In Judaism, the wedding day is the most joyous day of one’s life * The large number of participants in a wedding reveals that it is not a private happy occasion, but part of the general objective of revealing the unity of Hashem * One should embellish the wedding meal and clothes bought for the wedding more than for Yom Tov * The wedding band should play at a level that allows people to converse, since conversing with friends and family is part of the joy * So as to make other’s happy, it is a mitzvah for wedding guests to be joyful themselves, viewing others with an ‘ayin tova’ (favorably) * It is a mitzvah to praise the kallah (bride) in the eyes of the chatan (groom), and vice-a-versa * When dancing, older participants should not be pushed out of the dancing circle, for precisely their participation increases the wedding’s virtue
The Significance of a Joyful Wedding
This week, my wife and I will merit leading our precious daughter to the wedding chuppah (canopy), and accordingly, this week I will deal with the joy of a wedding, which is the greatest joy in Jewish life.
Countless lyrics and melodies have been composed relating to weddings. Unlike Christians, who viewed the wedding as a submission to a person’s inferior inclinations, Judaism, out of its positive approach to life, views the wedding day as the happiest day of a person’s life. This is the day when the couple begins to completely fulfil the mitzvah which Rabbi Akiva said is a “clal gadol be’Torah” (an all-encompassing mitzvah) – the mitzvah of “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Vayikra 19:18, Sifra). And the Ari HaKadosh said that by fulfilling the mitzvah in its completeness, the couple fulfills in essence the entire Torah (Sefer HaLikutim, Ekev). It is also the day when the foundations are laid for future generations to be born, with God’s help, for the new couple.
Raising One’s Personal Joy to that of the ‘Clal‘
Ostensibly, one might ask: Why do people have to dance in front of the chatan and kallah (groom and bride) to make them happy? They’re already happy! Rather, the joy of the wedding is designed to expand and connect the joy of the chatan and kallah to that of ‘Clal Yisrael’ (all of Israel) – to all generations, past and future – so the chatan and kallah may realize the great virtue of their spiritual level, that by ‘kiddushin k’dat Moshe ve’Yisrael‘ (marriage according to the Law of Moses and Israel), God’s unity is revealed in the world, and love, peace and blessings extend to everything.
And this is Israel’s main undertaking in this world – to reveal to the world God’s unity, with love and joy, in the light of the Torah and according to the guidance of its mitzvoth, and thus, add blessing and life in the world, and elevate and improve it, until the coming of the Final Redemption.
This lofty idea is revealed through the union of the chatan and kallah, and consequently, the joy of the wedding is so important. Precisely as a result of elevating the joy and happiness from its private dimension to that of a general one, the personal love between the couple will be uplifted and grow stronger over the years and not fade away, as worldly passions normally do.
To better understand the importance of marriage, it must be explained that God desired to grant merit to mankind. Thus, He created the world incomplete so people could repair it and make the world pleasant and full of joy; consequently, they would be partners with God in all the good in the world, and as a result, their delight in it would be complete. Division is the most acute deficiency in creation. Indeed, God is One, but seeing as that He hid his light, His creations became separated from Him, and consequently, separated from one another – each person worrying for himself. This is what gives rise to all the quarrels, disputes, conflicts and wars. Therefore, this world is called “alma d’peruda” – a world of division. For the same reason it is also called “alma d’shikra” – a world of lies, where the root of unity goes unacknowledged, giving rise to all evils in the world. Therefore, the essence of Israel’s faith is the belief in unity – the belief in one God.
A wedding reveals the great unity in the world, for two separate individuals unite twice over: first, in the unity of man and wife, and second, in the unity of soul and body. Often, there exists a conflict between the soul and the body. The soul longs for spiritual pleasure and as a result is attracted to the good, whereas the physical body is attracted to material pleasures and thus, enticed to evil. The soul desires eternity, and the physical body seeks the fleeting here and now. By way of marriage, the soul and the body unify in holiness, and even the ‘yetzer ha’ra‘ (evil inclination) is transformed into the ‘yetzer ha’tov’ (good inclination). The noble idea of loyalty and unity connects with the greatest pleasure, and the moral value of total dedication connects with the greatest joy. Therefore, the joy of a wedding should be especially great, more so than any other happy occasion.
The Mitzvah of Joy at Weddings: The Meal and Clothing
This is the order of levels of joy in Judaism: The mitzvah of joy on Yom Tov is greater than that on Shabbat, therefore the holiday meals should be finer than those on Shabbat, and it is a greater mitzvah to drink wine and eat meat on Yom Tov meals than on Shabbat. A wedding feast should be finer than meals on Yom Tov.
The same holds true regarding clothing: It is a mitzvah to buy new clothes for Yom Tov, in particular for women to have new clothes for the holiday, so they can fulfill the mitzvah of joy on Yom Tov. In advance of weddings of first-degree relatives, Jews are accustomed to embellish the mitzvah and buy nicer clothing than those they purchase for Yom Tov. And the custom is that if a Yom Tov is close to the wedding, there is no need to buy additional clothes for the Yom Tov; rather, pleasure is taken in the clothing bought for the wedding, on Yom Tov. It is also a mitzvah for all the guests at the wedding to dress in clothes they wear for Yom Tov, or at the very least, in clothes they wear for Shabbat.
The Wedding Feast
Since the wedding feast is especially important, in addition to bread, meat and wine should be served for they make people happy. Seemingly, chicken is also considered as gratifying as eating meat, as we find in the Talmud (Ketubot 5a), that chicken was prepared for weddings.
