because of events in this Parasha. Because of Laban’s deception, Yaakov inadvertently married Leah instead of Rachel. (We’ll leave all conniving in-law-related exegesis for a later date.) So now, as part of the Jewish wedding ceremony, the groom is given the opportunity to verify that his bride is indeed the woman he wants to marry. But in an age where we’ve already modified the wedding ceremony to fit modern culture and custom—the modern Jewish wedding ceremony condenses the official engagement and wedding into one ceremony, whereas historically these two separate events occurred months apart—why keep a custom that seems, at least on its surface, to be superfluous? Given all the trappings of a modern wedding, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for a devious father-in-law to swap out daughters without a photographer, videographer, wedding planner, dress fitter, hair and/or makeup stylist, etc. noticing that something isn’t, well, kosher.
If the purpose of the Badeken today is not exclusively a means for bridal inspection, what other purpose does it serve? For me, the Badeken remains the first thing I think about when recalling my wedding day. As is tradition, I fasted the entire day and have little recollection of the Kabbalat Panim (the separate pre-wedding receptions for bride and groom) besides a feeling of lightheadedness, anxiety, and an intense desire to see my best friend, partner, and confidant: my bride. As the singing turned into dancing and I was escorted to the Badeken, all I wanted to do was to see her. We’d been separated for a week, each left to deal with our separate versions of wedding stress and jitters. But this was it! A day months in planning and years in dreaming—it was finally here. In the next room, surrounded by the women in her life, sat my bride upon her bridal throne, waiting for me to be danced in, to see her and to veil her. What I remember most is that before veiling her, time slowed and what takes barely a minute in our wedding video felt almost dreamlike: I stared into Beth’s eyes and knew that I was glimpsing my past, present, and future all at once. I was no longer alone. I had someone to travel through life with. As I veiled her, the “deal” was unspoken: we would walk together—where she would walk, I would walk; where I would walk, she would walk. As we noted under our Chuppah, the letters in the word Elul match a line from the Song of Songs: Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li—“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This line has always defined us as a couple.
What followed, from the Chuppah to the reception, all felt like a confirmation of what happened in the Badeken. We may not have been married until later in the day, but for me, that ritual—the verification not just that this was whom I wanted to marry and spend my life with, but that this was the life I wanted to share—made it final and made it real.
Now let’s return to Yaakov our forefather, who is sleeping fitfully and dreaming the most biblical of dreams. What does he dream? He sees, depending on the translation, a stairway or ladder that reaches to the heavens with angels moving back and forth. Whatever it is, it is a conveyance—a connection to the divine. As a dream it is beautiful—symbolic and spiritual, fraught with meaning. And then, in the dream, Hashems peaks to Yaakov, promising him and his descendants, who will be like the “dust of the earth”, the land on which he lies. Hashem promises to protect Yaakov. Where Yaakov goes, so will Hashem. And Yaakov awakens convinced of the dream’s meaning, recognizing the importance of his journey and what his life will bring. And in a strange, surprisingly confident, voice, Yaakov makes a promise in return: If Hashem watches over and protects Yaakov, then Hashem will be G-d to Yaakov.
What can we make of this dream in light of what comes later in the Parasha? Perhaps we can see Yaakov’s dream as a Badeken in its own right. The veil has been lifted, however briefly, to show Yaakov and, by extension, us, that we are connected not just to each other through our friendships and marriages, but to the divine, each and every day. The twin promises between Yaakov and Hashem are echoed when we marry: We promise to protect each other, support each other, and journey through life together. As Yaakov’s story becomes our story, we see, again and again, our connection to Hashem, who can also be seen as the subject of the Song of Songs. We are Hashem’s and Hashem is ours.