Shaina, these are my last words to you as the most important man in your life. By the time you read this, your husband, Moshe, will have replaced me. When you were born your mother and I named you Shaina Brocha, and you have been just that, a beautiful blessing to us throughout your life. But now, under the hupa (marriage canopy), you will embrace a new future with your soulmate.
It’s an amazing thing that parents put on parties called weddings to celebrate their newly-minted secondary status to their children. It is humbling for a parent to be forced to acknowledge that they cannot provide what their child seeks most in life, which is not to be loved, but to be chosen.
Love makes us feel protected. But to be chosen make us feel special. To be loved is to be cherished. To be chosen is to be rendered irreplaceable. Love is warm, but to be chosen is electrifying.
Your wedding fell during the Torah reading of Yitro, with its recounting of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. At that place, God selected the Jews as His chosen people. The Jewish wedding ceremony reflects that awesome experience, with the groom waiting under the canopy for his bride, just as God waited for the Israelites with thunder and lightning. And the bride and groom stand under the hupa, just as God, according to legend, draped Mount Sinai over the Jewish nation as a sign of protection. And then he uttered the Ten Commandments, with the first two being the very essence of marriage: “I am the Lord Your God. You shall have no other Gods before me.” Make me the One. Make me the Only.
In marriage we choose each other by giving each other primacy and exclusivity. When it comes to love there can be many. But when it comes to being chosen there can be only one.
Today, you have been chosen by Moshe to stand together beneath the hupa. The ancient rabbis say that a hupa is also a recreation of Eden, which is why it is covered in beautiful flowers and other natural ornaments, something especially poignant so close to Tu Bishvat, the Jewish new year for trees. In a sense you are the primordial couple: Moshe, you are the first man, and you Shaina, are Eve, the first woman, in this new world you are both building. Together, you are fulfilling the biblical injunction that a man must leave his father and mother, marry, and “become one flesh.”
Seeing you join a fine young man with whom you will build a life makes me feel like I have reversed some of the wounds I endured as a child of divorce. I have been given the privilege of seeing love come alive from my own flesh and blood.
In the Torah we learn that Adam and Eve owned absolutely nothing, not even clothing. Yet, in each other they found paradise. Their only possession was love and they reveled in the fullness that their companionship provided. Adam, whose first emotion, the Torah says, was loneliness, discovered fulfillment in the wife at his side, and Eve, too, found happiness in her penniless husband.
We commemorate that tradition to this day by having a bridegroom empty his pockets prior to his arrival at the hupa so that his wife accepts him for who he is, without any accouterments. With Eve believing in him, Adam gained confidence. He felt his existence was sufficient to make his wife blissful. She laughed at his jokes. She snuggled at his side. Eve, too, felt desirable and essential. She was truly Adam’s one and only. There was no one else in the entire world to distract him and he loved her with every molecule of his being.
Last summer, Shaina, our family embarked on a painful journey of Holocaust memory, visiting many of the killing fields of Europe. It was almost too much to bear, as we traveled to Auschwitz, Maidanek, Treblinka and Dachau. By the time we reached Budapest, the capital of a country that would see 500,000 Jews murdered in just five months, your younger sister Rochel Leah said to you, “This is shaking my relationship with God, who remained silent while so many innocents perished.” And you responded, “But we did not come to these places for God. We came to remember the lost six million, so that they are never forgotten. Even if it causes momentary distance from God.”
It was then that I knew that you had absorbed the central lesson in the life of Moses. When he receives the Torah in this week’s Torah portion, events quickly spiral out of control as the Jews build and worship a golden calf. Rather than preserving the Torah, Moses quickly destroys the Ten Commandments so that the Jews cannot be held accountable for a law which they have now broken. He puts the people before God. He loves the people more than he loves God.
And God loves him for it. Because a parent loves his children more than he loves himself.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, too, lived by this maxim, so often arguing with God in front of thousands of people at his public discourses, demanding that God send the Messiah and put a permanent end to human suffering.
I knew then, in Europe, surrounded by all this horror, that its remedy lay in God finding you your soulmate, with whom you could rebuild the destroyed house of Israel. After we returned, just a few weeks later, you began dating Moshe, a young Chabad emissary who devotes his life to providing inspiration and guidance to youth.
And here we are, blessed by God to have been at your wedding, together with so many people who love you.
And why were we all there? Why is marriage – so private and personal a commitment – celebrated in public?
Because love is never meant to be private. The exclusivity you have for one another leads to the inclusivity of a home that is built to welcome guests and share your blessings with strangers. That’s why you marry under a hupa, the tent of Abraham, which has only a roof and no walls, so that none can be locked out.
Today, we look to you for inspiration. Those who are in less than loving marriages, or who were hurt by love, want to believe again that we too may be chosen. All those whom life has beat up and who felt superfluous or discarded are looking to you to heal. All those whom relationships have let down are looking at you to feel ennobled. Inspire us. Move us. Free us from cynicism and despair. Give us hope. By witnessing the two of you dedicating yourselves to each other, you offer us all a taste of paradise.
Here is my blessing to you, Shaina: May you embody your mother’s beauty, selflessness, righteousness and loving- kindness. May you be all she is and more. May you also be like the matriarchs of the Jewish people. May you have the fortitude of Sarah, who drew a line and protected the exclusivity of her relationship with Abraham. May you have the wisdom of Rebecca, who saw aspects of character in her children to which even her husband remained blind. May you have the industriousness of Rachel, to whom we are first introduced as a shepherdess and entrepreneur. And may you have the perseverance of Leah, who understood that relationships are built rather than created.
Go forth and build an eternal home among Israel and the Jewish people. Go forth and turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, the natural into the miraculous, the darkness into sunlit paradise.The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including
Kosher Sex and Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself. He spoke these words to his daughter at her wedding. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.