Efforts should be made in advance of the meal, and our Sages determined that one should toil in preparation of the meal at least three days in advance, because of ‘kavod banot Yisrael‘ (respect for women of Israel) (Ketubot 2a). Today, when catering is usually hired, there is no need to prepare the meal for three days, rather, it is sufficient to ensure that the meal is dignified.
Rejoicing and Making Others Happy
True joy is found in friendship with others – where a person is happy, and makes others happy as well (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1:11). For this to occur, all those participating in the wedding should view everything with an ‘ayin tova’ (favorably): the chatan and kallah, all the guests, and to take pleasure in the meal and clothing. As a result of one’s joy, he will be able to compliment everyone, and truly make them happy.
Joy in Conversation and Exchange
In the Tractate of Berachot (6b), our Sages emphasized the importance of the mitzvah to gladden the chatan and kallah, saying: “Whosoever partakes of the wedding meal of a bridegroom and does not gladden him transgresses ‘the five voices’ (for there are five voices mentioned in the verse dealing with the joy of weddings): ‘The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that say, Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts’ (Yerimiyahu 33:11). And if he does gladden him what is his reward? — Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: He is privileged to acquire the knowledge of the Torah which was given with five voices. Rabbi Abbahu says: It is as if he had sacrificed a thanksgiving offering. Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak says: It is as if he had restored one of the ruins of Jerusalem.”
Some people are mistaken, thinking that all the joy of a wedding is in the dancing. This is not the case. True, the pinnacle of joy is expressed in the dancing, but the main point is in everyone taking pleasure in the meal, drinking wine, wearing nice clothing, and talking to one another with love and joy, as cited in the Talmud: “Rabbi Ashi said: Agra d’bei hilulei – millei” (Berachot 6 b), namely, the merit of attending a wedding lies in the words – i.e., the cheerful hubbub of good and pleasing conversation between the guests. To be able to fulfill this essential joy, it is proper for the band to refrain from playing music during the meal, so the guests can converse with one another.
The Maharsha added that the joy of such conversation is to gladden the chatan and kallah with words of mitzvah, thanking God for all his kindness. Indeed, this is the Jewish custom, that during the dancing the band plays religious songs with words of thanks and prayer to God.
The climax of the joyous conversation is designed to gladden the chatan and kallah themselves, as Rashi explains, and as our Sages said (Ketubot 17a), that one should dance before the kallah and say: ‘Kallah na’eh ve’chasuda‘ (beautiful and graceful bride). And even if it seems apparent that the kallah is not beautiful and graceful, the halakha goes according to Beit Hillel that one should praise her as being “beautiful and graceful”, for this is the inner truth regarding all brides. All the more so when in most cases, when one looks with an ‘ayin tova’, one can see that this the simple truth.
From this we learn that, within the limits of modesty, the relatives of the chatan and his friends should praise the kallah in front of him, and the more they praise her plausibly, they thus merit to fulfil the mitzvah of gladdening the chatan and kallah to an even greater extent, for when the chatan is happy with his kallah, he makes her happier. It is also a mitzvah for the kallah’s relatives to praise her chatan in front of her, and in this way, she will be happier with him.
“It was told of Rabbi Yehudah bar Ila’i that he used to take a myrtle twig and dance before the bride and say: ‘Beautiful and graceful bride’ (Ketubot 17a). Owing to the very fact that a ‘Gadol be’Torah’ (an eminent Torah scholar) such as Rabbi Yehudah dismissed himself from Torah learning to go and dance before the kallah, the chatan and kallah realized just how illustrious their virtue was – for they were building a home faithful to the traditions of Israel. This wonderful memory from their wedding would remain with them forever, and even if difficult times were to appear, this happy memory would bring joy and encouragement.
In the Talmud it is also told about Rabbi Shmuel bar Rabbi Yitzchak that even in his old age it was his custom to dance in front of the kallah while holding three myrtle branches, tossing and juggling them. He was so skillful that even young men were ashamed of themselves for not being able to dance and cheer the chatan and kallah as he did. When Rabbi Shmuel bar Rabbi Yitzchak died, a pillar of fire fell from heaven, separating between the people and himself. The Sages understood that a pillar of fire falls only for one or two people in a generation. The Sages said that Rabbi Shmuel bar Rabbi Yitzchak attained his high standing in the merit of the myrtle branches he danced with in front of the kallah, for myrtles allude to multiplicity of children. Others explained he attained his high level in the merit of having constantly danced so before all brides, and others explained he attained his high level in the merit of being silly and demeaning himself in order to gladden the kallah.
From all of this we learn just how great and tremendous is the mitzvah of dancing before the chatan and kallah at a wedding, and making them happy.
The Participation of Older People in the Dancing Increases Joy
I must take this opportunity to reproach the young men and women who dance wildly, inadvertently kicking people older than themselves. It has gotten to the point where even thirty-year-old’s are shoved out of the circle – given the feeling that they are too old to participate in the dancing. In addition to the prohibition against harming anyone while dancing, let alone an older person for whom it is a mitzvah to respect, these young people also mar the joy of the wedding, because the more adults and elderly people participating in the dancing, the more significance the wedding possesses. And the young adults who merit respecting their elders, will be worthy to dance until a ripe old age, in the joy of mitzvot.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed, and his entire series of highly acclaimed books on halakha and Jewish thought, “Peninei Halakha” (in Hebrew, and a few in English), can be found at: