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Parshah Halacha – Parshat VaYeshev / Shabbat Mevarchim Tevet
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In the Torah portion of VaYeshev, we read that Yehudah gave Tamar his ring, garment (petil), and staff as collateral until he would bring her a kid goat. These objects were given in connection to the encounter between Yehudah and Tamar which resulted in the birth of the twins Peretz and Zerach, one of whom was the ancestor of Moshiach. As such, the commentaries find great symbolism in these objects. This article will explore that symbolism as well as discuss some of the laws of the wedding ring.
Rashi says the ring Yehudah gave Tamar was his signet ring. The Ramban adds that the seal on that ring may have been the image of a lion or a similar image as was common for rulers in those days.
A Wedding Ring
The Da’at Zekeinim quotes some who say that he actually betrothed her with the ring. Yehudah was an important person and as such would not travel alone since a Torah scholar is not supposed to travel without at least two companions. It was likely that his friend Chira accompanied him as well as at least one other person. These two companions acted as the witnesses to the betrothal. According to this opinion, the ring was not just a collateral (as one cannot betroth a woman by giving her a collateral), but rather a complete gift with the stipulation that when he would give her the kid goat, she would give him the ring back.
Rashi translates petil as a garment. The Ramban, however, points out that Yehudah would not have given Tamar his garment and walked out unclothed. Rather it was an extra garment worn by important people on their heads (something like a kafiyah). According to the Rashbam, petil is a belt. According to the Chizkuni, it was a cord that Yehudah was planning to use to bind the wool that he was on his way to shear.
The Ba’al HaTurim writes that the staff Yehudah gave Tamar was the staff which Moshe would later use to split the sea. The Midrash (Yelamdeinu quoted in Torah Sheleimah) adds that it was the staff which Yaakov used to split the Jordan River. (See Gen. 32:11 and Rashi there.)
The Seforno says that Tamar chose these three articles as they were usually worn by important people. She wanted these to remind herself of his importance and bear in mind that through him she would have outstanding children.
- Unique to Yehudah
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains (Likutei Sichot vol. 15, pg. 351 and on) that Tamar specifically asked for articles that Yehudah would care about and try to retrieve. Therefore, she specifically asked for his signet ring and his special cloak that he wore as a sign of his high position. Having these unique items would also ensure that when she would take them out nine months later, she would be able to prove that Yehudah was the father of her children.
- Spousal Obligations
Rabeinu Bachaye says that Tamar was alluding to the three obligations that a husband owes his wife. The signet ring alludes to the sign of the brit (circumcision), thus representing conjugal obligations. The cloak represents the obligation to provide clothing while the staff represents the obligation to provide sustenance as in the verse (Gen. 26:26) “the staff of bread.”
- Honored Descendants
In addition, Rabeinu Bachaye writes, these items represent various important descendants that resulted from this union.
- The signet ring alludes to Zerubavel, leader of the Jews in the beginning of the Second Bait HaMikdash, as the verse (Chaggai 2:23) says, “I will take you, Zerubavel… and I will make you as a signet; for I have chosen you, says the L-rd of Hosts.”
- The petil represents Betzalel, builder of the Mishkan, about whom it says (Exodus 39:2), וְקִצֵץ פְּתִילִם – And he cut threads.”
- The staff represents King David regarding whom it says (Shmuel I, 17:40), “And he took his staff in his hand.”
Since we are discussing the ring that Yehudah gave Tamar which, as mentioned above, some say was for the sake of betrothal, we will discuss some of the laws and customs relating to a wedding ring.
Why a Ring for the Wedding Ceremony?
According to Jewish law (Kiddushin 2a) one of the methods with which to betroth a woman is by giving her an object of value. The Talmud (Kiddushin 7b – 9a) gives many examples of items that can be used for this purpose but does not mention a ring.
However, the Rama writes (Even Ha’Ezer 27:1), based on the Zohar, that it is now customary to use a ring to perform Kiddushin. (See below for a Halachic explanation.)
