The Wedding Ring - וישב

Friday, 11 December, 2020 - 1:24 pm

The Wedding Ring 

Perhaps one of the most puzzling stories in the Torah is the story of Judah and Tamar. Judah promised Tamar, his twice widowed daughter-in-law, that he would give her his third son in marriage. When Tamar realized that Judah had no intention of doing so, she disguised herself as a harlot and became pregnant from Judah, giving birth to twins, one of whom became the ancestor of King David, as well as the ancestor of Moshiach, who will bring the world to perfection. 

Every detail in the Torah is layered with significance. Tamar asked Judah for security for payment. As the Torah describes: 

So he said, "What is the pledge that I should give you?" And she said, "Your signet, your cloak, and the staff that is in your hand." So he gave them to her, and he came to her, and she conceived his likeness. (Genesis 38:18)

Rashi emphasizes that the signet was set in a ring: “Your ring, with which you seal”.  

The Story of Judah and Tamar affects an essential aspect of every Jewish marriage. While the Jewish Law teaches that a woman is betrothed by receiving any object of monetary value, it has become the universal Jewish custom to betroth a woman by giving her a ring. The commentators explain that the biblical source for betrothal by a ring is Judah, who gave Tamar his signet set in a ring. 

What is the mystical meaning of the ring? Why do we evoke the, seemingly immodest, union of Judah and Tamar in every jewish marriage?

Regarding the day of Shabbat, the Midrash employs the following parable: “This is compared to a king who made a ring. What was the ring missing? It was missing a signet . So too, what was the world missing? The world was missing Shabbat.  

A ring represents nature. The Hebrew word ring consists of the same letters as the Hebrew word for nature . Like a ring, nature is cyclical, like a ring, nature does not necessarily have an identifying mark expressing its owner. What nature, the ring, is missing is a signet, identifying its owner, it’s meaning, and its purpose. Shabbat is the signet. Shabbat is our declaration that G-d created the world in six days and rested in the seventh. While nature is a ring that tells you nothing about its owner or its purpose, Shabbat is the signet of the ring which infuses nature with awareness of the holiness and transcendence of G-d. 

This is the significance of the wedding ring, which represents Judah’s signet. When man and woman seek to unite in marriage, they seek more than a natural, and therefore temporary, bond, they seek to draw holiness and transcendence into their relationship.  Marriage is the sacred bond which infuses the natural connection between man and woman, with the energy of the infinite light of G-d, thus creating an everlasting edifice, expressed in the Divine power of procreation. 

And finally, the Messianic era, whose seeds were planted by the union of Judah and Tamar, represents the ultimate fusion between the ring and the signet, between the natural order, and the infinite light of G-d. Indeed, the Messianic era represents the culmination of the marriage between G-d and the Jewish people, When “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters fill the sea.”

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos, Vayeshev, vol. 15 sicha 4. 

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