Parashat Pekudeh: Bringing the Shechina Through Marriage
Parashat Pekudeh continues the Torah’s discussion of the Mishkan, the portable Temple which Beneh Yisrael carried with them through the wilderness. The purpose of the Mishkan – which was also the purpose of the Bet Ha’mikdash, which later replaced it – is stated earlier, in Parashat Teruma (25:8): "Ve’asu Li Mikdash Ve’shachanti Be’tocham." The Mishkan served to bring the Shechina, the Divine Presence, into the nation’s midst.
Our Sages teach that in the absence of the Bet Ha’mikdash, this purpose is served by the institution of marriage. Although we cannot, unfortunately, experience the Shechina as we did in the times of Bet Ha’mikdash, we can still bring the Divine Presence into our homes by building and maintaining strong and happy marriages. This concept is alluded to in the "Hareh At" declaration which the groom makes under the Huppa when he formally designates the bride as his wife. He announces, "Hareh At Mekudeshet Li" ("You are hereby designated for me"). The word "Li" brings to mind the aforementioned verse in which G-d commands Beneh Yisrael to build the Mishkan: "Ve’asu Li Mikdash." The building of a Jewish home takes the place of the building of a Mikdash as the vehicle through which the Shechina is brought into our lives, and we therefore include a reference to the Mikdash under the Huppa.
This may also explain the widespread custom to break a glass under the Huppa after the ceremony. This unusual practice is widely understood as intended to commemorate the tragedy of the Hurban, the Temple’s destruction. Even in our moment of joy, we need to take a moment to reflect upon the fact that our joy remains incomplete without the Bet Ha’mikdash. The question arises, however, as to why this is done only at weddings, and not at other joyous occasions, such as a Berit Mila or Bar Misva. The answer, perhaps, lies in the association between marriage and the Mikdash. Since marriage replaces the Mikdash as the means of bringing down the Shechina, it is specifically then, when a couple marries, that we express our yearning for the restoration of the ultimate residence of the Shechina – the Bet Ha’mikdash.
It is worth noting in this context an entirely different explanation given for the custom of breaking a glass under the Huppa. The Rokeah (Rabbi Elazar of Worms, 1176-1238) writes that the breaking of the glass is intended to bring to mind Moshe Rabbenu’s breaking the two stone tablets when he saw Beneh Yisrael worshipping the golden calf. This explanation, of course, gives rise to the question as to the connection between the breaking of the tablets and a Jewish wedding.
Moshe’s lifework was embodied by those two stone tablets. His job was to lead Beneh Yisrael from Egypt and bring them to Mount Sinai to receive G-d’s commands. The tablets represented the culmination of the historic process through which Moshe led the people. Yet, when it became clear that the process had failed, that Beneh Yisrael were not worthy of the tablets engraved by G-d, he broke them. He did not think to himself, "After all the work I put into this, I am not going to break the tablets." Instead, Moshe did what to be done, without looking back at the work he had put in.
This is a vital message for a bride and groom. Too often, we argue and stubbornly refuse to budge on principle, because we insist that we are right. One of the most important guidelines for a peaceful marriage is to be smart, not right. It is simply not worth the tension and anguish to stick to one’s guns and refuse to give in. Just as Moshe was prepared to shatter the stone tablets in which he had invested so much, similarly, we need to be prepared to "break" our ideas and preconceived notions for the sake of marital harmony. And so right at the moment when a young couple begins their marriage, we remind them of Moshe Rabbenu breaking the tablets, to teach them this lesson of flexibility and sacrifice.
In order to bring the Shechina into our homes, we need to make the sacrifices and compromises that are necessary for a happy, stable marriage. We can and must work to build our own personal "Bateh Mikdash," our Jewish homes, by investing in our marriages and knowing when we need to "break the tablets" and compromise for the sake of peace and harmony.