Over the Sabbath, my wife and my mother-in-law and I had the chance to hear a Torah discussion by Rabbi David Lapin, visiting from Toronto. A very understated and informal lecture on Jewish marriage law, but what charisma! You can hear him too on a huge number of recorded Torah lectures available entirely free at his website, iAwaken.org, which is a fabulous resource. He is the real thing.
He made two points that I’ll share with you. First, about the generally misunderstood significance of Jewish law. Whereas other faiths have law, e.g. church law, that emerges from religious philosophy, with Judaism it’s the exact opposite.
The Talmud is primarily a collection of case law. In turn, the Talmud is concerned with probing laws given in their most distilled form in the Torah itself, the Five Books of Moses. There’s very little theology in the Talmud, very little abstract contemplation of the nature of God, the nature of man, and so on. Instead, the philosophy of Judaism emerges from the law. It seems to me the relationship is a little like the way people used to think (some still do) that the spiritual mind emerges from the physical brain.
His subject was the nature of betrothal, the stage of the marriage relationship that in Talmudic times preceded actual matrimony. Betrothal is designated in the Torah by a verb inadequately translated as “taking”: “If a man takes [yikach] a woman and marries her…” (Deuteronomy 24:1). What’s interesting is that the same verb is used to describe God’s “taking” Adam from wherever he was when God created him, to the Garden of Eden: “The Lord took [va'yikach] the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to work it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15).
On that verse the classical commentator Rashi cites the Midrash in explanation that God “took him with pleasant words and persuaded him to enter.” Literally, God “seduced” Adam. In the same way, a husband has to “seduce” his wife continually over the course of their relationship. A tall order!
But the larger philosophical point is that God was working against Adam’s instinctive reluctance to enter the Garden. Never thought of it that way, did you? I didn’t either. Maybe Adam was aware of the temptation that lay therein, to which he and Eve ultimately succumbed. But in the “fall” of man, there appears to have been a divine plan at work, part of the great educational process of human history. Our exposure to temptation, and our failure, was part of a design that God had in mind since before that original sin.