Elul, the Hebrew name of the upcoming month, forms an acronym for the four Biblical words, “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li, I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This month that precedes the New Year, is the month when the love between G-d and the Jewish people is said to be at its peak. It is therefore a month that we can get closer to G-d in preparation for the New Year.
Because of this month’s spiritually romantic and blessed character, many marriages will be scheduled during Elul.
It is thus fitting that this week’s Parsha opens with: “Behold I place before you today a beracha-blessing and a kelalah-curse.” When one embarks on a new life, they should realize that G-d presents them with the greatest of blessings.
But what about the curses?
Targum Yonasan, a Talmudic era Aramaic translation and commentary, does not translate the word “kelalah” here as he does in other places to mean curse, but rather “chilufa” which means “the exchange.” This is because the Torah stresses that the beracha and kelalah come directly from G-d. “Behold I give you today…” And since no evil can truly come from G-d, the curse in its original form is actually G-d’s blessing. But we, through our misguided behavior, have the capacity to divert the blessing, exchanging the blessing for its opposite.
There is no area or occasion where G-d directly bestows His blessings upon us than on the occasion of a wedding. This is underscored by the “Sheva Berachot,” the seven special blessings that describe how G-d blesses the newlyweds, recited during the wedding ceremony and during the next seven days.
The message of this Parsha according to Targum Yonatan for the newlywed — and for every husband and wife — is clear: If you want to preserve G-d’s personal and most powerful blessings, one must behave in a manner that prevents the incredible blessings from being diverted into a curse.
And precisely because the blessings that are bestowed upon the newlywed are so potent, the potential for the negative is therefore also greater. As our Talmudic rabbis observe that the Hebrew word for both man and woman contains the two letters of Aleph and Shin, which spells the Hebrew word Aish, fire. The word for man also contains the Hebrew letter Yud while the word for woman contains the Hebrew letter hei. These two letters form G-d’s name. The message, is clear:
When a marriage allows for the presence of G-d, moreover, when a marriage is expressive of G-d’s relationship and love affair with us, then man and woman will live together in peace, harmony and bliss. If, G-d forbid, the element of G-d is missing, then we are left with the word aish -fire. Husband and wife then become two potent destructive forces that threaten each other as well as everyone around them.
To the extent that we allow the G-dly element of our lives dominate our marriage, then we become the recipients of the greatest G-dly blessings.
The question, however, arises. How does one avoid strife and discord which can divert the blessing of marriage into a curse? After all, we are in possession of an animal instinct that is selfish and can undermine the unity and devotion that a marriage requires.
The answer is also provided for in this week’s parsha in the laws of Kashrus, pertaining to the kashrus of an animal. The animal must possess two characteristics to be kosher. And while, the Torah must be understood literally, that keeping kosher is a vital part of our lives, there can also be a metaphoric message that can help us deal with the animal nature within us.
If we want our animal soul to be edible, i.e., an asset that will contribute to our spiritual health and the enhancement of our marriage, we must see to it that the animal chews its cud. This means that we are never to jump to conclusions concerning the motives and actions of our spouse. We must always think and rethink what really happened, what were the real motives, before we can make a fair judgment about the other.
But that is still not enough. One must also have “split hooves.” This means, metaphorically, that we must not allow our contact with the material world to be absolute. There must be a crack in that connection between our feet and the earthiness of the world, which allows a ray of G-dly light to shine through the “hooves,” that which connects us to the material world. When we are not obsessed with materialism, we are less selfish and possessive, so that we do not rush to hasty conclusions about the other and are more receptive to the G-dly dimension of our lives and our marriage
Marriage — and all of the manifold blessings that go along with it — is also an apt metaphor for the Messianic Age. When we follow the prescription of “chewing our cud” being less judgmental of others and “split hooves” when we allow the light of Torah to enter into and temper our materialistic nature, we will be more receptive to the coming of Moshiach and the ultimate Redemption, when true peace, harmony and love will prevail throughout the world.