Leaving a Wedding Early
The more meaningful the enjoyment of a certain type of food is, the more important it’s blessing * The highest level of Birkat Hamazon is at a wedding, since it is a meal in honor of the most important of mitzvot, therefore, our Sages added a special Zimun and Sheva Brachot * It is obligatory to stay for a Zimun with a minyan unless there is a great need to leave, such as a financial loss, a fixed Torah study session, or if it might cause lack of alertness in prayer or work * In principle, Sheva Brachot can be said at every individual table, however, it might hurt the feelings of the family * For that reason, it is preferable for the hosts to encourage those who leave early to recite Sheva Brachot
Food and Its Blessing
The most important bracha (blessing) of all brachot is Birkat Hamazon, which is the only bracha that all agree its obligation is from the Torah, whereas our Sages enacted its fulfillment with four elongated brachot. A lot of people think the most important thing is the food a person needs and wishes to eat, and as a tax burden to Heaven, he must thank and bless the Creator of the world. Thus, they believe that if the tax burden can be reduced – why not? Consequently, if a large and sumptuous meal of fish and meat, rice, potatoes, beans and lentils, ice cream and delicacies can be eaten, it’s preferable to exempt themselves with a short bracha of “borei nefashot”. On the other hand, there are “tzadikim” who believe that the main idea is to bless God, and it is better for one not to gain enjoyment from this world, however, it’s impossible to recite blessing without eating, therefore one must wash his hands and eat bread so that afterward he can merit reciting Birkat Hamazon.
But in truth, a complete and happy life is a combination of the two together, like life itself, composed of body and soul; physical gratification and the revelation of the sacred values within this life-preserving pleasure by means of the bracha. Therefore, Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), through which holiness is revealed in the Land in reality, occupies such a central place in Birkat Hamazon, as it is written: “When you eat and are satisfied, you must therefore bless God your Lord for the good land that He has given you” (Deuteronomy 8:10), and prior to this the Torah says: “God your Lord is bringing you to a good land – a land with flowing streams, and underground springs gushing out in valley and mountain. It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates – a land of oil-olives and honey- [dates]. It is a land where you will not eat rationed bread, and you will not lack anything – a land whose stones are iron, and from whose mountains you will quarry copper” Deuteronomy 8: 6-9).
How fortunate we are the Torah commanded us at every meal to relate to food by means of eating and blessing – with bodily pleasure, and spiritual emunah (faith). Eating with this goal can help us eat correctly – not too much, and not too little. To enjoy the fine and inherent taste of healthy foods, and not to be enticed by the tempting taste of foods that harm our health.
If three people participated in a meal, our Sages enacted the broadening of Birkat Hamazon by means of zimun, namely, adding a blessing of introduction to Birkat Hamazon. If ten people ate at the meal, then the zimun is performed in a more dignified manner with the mention of HaShem. The gathering of many people together holds great power – the mutual interaction between them creates something more than all the individuals possess. The smallest group consists of three people, and when three people eat together – beyond the benefit and enjoyment they derive from the food, additional emotions are stirred in their souls, their meal receives the status of a social event, and thus, their Birkat Hamazon also has to receive a more important status, for indeed, Birkat Hamazon should give expression to the sacred, inner value in food, and the more important the meal is, the more important the bracha should be, so that it can give food its worthy significance.
For three women who ate together, as well, – it is a mitzvah for them to recite Birkat Hamazon with a zimun (Arachin 3a; Peninei Halakha: Berachot 5: 7).
Zimun and Sheva Brachot at a Wedding
A wedding meal is the most important of all the meals we hold, since it is a feast in honor of the most important mitzvah of all the mitzvot, by which the couple fulfills the mitzvah of ve’ahavta le’reiecha kimocha (to love your neighbor as yourself) completely, and with the help of God, merit giving birth to life. Therefore, at the end of the meal, our Sages instituted the reciting of Birkat Hamazon on its highest level, with a zimun and Sheva Brachot.
In practice, however, there is a problem, seeing as most of the participants in a wedding meal wish to go home beforehand. The question is whether it is permissible for those who leave early to recite Birkat Hamazon without a zimun and Sheva Brachot, or do they have to stay until the end of the wedding and the concluding Birkat Hamazon with a zimun and Sheva Brachot. Or perhaps it correct to recite Birkat Hamazon at the end of the meal a little earlier, in order to give all the guests the opportunity to participate in the zimun and Sheva Brachot?
The Principle Prohibition of Leaving before Zimun
As a general rule, a person who participated in a meal of ten men is obligated in the important zimun of ten, and even to recite a zimun of three men is forbidden, since one is already obligated in the zimun of ten. And as our Sages said, that ten who ate together are not permitted to separate until there are twenty (Berakhot 51a, S. A., O. C. 193:1).
Kal ve’chomer (all the more so) at a wedding meal, in which together with Birkat Hamazon, we recite the blessings of Sheva Brachot, and some poskim say that whoever participates in a wedding meal is obligated to hear Sheva Brachot (Cheishev Ho’ephod 9; Daat Sofer 26: Iggrot Moshe, O.C. 1:56). There is even a posek who is of the opinion that the words of our Sages, ” Whoever partakes of the wedding meal of a bridegroom and does not gladden him transgresses ‘the five voices’ mentioned in the verse ‘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” (Berachot 6b), are directed toward someone who does not wait until Sheva Brachot (Rebbe Chaim from Brisk, cited in Nitei Gavriel 98:1). Nevertheless, there are poskim who are of the opinion that it is not obligatory for each participant to hear Sheva Brachot, rather, there is a general obligation to hold at the end of the meal Sheva Brachot (Mahari Shteif 7; Minchat Yitzchak 2:43; Tzitz Eliezer 11:84). In any case, even these poskim agree that the obligation of zimun of ten obligates them to remain until the end (see, Otzar HaPoskim 62, 25, 10).
