October 23, 2022

Ketubot 87

There is a lovely phrase used in today’s daf (Ketubot 87b) describing a situation when a husband and wife have an oral agreement about a monetary matter which is later invoked in order for her to receive the monies he agreed to give her and where we read her declare: אמנה היתה לי ביני לבינו – ‘there was faith between me and him’.
It is important to point out the word אמנה, which while it may be better translated here as ‘trust’, actually means ‘faith’, and this reminds me of one of the most stirring teachings of Rabbi Sacks which, he himself attested, ‘is so beautiful, so powerful, that frankly I am overwhelmed by it’. And what is that idea? The idea that we should consider faith as a marriage.
Admittedly, while Rabbi Sacks expressed this idea in many exquisite ways, he did not conceive it. Instead, the idea is most potently found in the words of the prophet Hosea (2:18) who communicated how ‘God is not Baal, He-who-rules-by-force, but Ish – the very word Adam used when he first saw Eve – [meaning] He-who-relates-in love’, and who communicated the stirring words of: ‘I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion; I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord.’ (2:21-22).
Significantly, aside from these words being uttered when the tefillin are wrapped on a finger (in a manner comparable to placing a wedding ring on that finger), they are also recited as part of the Haftarah for Parshat Bemidbar which is the parasha that is always read on the Shabbat preceding Shavuot – because it is on Shavuot when we celebrate our marriage with God through the Torah.
However, there is a postscript to this idea, because when else is a Haftarah read from Sefer Hoshea – whom Rabbi Sacks describes as being ‘the supreme poet of marriage’? On Parshat Vayetze (when the prophet remonstrates the people for their unfaithfulness), and also on Shabbat Shuva – the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – which we read today.
It should be noted how numerous reasons are offered as to why this Haftarah is read today. However, I believe that a powerful reason is that the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are meant to be used to enhance our understanding, our commitment and our actions to better reflect how our faith is a marriage. As Rabbi Sacks explains, ‘faith is what happens when God reaches out His hand to us and we respond in love and trust. It does not mean – any more than a marriage does – that there will be no shocks in store, no crises, no tragedies. It does, however, mean that we will not desert one another. We will have our domestic disagreements, but God will always be there with us, and we will always be there with Him.’
Overall, the purpose of these days is to be able to reach the point in our relationship with God when we too can utter the words of today’s day of: אמנה היתה לי ביני לבינו and that, in response to the ‘hand’ with which God reaches out to us in love and trust at this time and at all times, we respond in love and trust.
* To watch a (15-min) video where I summarise the teachings of Rabbi Sacks on ‘Faith as a Marriage’ see https://youtu.be/viX3q7ZakWg.
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