The Zohar (Tikunei Zohar 10, pg. 25a) explains that by using a ring for Kiddushin (betrothal), one has a representation of the name of G-d – Havayah. The ring represents the letter yud (Chochma), the finger of the woman represents the letter vav (the six Sefirot from chessed to Yesod), and the two witnesses represent the two letters of Hei (Binah and Malchut). In addition, by placing a ring on the Kallah’s finger, that finger now represents the letter zayin since a vav with a crown on it (the ring) resembles a zayin. This zayin represents the Divine attribute of Malchut (Kingship), the seventh attribute when counting from chessed. It is therefore appropriate that, after the giving of the ring, we recite seven blessings (sheva brachot) bestowed upon the Kallah.
Some say that if one were to give a ring with a precious stone in it as Kiddushin, the Kiddushin would not be effective unless the kallah would have it appraised, as otherwise she might think it has a higher value than it really has. As such, it is customary to use a ring without any stone. (Shulchan Aruch Even Ha’Ezer 31:2)
Is it Worth a Perutah?
It is customary (ibid) to ask the witnesses in the presence of the kallah and before the Kiddushin, if the ring has the value of a perutah (approximately five cents). Since this matter is obvious for all to see, why is this question posed? The idea is that there is a concern that the kallah might think the ring is worth more than it actually is. If she accepts it as betrothal based on this mistaken valuation, the Kiddushin may be called into question. We therefore emphasize to the Kallah that it is possible the ring only has the value of a perutah and she should accept it on that basis.
Covering the Face
This is another reason why the Kallah’s face is supposed to be covered during the ceremony. It is to show that the Kallah is accepting the ring even though she cannot see it as she is happy with it regardless of its exact value.
According to the Kehilat Yaakov (cited in Pit’chei Teshuvah on ibid) if a chattan gave a kallah a ring with a precious stone, but the kallah’s face was covered, the Kiddushin is effective. For by covering her face, the kallah indicates she is happy to accept any item as Kiddushin regardless of its precise value.
Why Do we Use Rings Nowadays?
The Rogatchover Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Rosen, gave the following explanation as to why the custom to use a ring for kiddushin only developed in recent centuries (Tzofnat Panei’ach, Ishut, 3:1). In earlier generations, the chattan would betroth the kallah by giving her an object of value (this is called Kiddushin or Eirusin), they would wait for some time (usually a year) before completing the marriage with a Chuppah (this is called Nisu’in), and only then would they live as husband and wife. Any object that the chattan would give to the kallah at the time of the betrothal would become her exclusive property since the husband had no rights over her property until after the Chuppah. Nowadays, however, we do the Chuppah ceremony (i.e., the sheva brachot and yichud) right after the Kiddushin ceremony. The halacha states that once a couple is fully married, the husband has the right to invest the money of his wife and keep the dividends. As such after the Chuppah, regular items of value given by the Chattan to the Kallah would not belong exclusively to the Kallah and they therefore should not be used for Kiddushin. This, however, does not include clothes and jewelry which belong to the Kallah exclusively and cannot even be collected by a creditor. As such, we choose to use a piece of jewelry – a ring – for kiddushin as it will become the exclusive property of the Kallah.
It is customary that the ring used for Kiddushin be free of any engravings either on the inner or outer surface (Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad). An engraving can also cause the kallah to overvalue the ring and is therefore to be avoided. (Some have the custom to even remove the engraving that says how many karats the ring is. This is certainly not necessary by the letter of the law.)
It is customary to use a gold ring (Igrot Kodesh vol. 3 pg. 429). The Ta’amei HaMinhagim points out that the kallah uses her second finger to receive the wedding ring. This is alluded to in Psalm 19 where it says (in verse 2) that the sun is like a Chattan emerging from his bridal canopy. Following this description, there are three verses each of which contains two phrases with five words in each. These begin with Torat Hashem (verse 8) and end with Mishpetei Hashem (verse 10). In all of these phrases G-d’s name is the second word (Torat Hashem, Eidut Hashem, Pikudei Hashem, Mitzvat Hashem, Yirat Hashem and Mishpetei Hashem). Following these verses, the Psalm continues with a verse that begins with the words Hanechemadim Mizahav – They are more precious than gold. In this verse “zahav – gold” is the second word. Since G-d’s name is the second word in the previous phrases, it alludes to the fact that G-d has sanctified the second finger of the Kallah to receive the golden ring from the Chattan.
May We Soon Experience the Completion of the Wedding of G-d and the Jewish People!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach and a Happy Chanuka!