In six days the Lord made heaven and earth.
What has God been doing since then?
Since creating the earth, God has been arranging Jewish Weddings, writes Rabbi Yossi ben Halaphta. Not an easy task! In fact, it is written that arranging a Jewish marriage (or any marriage) is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea.
And like the splitting of the Red Sea, a marriage is a break in the otherwise logical fabric of our lives. A couple finds each other, falls in love and throws everyone they know into a turmoil.
For a wedding, old friends often fly in from all over the world, single friends politely endure endless discussions about colors, flowers and table settings, and parents are forced to relive fond memories of their own weddings. Over and over again… sometimes for a whole long year, or longer.
Yet, like the splitting of the Red Sea, a marriage also opens up the possibility of redemption – a taste of the world to come – for everyone: bride, groom, family, and guests.
When two people come together in marriage, it is as if an entire world has been created.
The Zohar, a mystical text in the Jewish tradition, teaches that when a soul is sent down from heaven, it contains both “male” and “female” elements (or you can think about the soul splitting into two halves of the same heart). The male elements enter one baby, the female elements enter another baby. If the two are worthy, God reunites them in marriage. The coming together of two such souls represents the culmination of endless chance events over countless generations. A Jewish Wedding can be viewed as the work of Divine destiny.
This brings to mind the beautiful image created by the Baal Shem Tov:
“From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together and a single, brighter light goes forth from their united single being.”
Just as the creation of humanity began with Adam and Eve, the marriage of two individuals represents the potential for creating an entire new world. How do two souls become unified under the chuppah?
Traditional Jewish weddings use ritual and symbolism to unify the souls of the bride and groom.
- Mikvah: Prior to their wedding day, Jewish couples may immerse in a Mikvah for purification. This is a type of t’shuvah (repentance), a way to regain perfection before the wedding day. Couples will then typically refrain from any intimate relations from the time of the Mikvah to the wedding day.
- Fasting: Some brides and grooms will fast until the first ceremonial glass of wine. Symbolically, their past life and sins are overcome and they are forgiven – a Jewish wedding is considered a “private Yom Kippur” because a person enters marriage in a state of purity, blamelessness and absolution.
- Circling: the bride/groom At the beginning of the Jewish ceremony, the bride walks in circles around the groom seven times, and in contemporary, egalitarian weddings, the groom will circle the bride as well. According to Jewish mysticism, this symbolic act under the chuppah reflects that each is now entering the seven spheres of his/her beloved’s soul.
- Wrapping the bride and groom in a Talit: as they receive the Sheva B’rachot (the Seven Wedding Blessings), bride and groom are wrapped under a single talit (prayer shawl) so that they become One, together under the chuppah.