February 18, 2020

The Royal Wedding of Shavuot

Last Saturday, the world was transfixed by the fairy-tale royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Markle was the embodiment of a Disney princess: a mixed-race, American-born, divorced television star who is now the Duchess of Sussex.

No expense was spared for the celebration. The entire event was estimated to have cost more than $40 million.

There are reasons to criticize such an ostentatious display of wealth and power and people’s fascination, bordering on obsession, with royal weddings. There are better ways to spend $40 million. Nonetheless, there is something spiritually significant about the royal wedding.

At the same time this wedding was taking place, Jews around the world were  celebrating Shavuot, which in Jewish mysticism is often viewed as a metaphor for marriage. On Shavuot, we remember and renew the marriage between God and his people. The wedding canopy was the cloud of glory on Mount Sinai. The witnesses were heaven and Earth. And our ketubah — marriage contract — is the Torah. On Shavuot night we study Torah to express our commitment to our Beloved.

God marrying the Jewish people is a fairy tale. We rose from humble beginnings to the peak of spiritual aristocracy. A broken, downtrodden people were saved from the throes of destruction by an all-powerful God, and as if salvation was not enough, God “put a ring on it” and took the Jewish people to the altar. The midrash says that the entire world was silent during the revelation at Sinai. The world was watching.

Ideally, the joy and celebration of our marriage to God should match the pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding.

There is great appeal in the mystical marriage metaphor. It helps us understand an idea too large to comprehend. But the metaphor is clumsy without context. The royal wedding is that context. Imagine we are all Meghan Markle, and now we are all married to the Crown. Ideally, the joy and celebration of our marriage to God should match the pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding.

There is a talmudic law to make a blessing upon seeing royalty. The rabbis of the Talmud encouraged all Jewish people to run just to see the face of the monarch. They even relaxed a rabbinic prohibition regarding ritual impurity and cemeteries so that more people could see royalty.

Why was it so important to the rabbis for us to see royalty? The Talmud explains “sh’im yizkeh, yavchin.”  — “when one merits [to see a Jewish king], one will understand.”

Despite the reservations we may have about overindulging in the royal wedding spectacle, we should imbibe this grand display so that we may understand, by way of example, the spiritual significance of our marriage to God. We should look at the iconic photo of Meghan Markle gazing lovingly at Prince Harry with a dazzling smile and a twinkle in her eye, so that we might look to God the same way.

Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.