Last December we celebrated the wedding of my niece Hannah and her husband Ari in Atlanta. It was a terrific wedding. The bride and groom were not only happy, but seemingly relaxed all day long. It was a terrific gathering of extended family, along with friends of the two families and of the happy couple.
I learned from my teacher at the Seminary, Rabbi Neil Gillman, that life cycle rituals are "liminal moments." They create a different kind of sacred time, through their atmosphere and liturgy -- they link us to Creation in the beginning, to divine revelation in the present, and to redemptive hope about the future. They are a kind of special portal to God, a concentration of God's Shechinah (presence) in a particular place. At a wedding, this is symbolized by the chuppah, the space under the special shade and protection of the Shechinah.
That's what it felt like at Hannah and Ari's wedding, from the day leading to the chuppah ceremony through the Shabbat afterward. Rabbi Yossi New, the rav of our family's congregation in Atlanta, said at the bedecken (veiling ceremony) that a bride and a groom are considered to have special powers, to have the ear of God for their prayers. And he charged the couple to pray not only for their own happiness, but for the health and wellbeing of everyone present and anyone else they know who might have needs.
And I felt, as I said Amen to the blessings in the ceremony and as we sang Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the feast, that somehow my prayers and all our prayers were really being heard in an intense way. I think it's because at a time of such joy, and such pure and wholehearted commitment being enacted before my eyes, that at least in this place the world is exactly as God planned it. At a wedding, where love and faithfulness reign, where food is plentiful, there is a nekudah, a spiritual point, which radiates out and reminds us that the whole world can be a place of love and faithfulness and plenty.
That's the meaning of the Sheva B'rachot, the series of seven blessings at the end of the wedding ceremony, which are repeated anytime the following week a new person is in the presence of the bride and the groom for a meal. The blessings begin with gratitude to God for creating us and all things, our bodies and the possibilities of our partnerships. They link this bride and groom back in time to Adam and Eve, and forward to a time of redemption when the "streets of Jerusalem" are filled with celebrations and joy, and no one is in exile anymore.
The wedding was terrific on so many levels. It was a hopeful day of K'lal Yisrael, the whole Jewish people -- rabbis participating from Conservative and Chabad/Lubavitch, American and Israeli Jewish customs. It was the kind of group that would break out into circles of dance, band or no band.
There's a reason why in all kinds of traditions, weddings go on for days. There's more than you can contain in just one day! Often, traditional Jewish weddings are on Sundays, and there's a Shabbat with people leading in. Hannah's wedding was on Thursday, and almost everyone stayed through Shabbat after. That was inspired -- who wants to leave! On Shabbat afternoon, after lunch at the shul, we all pretty much camped out at my sister-in-law Judy's home, and it was just as Shabbat afternoon should be. People gathered around tables in three different rooms for a couple hours -- playing cards, board games, eating, cousins talking, people getting to know people from other corners of the couple's life.
It all came together. The natural joy of a happy newlywed couple, great families, time to savor it all, great spiritual energy and dancing. Mazel tov to Hannah and Ari, mazel tov y'hay lanu u'l'chol Yisrael -- may their wedding, their life together, and the glow of their weekend continue to be a blessing for them and all of us!