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From Personal Vows to Sacred Traditions

As you read this, I am already on my way to Providence to celebrate the wedding weekend of my best friend from rabbinical school. On Sunday, her marriage will become official and I have the honor of witnessing this holy moment and signing her ketubah (Jewish marriage document).

When Jeremy and I got married, in addition to having a traditional Aramaic ketubah, we also wrote our own shetar ahavah—a document of love. The text of the traditional rabbinic ketubah dates back to the first century CE. While the ketubah was quite revolutionary for its time, providing financial protection for women, it is far from a romantic egalitarian document of love and thoughtful emotional commitment to say the least.

Before writing our shetar ahavah, we sat down and created a list of our values, priorities, obligations, hopes, and dreams. What did we care about most? What did we want our Jewish home to be for ourselves and others? How did we want to show gratitude to our parents? To raise our children—if we were blessed one day to become parents? To care for each other, family, community, and the Earth? For me, the exercise of creating our own document was one of the most meaningful parts of preparing for the next chapter of our lives together.

Here at BJ, every year during the Torah service on the first day of Shavuot—after a night of learning and preparing to receive the Torah—we read a Ketubah leShavuot. This long-standing Sephardi tradition acts as a symbolic marriage between God and Kelal Yisrael, the Jewish people. I was first introduced to this ritual at BJ and—like most weddings—each time I hear it read aloud, it brings me to tears. As the words of Israel Najara, 17th-century poet and mystic from Tzfat, flow into our beautiful Sanctuary, I stand fully covered by my tallit feeling a renewed sense of love and commitment to Torah, to our sacred community, and to God.

On the sixth of Sivan, the day appointed by God for the revelation of the Torah to God’s beloved people… The Invisible One came forth from Sinai, shone from Seir and appeared from Mount Paran unto all the kings of the earth, in the year 5784 since the creation of the world…

…Be My mate according to the law of Moses and Israel, and I will honor, support, and maintain you and be your shelter and refuge in everlasting mercy. And I will set aside for you the life-giving Torah by which you and your children will live in health and tranquility…

…God’s commandments; this applies to all humankind’ (Ecclesiastes 12:13)…

This year—this broken and painful year—it felt different to read these words on Wednesday morning. Where is our shelter, refuge, everlasting mercy, and tranquility? Standing under my tallit, the tears emanating from my shattered heart streamed down my face—this time, tears of pain.

Part of my heartache comes from how distant I feel from God this year. How is all of this still happening? It’s Shavuot—the third of our three pilgrimage holidays. This nightmare all started at the very end of Sukkot. Pesah brought more weeping and yearning for a world that includes freedom and redemption for all people. And now, Shavuot, holiday number three, and the need for the hostages to come home and for all of the violence to end feels urgent.

It has been a devastating year for us as Jews and for all of humanity. A year of longing to feel God’s love and protection, the gift of tranquility, the safety of God’s shelter and refuge.

As we turn from Shavuot toward Shabbat, in a time when our love story with God feels more than ever like a tragedy, may the Ketubah leShavuot be a reminder of our commitment to our priorities and obligations, to our Torah and our mitzvot, to our hopes and our dreams. And so too, may it remind God of God’s commitment to us to be a partner in creating a new chapter, one which we pray will be filled with love, safety, and tranquility for all.

Shabbat Shalom,