There are moments in life of such profound significance that they become indelibly etched into your memory, never to fade away into the mists of the past.
Standing under the huppah and watching your child get married is just such an event, pristine in its joy. Indeed, the unadulterated purity of the setting, the sanctity of the hour, makes the sense of destiny almost tangible.
Last week, I merited to have such an elevated experience, when the second of my sons and his fiancée were wed. It was a traditional Jewish affair, with energetic dancing and spirited song, full of verve and vitality that stretched well into the wee hours of the night.
I have no doubt that various types of weddings, be they Christian, Muslim or non-denominational, are full of their own versions of pomp, ceremony and glee. The coming together of a couple, the forging of matrimonial bonds amid careful choreography, is certainly an event that is shared by most of mankind.
And yet, while standing under the wedding canopy next to my son, amid the mix of solemnity and revelry that typify the occasion, I could not help but conclude that a Jewish wedding is unique and that it carries powerful lessons not only for the bride and groom, but for all those in attendance as well.
A wedding, of course, is a personal and very intimate rite of passage for the young couple and their families. And yet, like many things in Jewish life, it has an added layer of meaning, one that evokes our ancient past while pointing the way toward our collective future.
As part of the ceremony, a series of seven blessings, or Sheva Brachot, are recited, the first of which is over a cup of wine. Inexplicably, this is followed by several blessings that seemingly have nothing to do with marriage, including a general one affirming that God “created everything for His glory,” two benedictions about the creation of man as well as one concerning the return to Zion.
It is only in the sixth of the seventh blessings that we finally mention the joy of the bride and groom, beseeching the Creator to instill them with bliss.
Why is this the case?
Perhaps one can suggest that the structure of the Sheva Brachot is intended to emphasize to those present that the forging of a Jewish home must have a larger calling and purpose to it.
Yes, it is about love and romance, partnership and mutual support. But there is also a clarion call to every couple to link the home they build together with Jewish destiny.
Every Jewish marriage gives one a glimpse of the indestructibility of Israel, as another link is added to the long, winding chain of our people’s journey down through the generations.
It is a victory of sorts over all those who rose up against us and sought our destruction over the millennia, a triumph of spirit and determination.
This is borne out by a statement in the Talmud (Berachot 6b) that describes the greatness of the mitzvah of bringing joy to the bride and groom. Rabbi Nahman bar Yitzchak says regarding one who does so, that “it is as if he has rebuilt one of the ruins of Jerusalem.”
It is clear from this that the celebration at a Jewish wedding is mystically linked with repairing the damage of exile and destruction. Perhaps in some way, the song and dance, the pure delight of the event, are coming to rectify the senseless hatred that precipitated the downfall of Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple, an event we recall visually and audibly when the groom breaks the glass at the culmination of the ceremony.
When they entered the huppa, the bride and groom did so as individuals. But when they depart from it, it is as one unit, each beholden to the other.
I have always wondered why in Hebrew a bride is known by the word kallah. It occurred to me that this is similar to the root of VaYechulu, with which we begin the recitation each Friday night of kiddush when recalling the creation of the universe. In their commentaries, both the Ibn Ezra and Yonatan Ben Uziel explain VaYechulu to mean “completion,” that God had completed the formation of heaven and earth.
So too do a bride and groom complete one another, complementing their talents, balancing out their faults, and together building a brighter Jewish future.
This is not to suggest that the personal elation of the event is shunted aside or outweighed by its communal or cosmic components. Far from it. It merely adds a very special element, transforming the couple’s private joy and elevating it to one of national significance.
And that, in a nutshell, is the Jewish approach to life as embodied in the wedding ceremony. Enjoy it, savor it and embrace happiness, but do not lose sight of your part in the grander scheme of the eternity of Israel.
The writer is founder and chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to the Jewish people.