Engagement: The Indestructible Vegetable ~The Wonders of the Holy Tongue

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The root ‘ארש’ (betrothing) appears many times in Scripture, for example:

 

And if a man ארש a wife and has not taken her, let him go and return to his house (Deut. 20:7).

 

The word appears as well in the Haftara of Bamidbar (Hosea 2:1-22), where the Prophet offers a powerful metaphor for Hashem’s love for His people, namely that of a man’s love for his betrothed prior to the actual wedding (the period of אירוסין, a derivative of ארש, as the ס’ and  ש’ often interchange between Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew):

 

And I will ארש you to me forever; I will ארש you to me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in grace, and in mercies. I will ארש you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord (Hosea 2:21-22).

 

This beautiful, consoling passage however stands in stark contrast to the beginning of the chapter, replete as it is with rebuke and warnings of retribution:

 

Strive with your mother, strive, for she is not My wife, and I am not her Husband… I make her like a desert, and I set her like an arid land, and cause her to die of thirst… And I will lay waste her vine and her fig tree (Ibid. 4-14).

 

One is left to wondering; is the Haftara’s message is one of retribution of one of comfort? If the latter, the reading could have begun with the following verses (16-20):

 

Therefore, behold I will allure her and lead her into the desert, and I will speak comfortingly to her heart… And I will give her her vineyards… and the bow, the sword, and war I will break off the earth…

 

…and then going on to end with the beautiful metaphoric verses about betrothal. To this question we will return below.

 

The word “אירוס” (as in “אירוסין” above) is found with disparate denotations in Rabbinic literature. For example, in Sota 9:14 its import is “tambourine.” But the Aruch Hashalem (entry ‘ארוס’) suggests the tambourine is so called because it was often used at betrothal ceremonies.

 

Another Rabbinic meaning for “אירוס” is found in Oholos 8:1, where it denotes a vegetable of some sort. Although no one seeks to connect this meaning to “אירוסין” at all, the commentators do explain a unique characteristic of this group of vegetables: the “אירוס” is robust enough to survive the scathing, dry summers without withering and the water-logged, cold winters without rotting.

 

Perhaps this attribute is the key to understanding both why this vegetable is called “אירוס”, and to the stark contrast between the harsh beginning of Haftara in Hosea Chap. 2 and its end referring to Hashem’s love as betrothal, as follows: a vegetable capable of emerging unscathed from the extreme weather conditions described is unquestionably a hearty one… comparable to the love of an engaged couple which survives severe trials and tribulations.

 

The Haftara is on the one hand is teaching of Hashem’s abiding love, His unswerving love for His people, a love that remains unshakeable despite a myriad of reasons for to G-d forbid react otherwise.

 

The characteristic euphoria and anticipation of the betrothal is due in great measure to newness; they experience love and emotions often never felt before. However, this period, these feelings, by default are wont to diminish over time. But the Torah prepares remedies for every ailment, and this is no exception.

 

The Torah is often compared to a bride (e.g. Num. Rabba 12:8), and the Revelation at Sinai as a wedding (e.g. Tanchuma Acharei Mos 8). The Torah states regarding the great and awesome Revelation:

 

Take heed, and listen, O Israel; this day you have become the people of the Lord your G-d (Deut. 27:9).

 

The Talmud asks on this verse: Was this then the day of the Revelation at Sinai – this was forty years afterwards! Rather this teaches that the Torah is as beloved to her students each and every day – as the very first day she was given at Sinai.

 

The Torah never withers, never rots, never ever becomes irrelevant or old. On the contrary, the love of those who study her ad keep her precepts just strengthens with each passing day, thanks to her holiness and endless insights and revelations.

 

Therefore, one who founds his home on the Torah, who welcomes her and sanctifies his home with her holiness, will merit a vibrant, pulsating, marriage, a lifelong betrothal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg

Founding Director, Editor-In-Chief at Veromemanu
Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg is the Founding Director and Editor-in-chief of Veromemanu and it' website BiblicalHebrewEtymology.com.

Yehoshua is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain and currently lives in Israel with his wife and children.

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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg