"Bringing Hope through Torah" ATIME Shas-a-Thon 5776
By: Leon Sakkal
Arguably the holiest day in a couple’s life, the wedding day marks the beginning of a long and committed life of trust, devotion, and the vital act of “giving” in its ultimate form. The Jewish wedding; the commencement of this new journey together, can be compared to a tapestry woven from many threads: biblical, historical, halachic, and mystical, to name a few. These threads form a chain of Jewish continuity which goes back more than 3,800 years.
A Personal Yom Kippur
Two people can share a beautiful relationship together, yet remain just “two people.” A Jewish wedding is what changes all this. Contrary to popular belief, the hupah is not merely a symbolic ceremony, but is a procession uniting the bride, groom, and in fact another element, an element far bigger than the both of them – Hashem. Through the laws and minhagim performed under the canopy, we create a bond that is not defined by human limitation, but shares the eternity of Gd. Without the Jewish wedding, you can have love, commitment and family – but it is all without the context of holiness. Only by standing under the hupa and being wed according to our Torah and age-old traditions does a union become sacred. Only after the wedding is a couple’s love blessed with the divine imprint of eternity. With this in mind, it can be understood that the hattan and kallah possess a far more elevated state of holiness and spirituality than those present at their wedding ceremony.
Many are familiar with the Gemara (Yebamot 63b): “Once man is wed, all his sins are forgiven.” The wedding day is a day explained by our Sages as a sort of pseudo-Yom Kippur. In Ashkenazic communities, it is customary that the bride and groom fast on their wedding day, as it is their very own Day of Atonement. And indeed, many have the custom to substitute the regular Afternoon Prayer, with that of Yom Kippur. Evidently, the day of one’s wedding presents an incredibly auspicious time for prayer for both the hattan and kallah.
The Holiest Moment of your Life
There is a common misconception as to the veiling and unveiling of a bride under the wedding canopy. Many have come to believe that the groom uncovers his bride’s face to check that he is indeed marrying the right woman, presumably to avoid what happened to our forefather Yaakob Avinu, who was tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. But this is incorrect. Rather, the minhag of covering the bride’s face with a veil originated with our Matriarch Rivka, who covered her face with a veil upon meeting her groom, Yitzhak. While this is the Torah source for the custom, many rabbis have come to offer a variety of reasons behind the act.
The Torah says that when Moshe came down from Mount Sinai, his face shone with holiness so godly, that no one dared look at him. In fact, Moshe wore a veil when speaking to the Nation so as to filter the Divine glare. When the bride and groom stand under the hupah, about to unite as one, they are in an elevated state of purity and holiness. In the bride, this sacredness is more revealed, as she radiates a special holiness; the Shehinah (Divine Presence), the feminine aspect of Gd, shines through her face. This light is so intense that it must be veiled, just as the light that emanated from Moses’ face had to be covered. Holiness needs privacy.
Don’t Waste a Second!
Well-versed in the above-mentioned concepts, the great Rabbi of Kotzk once remarked: “What a shame it is that a day so great is given to children so young.” He was undoubtedly denoting how foolish and likely young people might be to waste a day so great – a day that their souls shine with sanctity and purity - on mundane matters.
Rabbi Naftali Greenbaum, in his work Igeret Le’hattan, offers crucial advice to those on the threshold of marriage:
“…And it is therefore appropriate that all couples savor the days prior to this awesome and holy day. Be sure to grow and elevate yourselves in both your thoughts and aspirations in all matters pertaining to prayer and spirituality. For your wedding is the gate and foundation of the rest of your lives…”
And so, eager to continue the legacy of the Jewish nation, the groom stands filled with emotion, ready to fulfill what may be the most important and life-enhancing missva of his life. The bride stands at his side, in solidarity with her husband-to-be.
There is but one piece of advice worth offering the holy couple: Pray. There is no greater time to pray than those precious minutes of the marriage ceremony.
Those moments under the hupah are potent. Make sure to utilize every second.