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Beggars at a Wedding

Beggars at a Wedding


The poverty of Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezeritch, was legendary. Meals, when they were, were a crust of bread; the “furniture” in his hovel was an assortment of wooden planks and stumps. Once he was asked by his disciples: “Rebbe, why is it that you must endure such abject conditions, while others, much less deserving than yourself, enjoy the blessings of G‑d’s world?" Rabbi DovBer replied with a story:

A wealthy man once married off his daughter. The father of the bride was a most generous and charitable man, and desired to share his joy with the unfortunate. So he put up notices in all the synagogues and poorhouses in the vicinity, inviting every beggar and vagabond to partake of the wedding feast.

The day of the wedding arrived. Hundreds of beggars took their places around tables laden with the best and the tastiest food money could buy. But then tragedy struck. The bride suddenly fell ill. The greatest doctors were rushed to her side, but to no avail. The bride died, and the wedding was transformed into mourning.

The beggars were divided into two camps. One group said: “The food is on the table. Who knows when, if ever, another such opportunity to fill our stomachs will present itself? Surely, our host would not want all this delicious food to be wasted. If we remain hungry, would this alleviate his grief?”

The second group of beggars, however, would not touch the food that lay before them. “How can we eat and drink,” they cried, “when the one who provided all this mourns? How can we enjoy a feast whose purpose and cause has been transformed into calamity?”

“The world is a wedding feast,” concluded Rabbi DovBer, “created for the sake of G‑d’s union with His bride, Israel. But then the wedding was disrupted, the nuptial home—the Holy Temple—destroyed. Yes, the feast is there for the taking, but its soul is devastated, its provider is in mourning.

“There are those who have no difficulty enjoying what they can of the feast. I, however, belong to the second group of beggars. I cannot bring myself to partake of the leavings of this aborted wedding . . .”

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Hilly Poplar Bluff. MO December 4, 2013

King David Isn't there a story about King David fasting and praying when his son with Bathsheba was sick and then after he died washing and taking food? I appreciate your story very much and all the thinking it encourages.. Of course there is always more than one or two any situation. We need to identify with our provider and follow His wishes. The beggars should wait for the Father to instruct them. Just as we wait for out Father to instruct us Reply

shamili sharjah October 19, 2013

The second They feel that the bride had died in illness and the king had invited them they shouldn't enjoy themselves and fill their empty stomach. Reply

Scott Ann Arbor,MI May 4, 2013

unity To share
in empathy
joy or sorrow
generosity gives
compassion builds
A firmer foundation
on which we stand
and it is there we see
pivotal in balance
as manifested is
destiny offers new
and flaunts the old

Aleph Reply

Anonymous Scottsdale AZ USA April 27, 2013

The father of the Bride was a generous and charitable man... I have a daughter who's about to marry at 25. I put myself in this man's place (her father's) in my mind for a moment. If (Heaven Forbid!) such a tragedy should strike on my own child's wedding day - I would pray that I could for a moment overcome my grief and loss and think of the others who were invited to share in this day. Food sustains life. These poor souls going hungry in the face of such bounty is simple waste. If my child were still alive she would insist that they eat the food. The dead are with God. We must care for and nurture the living. Among the reasons we are given this life is to serve G_D and to help and care for each other... even in the times of adversity and extreme grief. When a family is in mourning the first thing friends and family do is bring food. Why? So the physical needs of the living can be met without them having to interrupt grieving with the mundane acts such as meal preparation, etc.. Reply

monica Wisconsin July 21, 2011

the hungry 'ghost' i think this parable is about the concept of hunger: spiritual versus bodily hunger. just eat enough to be satiated. anymore isn't really respectful of the one who is dealing with death/passing/grief, having to watch those partake of cooked meat, especially.

Some people are better at impromptu fasting than others; some always stick to plan; a 'belly jew' is not the same as a creative person who sees the notion of sustenance as being far more than the sum of a meal. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma July 19, 2011

loss and gain It seems in life there is loss and there is something that comes out of that loss, what we call the phoenix rising from the ashes.

To come to a wedding feast and have the bride die, is a terrible event, a cause of deep mourning for all.

There is the table and this spread. What of the beggars, should they, eat, or not?

It is surely a personal ethical decision, and could go, in my mind, both ways. Most ethical decisions require the angst of making that decision on either side of uncertain. It's a kind of weighting of decision making. There is no absolute clarity as to how to proceed in so many decisions of ethics.

So I can see here, both sides. And I think there is no one answer but that inner struggle that decides, and one could make an argument both ways, to eat or refrain.

The refrain here in ethical decisions is a constant one, a kind of music that seems ubiquitous in the course of such deciding.

The beggars could eat in a solemn and respectful manner given the grave upset. Reply

COHENTZEDEK via December 14, 2010

Beggars at a Wedding Arriving to New York for the first time my brother felt totally lost. Wandering around the city he met a Russian Jew experiencing the same feelings of isolation they walked together. Both hungry and without money they came across a wedding and proceeded to join the festivities. While eating they were approached and asked who invited them. My brother replied all of you and continued eating. Point being once their hunger was announced they were encouraged to stay and eat. Reply

Judy Freedman Hashmonaim, Israel December 24, 2009

thank you I needed a basis for a lesson, this is great Reply

Anonymous January 5, 2009

why i think that the second group is right how could you eat even if you are terribly hungry if someone died. Reply

Anonymous Sydney, AU December 19, 2007

This is a beautiful parable, Rabbi. Thank you for sharing with us.

My daughter will be wed May 1st, this coming year. Yet yesterday, with the completion of the Parsha, both of us were talking about how we were left with a feeling of grief, instead of joy. She mourned the loss of the Patriarchs, their wives and the 'friends' she had met once again as she read the book of Genesis.

Her mourning was not only for this loss, but the knowledge of the losses of the future nation of Israel, based upon their straying from Ha'shem and his law. She began to cry to me, as only a 20-year old girl can do, about the loss of the Temple, and the loss she would perhaps experience someday if something happened to her future husband, even if it was in 50 years from now. "How can I live through such a loss, Mama? How can I love so much and let myself open to such potential for grief?"

I will send her a link to your article now, as I sent her one from Sara Esther Crispe's own wedding, yesterday to try and calm her. She is a young woman who feels deeply and will understand the meaning of what you have shared with us.

She, like her mother, is of the group that would mourn with the father, even if she had never met him before.

Thank you so much. Reply

fred gold July 17, 2007

me This parable, dear Rabbi, brings to focus for me the whole purpose of my painful life. I was blessed with many intellectual gifts, but eary, realized that I could not partake of the life that was there for me. I worked all of my life with the poor and sick. Reply

Anonymous July 16, 2007

I understand what the second group are saying, but why waste good food when people are starving. That would be a greater sin. Just like at a shiva, let both groups eat in a quiet and dignified manner in memory of the deceased. Reply

daniel bulochnik July 11, 2004

a very beautiful parable Reply