As we discussed in this series, the raison d’etre of our people is to serve as a collective example of Torah – the Divine Teaching; moreover, we also discussed how our story is to serve as an example of the human story. The various customs and celebrations of our people therefore express deep ideas which are related to our spiritual and universal raison d’etre. In this letter, we will discuss some of the deeper aspects of the Jewish wedding celebration. Following this letter, there are additional explanations, as well as information about an outreach program for intermarried couples.
The following comment is often heard from both Jews and non-Jews when they attend a truly traditional Jewish wedding for the first time: “I have never witnessed such joy!” A friend of mine married a woman who had converted to Judaism, and her non-Jewish family members attended. They were quite impressed by the very joyous atmosphere, and her brother said that he was especially moved by the way in which the “chasan” and “kallah” – the groom and the bride – are at the center of the ecstatic and sacred dancing.
The dancing at a traditional Jewish wedding is communal, with men dancing with men and women dancing with women. In the previous letter, we discussed how these separate circles help to protect and enhance the sacred nature of this celebration. As we mentioned, the dancing at the wedding begins with men dancing around the chasan and women dancing around the kallah. Individuals from each circle then take turns doing their own personal dance before the chasan or the kallah. At the height of the celebration, there is a custom in some communities for the chasan and the kallah to be lifted on chairs and to be brought together while they are both high above the crowd! Various Jewish communities – Ashkenazic, Sephardic, Yemenite, and others – have their own beautiful dance traditions which enhance the joy of the sacred wedding.
The joy of this celebration is expressed in the following words from our Sacred Scriptures which are sung at the wedding:
“The voice of jubilation and the voice of joy, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride” (Jeremiah 33:11).
Why is the traditional Jewish wedding so jubilant and joyous? Based on Torah teachings, I would like to suggest the following reasons:
1. Regarding the creation of the “adam” – the human being – the Torah states:
“So God created the adam in His image...male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).
The Midrash cited by the classical commentator, Rashi, explains this verse in the following manner: The adam was created as an androgynous being with two sides, male and female. These two sides were later separated in order to form two separate beings – man and woman (Genesis Rabbah 8:1). The tradition that the first human being was created as an androgynous being is also cited in the Talmud (Brochos 61a, Eruvin 18a).
After the human being was placed in the Garden of Eden, the Creator separated the two sides, as it is written, “Then God fashioned the side that He had taken from the human being into a woman” (Ibid 2:22). There were now two separate human beings – male and female. This separation, however, develops the potential for “love” – a relationship that enables two independent individuals to become as one. The Torah therefore indicates that the goal of this separation is the loving reunion of the male and female components of the human being, as following the story of the separation, the Torah states: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Ibid 2:24).
At the wedding, when the chasan and the kallah are joined together in marriage, we are celebrating the loving reunion of the male and female halves of the original human being! In this spirit, we chant at the wedding the following blessing to Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One:
“Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who created the human being.” (This is the second of the “Seven Blessings” which are chanted at each wedding.)
2. Each Jewish wedding celebrates the continuity of our people and our mission. Although we have suffered severe losses due to persecution and assimilation, the wedding serves as a reminder that we are an eternal people. The children from this marriage will help to continue the existence of our people; moreover, the Torah – the Divine Teaching – can be passed on to a new generation. Through this physical and spiritual continuity, the following Divine promise to Jacob, our father, can be fulfilled:
“All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Genesis 28:14).
3. There are a number of beautiful metaphors within our Sacred Scriptures which describe the loving relationship between Hashem and Israel, and in one metaphor, Israel is referred to as the |”bride” of Hashem. One of the examples of this metaphor is found in the following Divine proclamation which the Prophet Jeremiah conveyed to Israel regarding her willingness to leave Egypt and follow her Beloved into the wilderness in order to receive the Torah:
“Thus said Hashem: ‘I recall for you the lovingkindness of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me into the wilderness, into an unsown land.’ ” (Jeremiah 2:2)
Our exile is viewed by the prophets as a period of separation and estrangement from our Beloved; however, the prophets also described the future reunion with our Beloved. For example, the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed:
“Like a chasan’s rejoicing over his kallah, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5).
We therefore sing the above words at Jewish weddings, for each wedding is a reminder of the future reunion with our Beloved.
The following words from the song that we sing when we welcome the arrival of Shabbos serves as another reminder of this reunion:
“Your God will rejoice over you like a chasan’s rejoicing over his kallah.”
Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. Our reunion with our Beloved will take place when we are ingathered in Zion; thus, we chant at each wedding the following blessing:
“Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, Sovereign of the universe, Who causes Zion to rejoice through her children.” (Fourth of the Seven Blessings)
2. It is written, “Then God fashioned the side that He had taken from the human being into a woman” (Ibid 2:22). The Hebrew word for “side” in this verse is tzela. Although Targum Onkelos – the ancient Aramaic translation – translates this word as “rib,” Rashi, based on the Midrash, translates it as ‘side”; moreover, he points out that this term is also used to refer to the side of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:20).
3. After the day of the marriage, the celebration of the Jewish wedding continues. On each of the next six nights, a festive meal is prepared in honor of the newly married couple, and the meal is accompanied by words of Torah, singing, and dancing. This celebration is known as a “Sheva Brochos” – the Seven Blessings, for the traditional seven wedding blessings are chanted at the conclusion of this meal.
4. As indicated above, a Jewish wedding represents the continuity of our people, as well as the transmission of the Torah to a new generation. What will happen, however, to this continuity, if the couple is unable to have children? The answer to this question can be found in our essay on “spiritual children” which appears in the archive of our series on our website. This essay is also relevant for those with difficult life challenges which prevent them from getting married. The essay cites sources on how people can have spiritual children through teaching Torah to others and through good deeds; moreover, it discusses how these spiritual children contribute to the continuity of our people. The following is a direct link to this essay: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/tzedaka/spiritualchildren.htm . A copy of this essay – one with larger print - can also be sent to you upon request.
5. The majority of Jews in our era did not have a meaningful Torah education nor did they grow up in a Torah environment; nevertheless, a growing number are rediscovering their spiritual roots and are developing a commitment to the path of the Torah. At their own pace, step-by-step, many are beginning to observe the “halacha” – the detailed steps of the Torah path. Some of these seekers have intermarried, but they and their non-Jewish spouses are now seeking to establish a Jewish family, with the non-Jewish spouse converting to Judaism. This conversion can strengthen the commitment of the Jewish spouse; moreover, it will enable the couple to have a marriage which is in accordance with the Torah. Their marriage can then strengthen the entire Family of Israel.
There is an organization called “Eternal Jewish Family” which guides intermarried couples in this process, and it is under the guidance of leading Torah sages. For information, visit: http://www.eternaljewishfamily.org/