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Dear Friends,

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Ki-Tissa, God speaks to Moses on top of Mt. Sinai and, among other instructions, explains the requirement that the people should observe one day each week as a day of rest. “Six days may work be done,” God tells him, “but on the seventh day there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to Adonai… the Israelite people shall keep the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel.”

The text then states,

Upon finishing speaking with him [Moses] on Mount Sinai, [God] gave Moses the two tablets of the Pact, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of God.

In a creative linguistic twist, the rabbis see a connection between the word “ke-khaloto,” meaning “he had finished” and kalah (bride) and taught, “When the Holy Blessed One gave the Torah to Israel, it was as dear to them as a bride is to a spouse.”

Thus, as one scholar puts it,

When God and Israel met at Mount Sinai, it was with the trepidation, exhilaration, and love of a bride and a groom on their wedding day. In fact, rabbinic Midrash often speaks of what transpired on that momentous mountain as a marriage: the marriage of God and the Jewish people. In that scenario, the cloud of glory was our huppah, Moses was our best man, and the Ten Commandments were our ketubbah.

Through this word play, the rabbis equate the depth of commitment between our community and God—the covenant—to the connection and dedication of one loving spouse to another. This, in turn, introduces a rather interesting dynamic. You see, a marriage of any length is ultimately numerous different marriages. While the same individuals are part of a marriage, over time each of them grows, evolves and changes. Moreover, the challenges and circumstances within which that relationship exists change as well. As a result, for such a partnership to remain vibrant and relevant there needs to be a constant reevaluation and evolution of the dynamics between the two. Thus, the relationship a couple has when standing beneath the chuppah will be different than the one they have a decade later and will further change as additional time passes. The same individual may be part of the relationship, but out of necessity the relationship evolves.

The same is true for the “marriage” between the Jewish people and God. Over the millennia our circumstances have changed, and in the process our community has, as well. For Judaism to remain relevant it has had to evolve, adapt and change. That isn’t always easy. Most people are change averse, but it was—and continues to be—imperative in order for Judaism to be more than an historic memory.

That’s where Reform Judaism plays such an important role. In many ways the Reform Movement was founded on the tension between commitment to tradition and an awareness that new circumstances require new modes of Jewish living. The result is a dynamic approach to Judaism that celebrates our past, but reflects and responds to the issues and challenges of our day. Even our movement itself has changed radically over the course of our relatively brief history. Ritual items that were once excluded from Reform synagogues, such as kippah and tallit, have been reintroduced. Gender exclusivity has been replaced by a firm commitment to egalitarianism. And individuals who were once rendered “invisible” now hold key leadership roles in our communities.

Our “Jewish marriage” is constantly changing and we all—each of us—play a key role in maintaining and strengthening our commitment to one another, to Judaism and to God.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen