Thoughts for Sedra Korach
This week’s announcement by the Prime Minister that weddings would shortly be permitted to resume, coincided with Sedra Korach – which is normally read at the height of the Jewish wedding season, before the Three Weeks. Sedra Korach is always a good time to talk about weddings and marriage because of the almond that makes its appearance:
And it was on the next day, and Moshe came into the tent of testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron of the House of Levi, had blossomed. It brought forth a blossom, it sprouted a bud, and it grew almonds and they ripened. (Bamidbar 17;23)
Nowadays, we shower a groom at his aufruf with sweet things, but originally the custom was particularly with almonds. Why the almond particularly, rather than any other fruit? Three thoughts:
1. The almond is the symbol of unity. Other fruits when you open them, inside there are multi-compartments and divisions. An almond, however, is just one. If you peer underneath the thin brown peel, you will see that it is two parts, but it stays together, & it is one unified whole. This is symbolic of marriage, as the Chumash records the Divine instruction to mankind: “therefore a man shall leave his father and mother & they shall become as one flesh” vehayu lebassar echad (Bereishis 2;24) two individuals bring their unique qualities to make a new whole. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman wrote a book on marriage with the title One Plus One Equals One. Bad arithmetic, but it adds up to an excellent marriage. When two individuals marry, two separate entities become one.
2. The almond, secondly, symbolises fruitfulness, it symbolises sweetness. But actually, the Gemara Chullin talks about two species of almonds. One that is at first bitter and then becomes sweet, & the second that is at first sweet but then becomes bitter. For green fingered botanists amongst us these two have Latin names: amygdalus communis var. dulcis and the amygdalus communis var amara. Building a marriage relationship takes effort; some people might find effort to be a bitter activity. But the almonds at the aufruf are there perhaps to point a way that the efforts put in to building a relationship, into finding a way of compromise, they are what produce a sweet fruit in the end.
In the main statement in the kesubah marriage document the groom declares ana eflach v’okir “I will work for you and I will cherish you”. Why in that order? Surely ‘cherishing’ ought to come before ‘working for’. But the nuance of this kesubah wording comes to teach
that there is a pathway here; that working leads to cherishing, & that without the effort of work, there is no real cherishing. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler noted that the word in Hebrew for love is ahavah. But the letters in the middle hav, are themselves an Aramaic root that means ‘to give’. For at the root of loving is giving. Leading to the important practical takeaway for marriage – that the key to fostering the depth of love in a marriage is by the ‘giving’ to each other that each side is prepared to offer.
3. The third lesson for marriage comes from a fact noted by the Talmud (Yoma 52b) that the wooden staff of Aharon in our Sedra which flowered miraculously with blossom and almonds, was preserved in that state for future generations, with its almonds and blossoms intact. Now, it is not normal for blossom to remain on a branch once the fruit has developed. Fruit grows out of the bud and then replaces the blossom. What is the significance of the blossom enduring on the stick together with the almonds? Rabbi Moshe Feinstein suggests that the fruit and blossom carry the following inspiring symbolic message:
Every worthy activity consists of two aspects. There is the end, the goal (the ‘fruit’), and there is also the effort and the toil (the ‘blossom’) that lead towards that end. Which of these is of enduring value? Is it only the goal itself that counts, but the efforts leading up to it have no meaning, or do the efforts leading up to the goal also have a value? In this regard there is a difference between the material and the spiritual. In the material sphere, it is really only the achievement of the goal (‘the fruit’) that counts. The efforts (the ‘blossom’) that one might have put in along the way are just not significant, they don’t appear on the ‘bottom line’. In the material world it is only the achievement of the goal that counts.
Contrast, in the spiritual world, in the performance of a mitzvah, not only is the goal, the mitzvah act, itself significant, but the effort & toil that is invested along the way (the ‘blossom’ leading towards the ‘fruit’) these, too, have permanent significance & are not lost. The blossoms remaining together with the almonds on Aharon’s staff, & preserved down the centuries, were there to teach future generations how to live a live full of meaning & achievement. For in the spiritual world, when doing a mitzvah, all of our efforts along the way, are preserved & recorded.
A life with a spiritual dimension is one which gives meaning. Every effort counts. Each step in life imbued with mitzvas can bring the satisfaction of knowing that it was a job well done. In the spiritual enterprise that is marriage and the construction of a Jewish home and family, with its linking of generations and its building of eternity – every effort counts along the way, all the toil is of enduring and permanent significance.
Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag