Yesterday morning, as I reviewed the news over breakfast, something unusual caught my eye. It wasn’t actually a news item, but it did appear in one of my usual news sources. There on the sidebar of The Times of Israel web page was this article with the title, “To My Daughter Under the Chupa”. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “Hey! In about a month I’ll have a daughter standing under a chupa. Maybe I should read this.”
I did read it, and I was greatly blessed. It is the speech Rabbi Shmuley Boteach presented recently at the wedding of his daughter. What I found in his remarks was something I have come to expect in Jewish biblical exposition: a profound depth of truth and wisdom that not only supports, but to a great extent completes what I learned in my Christian upbringing.
Perhaps it would be good to explain what a chupa is. It can also be spelled chuppa. The Hebrew pronunciation is difficult for an English speaker, but saying “hoopa” is close enough. One reputable Jewish source explains the chuppa this way:
The chuppah is a tapestry attached to the tops of four poles. The word chuppah means covering or protection, and is intended as a roof or covering for the bride and groom at their wedding.
The chuppah is not merely a charming folk custom, a ceremonial object carried over from a primitive past. It serves a definite, though complicated, legal purpose: It is the decisive act that formally permits the couple’s new status of marriage to be actualized, and it is the legal conclusion of the marriage process that began with betrothal. . . .
Chuppah symbolizes the groom’s home, and the bride’s new domain. More specifically, the chuppah symbolizes the bridal chamber, where the marital act was consummated in ancient times.
This helps explain what I mean when I say that Jewish learning complements my Christian learning. What I mean in this case is that the pastors and teachers I have been blessed to know have consistently taught me that I am part of the Bride of Christ. What they did not teach me was what that means. To understand this requires a Hebraic perspective that takes into account the entire record of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. That is where the Jewish learning comes in. The rabbis know that Israel is the chosen of God, and that He will betroth her as His bride. What the rabbis and the pastors together could not have known until now is that this blessed betrothed one, the Israel of the rabbis and the Church of the pastors, is the same corporate body of believers joined together in the covenant sealed with the blood of YHVH’s Anointed.
What is this tendency of human minds to discard unpleasant things and cling to what is pleasant, nice, and amusing? This can be useful in remembering loved ones who pass from this earth. Whatever annoyances or difficulties they presented us in life fade from our memories, leaving only the glow of happy moments – of childhood kindnesses, of good smells and kind voices, of triumphant moments when a cooperative effort and patience brings victory over a harsh trial. This is good, but in truth these happy things have no meaning if not set apart by the unhappy things.
This truth of life has its reflection in art. Consider, for example, Of Mice and Men, a tragedy penned in 1937 by John Steinbeck to portray the pain of American society in the midst of the Great Depression. It is the tale of George and Lennie, two migrant farm workers in California with a dream of owning a farm of their own one day. From the opening of the play we see that Lennie labors under mental challenges that make him unable to care for himself. He depends on George to keep him out of trouble and think for both of them. All he knows is that he likes to pet nice, soft things with his fingers, and that one day when he and George have a place of their own, he can tend the rabbits they will raise. Lennie is simple, kind, trusting, and hardworking, but he does not know his own strength. The soft things he pets often end up dead. At first it is a mouse, then a puppy, and finally a flirtatious woman who invites him to stroke her hair. This last “bad thing” is something George cannot fix except by ensuring Lennie will never hurt anyone again. The play ends as George tells Lennie one more time about the rabbits, and then takes his life.
Steinbeck lived to see his sublime tragedy dismembered and parodied in superficial popular culture, beginning with animated cartoons. As Of Mice and Men became an Oscar-nominated film in 1940, Warner Brothers gave birth to a new American icon, Bugs Bunny. It did not take long before Lennie’s simpleminded fixation with furry rabbits became a standard feature in Looney Toons shorts, reaching a climax in 1961 with “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”. In the cartoon Lennie becomes an Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas who encounters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Mistaking Daffy for a rabbit, the snowman picks him up and utters these now-famous words:
Just what I always wanted. My own little bunny rabbit. I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him and pet him and rub him and caress him.
With these lines, this absurd cartoon illustrates how distorted shadows supplant what is unpleasant and tragic, leaving only a form of the truth, but lacking its power. Those who have no knowledge of Steinbeck’s story will laugh at the cartoon, but they remain ignorant of the full context, and are thus robbed of the life lessons Steinbeck sought to impart. The same is true of those who take the Bible in sound bites rather than in its full context, including these words of Moses:
And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. (Deuteronomy 7:13 NASB)