Have you ever been to a Jewish wedding?

If you have, you may have noticed that one of the rituals performed under the chuppah is the reading of the ketubah, the marriage contract.

Many think it’s a romantic notion. As the flowery document is unrolled and the ancient Aramaic words (hopefully) roll off the reader’s tongue, the crowd can almost feel the bonds of love between the newly minted husband and wife.

The problem is that a ketubah is far from (just) a contract of love. In fact, it’s pretty much the exact opposite.

Sure it contains a single line in which the husband commits to, “serve, honor, feed and support you … faithfully.” But if you actually read the tongue-twisting Aramaic, it states in no unclear terms that if the husband ever even dreams of divorcing his wife, he is on the hook for a very large sum of money.

The history of this document harks back to Talmudic times when marriages were much more convenience-based, and too many men were easily dismissing their wives on flimsy pretenses. As a protection against flippant men, the rabbis put measures in place that would make them think twice before kicking their wife to the curb. Thus, the ketubah was born.1

Considering its contents, isn’t the chuppah a bad place to read it? Why would we want to evoke scenes of divorce and hefty payouts during this moment of love and devotion, when the relationship is just being built with good feelings all around?

Why talk about destruction during construction?

There are halachic reasons,2 but there’s a deeper lesson here.

The Construction Project

Parshat Terumah opens with the fledgling nation’s first construction project: the Tabernacle. “Make for Me a home,”3 G‑d requests, and in what’s probably the first and last such occurrence, the people overwhelmingly respond to the fundraising campaign. Gold, silver, copper, and an array of other donations pour in. Before long, the project is well underway.

The rabbis see tremendous significance in every element of the Mishkan’s construction: the materials used, the height of the walls, the way the furnishings were laid out—everything was designed to reflect different facets of Jewish life and meaning.

In this vein, the Midrash4 draws a connection between four materials used in the Mishkan’s construction, and four eras in Jewish history. Using Biblical references, associations are made between gold, silver, copper, and the red-dyed ram skins and the four kingdoms of Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome. These are important nations in Jewish history, as they are responsible for the “four exiles”— the four periods of foreign rule to which we have been subjected.5

For more information, see The Four Exiles of the Jewish People.

But, here again, we cannot help but ask: why talk about destruction during the construction? Why would the Midrash find references to the nations who destroyed our Temple in the very verses that speak of its construction?

A Compelling Story

What makes a compelling narrative?

Ask any scriptwriter worth their salt and they’ll tell you: conflict. If there’s no conflict, there’s no character growth, no narrative arch—and it’s profoundly uninteresting.

There’s a reason we all love a good story, because that’s what life’s all about: navigating and resolving conflict, and more importantly, growing from it.

G‑d Wants It, Too

And you know what? A good story of overcoming conflict is what G‑d wants more than anything else as well.

There are all types of great places that G‑d could have chosen to call home. G‑d is perfect, and He could have chosen to remain alone with His perfect self. Or at the very least, to create a spiritually marvelous world full of angels and other celestial beings who recognize His glory and hallow His name.

In fact, G‑d did create such worlds, but He didn’t stop there, opting to create this brute, physical world we call our universe—a place full of material objects and interesting creatures that haven’t the faintest clue who or what G‑d is.

And defying all logic, it is this world that G‑d chose to be His home. The Torah that embodies His deepest will was not given to angels, nor did He keep it for Himself. Who did He give it to? To me and you—lowly humans in a very material world.

You know why?

Because it is only in this world that there is conflict, darkness, and confusion—and most importantly, courageous humans who do their best to overcome it all.6


And that is why the verses that speak of the Temple’s construction allude to its destruction.

You see, the Temple was about constructing a home for G‑d. It was designed to be the spiritual epicenter in a physical world, the place where G‑d’s presence would be most manifest on the terrestrial plane. And so, the people responded with gusto, eagerly pooling their resources to construct a magnificent structure that would shine with sanctity.

That’s all well and good, but remember: a shining edifice with no challengers nipping at its heels doesn't make for a compelling story. The true construction of the Temple is only realized when there’s destruction, when conflict is introduced. When the Jewish people are exiled and thrust into dark and challenging situations and nevertheless build a home for G‑d there too. Then the ultimate purpose and goal of the construction project is realized.

A Temple oozing G‑dliness is wonderful, and we hanker for such days. Better yet, though, is a people without a Temple, without overt G‑dliness, who nevertheless manage to introduce G‑d wherever they go.

When conflict is introduced and then resolved, that’s interesting and satisfying.

A Compelling Life Story: Overcoming Conflict

A wedding is a construction project. It is when two people decide to build a life and a relationship together.

Under the chuppah, it’s all smiles and roses. Starry eyed with love and infatuation, the relationship is effortless and oh-so-romantic; a shining edifice oozing with positivity.

But it’s hardly compelling, and not yet that interesting.

The true test of the young couple’s love will be when conflict arrives. And it will. To see how the two lovers navigate, resolve, and grow from that conflict—that makes for a compelling storyline. That is when their true love will be realized and a real relationship will be born.

And so, under the chuppah, during the construction, we talk about the destruction, the ketubah. “You’re going to face conflict, of that I’m sure,” intimates the ketubah-reader in those lilting Aramaic words. “Do not be dejected or afraid. On the contrary, embrace it!—for then you will be able to truly realize the depth and beauty of your flowering relationship.”7