When is it permitted to leave before Zimun
However, the obligation to remain until zimun at the end of the meal is in a normal situation, but in a situation where one is compelled, or le’tzorech gadol (in a case of great need), one is permitted to leave the group and recite Birkat Hamazon without a zimun. For example, someone who has to leave in order to prevent himself from losing money or for the purpose of a mitzvah, may bless without a zimun. Therefore, someone who is concerned that if he stays until the end of the wedding will find it difficult to get up the next day for prayer, or be tired at work, is permitted to recite Birkat Hamazon without a zimun, and return home. Likewise, someone who regularly sets aside time to study Torah every night, and if he remains until the end, will fail to maintain his regular Torah study, is permitted to recite Birkat Hamazon without a zimun. In all these situations, it is minhag chassidut (pious conduct) for his fellow diners at the table to join him in a zimun of three. But short of a great need, it is forbidden to leave before zimun (Peninei Halakha: Berachot 5:11).
In any case, someone who knows in advance that he will have to leave before the end of the meal should think to himself that even though he eats with them, he is not really part of the group, and should tell those at his table that he will have to leave before the end, and thus, exempt himself from the obligation of zimun and may recite Birkat Hamazon by himself – even if it’s not for a great need. And if those at his table wish to join him in a zimun, he should do so, since in practice he ate with them – and although he did not think to eat with them together until the end, they are permitted to make a zimun with him (Peninei Halakha: Berachot 5:11).
The Possibility of Sheva Brachot at Each Table
Since in practice the majority of people usually leave before the zimun, it would seem that at every table where most of the guests wish to leave before the end of the meal and zimun, they should make a zimun of ten men over a glass of wine with Sheva Brachot. For indeed, according to halakha it is possible to make a zimun and Sheva Brachot at each individual table, and the bride and groom do not have to sit with them, for Sheva Brachot can be recited at a wedding meal even when the hosts do not hear the blessings (S. A., E. H., 62: 11; Aruch HaShulchan 37).
In a Case Where the Hosts’ Feelings will be Hurt
However, it is forbidden to make a zimun of ten men when there is a concern that the wedding hosts’ feelings will be hurt by the fact that their guests are making a zimun by themselves at their table, and leaving the meal prematurely. As written in the Shulchan Aruch: “And they are not permitted to divide into groups of ten, because they will have to recite the blessing aloud and the baal ha’bayit (the host) will hear them and be annoyed with them”, and therefore they should divide up into groups of three and recite the blessing quietly so that the baal ha’bayit will not hear” (O.C. 193:1). The person leading the zimun with three men says “sheh’ha’simcha bi’m’ono”, but should not recite the blessing “asher bara”, since it requires a glass of wine, and if he makes a zimun over a glass of wine, it is liable to hurt the feelings of the hosts.
However, if they are distinguished people like rabbis and public figures whose time is precious, and the groom would like them to make a zimun of ten men, it is a mitzvah for them to do so, and also to recite Sheva Brachot (Peninei Halakha: Berachot 5:18).
In practice, since many people usually do not stay until the zimun at the end of the wedding, it seems best that the hosts encourage the guests to hold Sheva Brachot at their tables. In other words, towards the end of the main course, when some of the people intend to leave, they should pour a glass of wine, one of them recite zimun with ten men over the cup of wine, at the end of Birkat Hamazon pass it around to those who recited the blessing so they can participate in Sheva Brachot, and at the end, the one who recited zimun should say the blessing over the wine and drink from it. In order to avoid harming the general process of the joy of the wedding, it is proper not to take pains over the zimun and Sheva Brachot, rather, to do it indiscreetly and quietly so that only the people at their table will hear them, and not at the other tables. It is also preferable not to prepare two cups according to Ashkenazi minhag (custom), but rather, make do with one cup according to the Sephardic minhag (see, S.A., E.H, 62:9).
- In general, it is incorrect to leave a wedding before the zimun and hearing Sheva Brachot.
- For a tzorech gadol it is permitted to leave before the zimun, for example, someone concerned he will be tired the next day at work. Anyone who knows this in advance should apologize at the beginning of the meal to those sitting at his table for having to leave in the middle, thus exempting himself from the obligation to make a zimun with them.
- If those sitting at his table agree, he should make a zimun quietly with three others, and say in the zimun “sheh’ha’simcha bi’m’ono.”
- If the person leaving knows that the hosts would want him to make a zimun with ten men over a cup of wine and bless Sheva Brachot, he should do so. But if not sure, he should make a zimun with three men.
- Since in practice weddings are long, and seeing as many people leave before the zimun, it is appropriate for the hosts to encourage all those intending to leave before the end of the wedding to make a zimun over a cup of wine with ten men and recite Sheva Brachot, and at each table, the first group to leave, organize a zimun of ten. Family members and the closest of friends should not participate in their zimun, and instead, be responsible for the larger zimun and Sheva Brachot at the end of the wedding. There is no need for ten men who have not participated in any zimun to remain, rather, it is sufficient that there be five who have not heard a zimun, provided that the one making zimun is one of those who did not participate in a zimun beforehand (Peninei Halakha: Berachot 5:12).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.