Naso: Bridegroom of the Sabbath

The Torah portion of Naso discusses the law of Sotah: (Bamidbar 5:11-31) When a husband warns his wife not to be alone with a certain man and she disobeys him, then even if she did not sin with that man, the very fact that she was alone with him causes her to become a sotah — a woman “straying from the path of modesty.” (Rashi, ibid., verse 12.)

The relationship between husband and wife in this world is analogous to the relationship between the A-lmighty and the Jewish people, who are deemed “husband and wife.” (See Likkutei Sichos , Vol. III, p. 984.) Thus all the laws of sotah apply to the relationship between G-d and the Jews.

The “warning” that G-d issues to the Jewish people is the command: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Shmos 20:3.) This is similar to the warning: “do not conceal yourself with a certain man.”

The Chassidic Dimension
Commentary on Torah Portion Naso
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, pp. 1032-1034
and the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

The Bible is replete with marriage metaphors, usually contrasting God and Israel as husband and wife. We also have a great deal of similar imagery in the Apostolic Scriptures depicting Jesus as husband and the church as his bride.

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. –Ephesians 5:22-27 (ESV)

Many Christian women take great comfort in these metaphors but more than a few men struggle with the role of “bride” relative to the Messiah. But let’s not be incredibly literal, since the Bible writers are using metaphors to describe a level of close intimacy between the Messiah and his disciples that can only be likened with the closeness and love experienced by two people who are intertwined by devotion. But Israel and the church aren’t the only “bride” metaphors we know of.

The chorus of the classic Sabbath hymn Lekhah Dodi states in part:

Let’s go, my beloved, to meet the bride,
and let us welcome the presence of Shabbat.

But in this instance, if the Shabbat is the bride, who is the bridegroom? The traditional Jewish tradition casts God in that role, but we also have this:

Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” –Matthew 12:5-8 (ESV)

The oldest text we have for this passage is in Greek, but if we try to “retrofit” these verses back into the Hebrew thoughts of the Jewish writer of Matthew, when he says “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath,” what word did he use for “lord?”

“Adon” seems to be fitting under the circumstances, but a week ago, I heard a different interpretation by a young Jewish scholar (yes, I’m “borrowing” this from you, Nick) who offered a sort of midrash on this topic.

The word Baal is derived from the common Hebrew verb (ba’al), own, rule, possess. The verb is even used to indicate the husband’s relationship to his wife (Deuteronomy 24:1) and is applied to the relationship between God and man, “For your husband (ba’al) is your Maker…” (Isaiah 54:5).

-quoted from the website

ShabbatBaal can mean both “lord” and “husband” but by deliberately applying the latter meaning, we can discover something about the relationship between Messiah and the Shabbat as well as something about the Messiah and us.

When we read the passage as “‘lord’ of the Shabbat”, we think of someone in charge or in command or with authority. These are very powerful images, but they don’t fit very well with how a loving groom should be approaching his bride. However, if we say, “‘husband’ of the Shabbat,” we completely change the meaning. Suddenly, we have an intimate, warm, caring interaction between the Messiah and the Shabbat.

Some Jewish sages state that the Shabbat is actually a small taste of the life in the world to come; Paradise, if you will. Creating the picture of a husband, the Messiah, welcoming his beloved bride, the Shabbat, into his arms, we can see something of the peace we will experience when he finally returns and fixes our broken world and our broken hearts.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. –Revelation 21:4 (ESV)

This also fits very well back into what we saw in Ephesians 5 in comparing Jesus and the church with a husband and wife.

I know I’m being more than a little poetic here, but I take a certain amount of comfort in applying the lessons of both this week’s Torah Portion and the Shabbat to my walk of faith, and realize that Shabbat is not only a way for God to comfort us in the midst of our weekly trials, but His promise that He will always love us and, through the Messiah, grant us eternal peace.

Why should we stray after others to be alone with them when we can be the bride of the Moshiach and receive boundless intimacy with our bridegroom.

Good Shabbos.


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