Between Two Worlds
With the "big decision" thankfully behind them, the bride and groom now enter their engagement period. This exciting period is crucial, as the bride and groom's spiritual preparations for the wedding will have a direct impact on the marriage years to follow.
People have dreams and ambitions; visions of where they would like to be one day. These ambitions cover all areas of life: personal, professional and spiritual. Achieving these goals always involves hard work and effort, a fact which often causes these dreams to remain just that: dreams. This is especially true regarding spiritual ambitions, the desire to live a more meaningful and soulful life, as there is less external pressure prodding the person along on this journey. Once married and relatively settled, it is even more difficult -- although never impossible -- for an individual to change habits and spiritual focus.
The engagement period is the time to "set the bar"The engagement period is the time to "set the bar." This is only accomplished through actually living the dream, not by further contemplation and dreaming. As a Rebbe once said, "The definition of a thief is someone who steals; not someone who knows how to steal." A spiritual person is someone who has indeed refined him/herself and is devoted to the ideals and practices of the Torah; not someone who aspires to do so.
A marriage which brings together a bride and groom who have both refreshed their commitment to leading a spiritual life has a sound foundation. The odds are that the home they establish will be one of morals, values, and true inner happiness and satisfaction.
In order to allow the bride and groom to focus on their spiritual preparations for the wedding, preferably the responsibility for arranging the wedding should be assumed by others. The less time and energy the couple spends on invitation lists, menus, and color schemes, the more time and peace of mind they will have for the preparations which will impact the lifetime which will follow the wedding day.
On a practical note: all too often, the details of the wedding plans lead to disagreement and friction between the two sides planning the event. Involving the bride and groom in these arrangements can make them parties to these petty arguments -- an extremely dangerous prospect.
The Distance which Leads to Closeness
The engagement period is always emotionally challenging for the bride and groom. Aside for the anxiety which intensifies as the wedding day approaches ever closer, it is natural for the bride and groom to struggle with the urge to express their feelings for each other in manners which are inappropriate outside of the context of marriage.
Refraining from engaging in intimacy indicates how much you treasure the relationshipIf you have finally met the most special person, the person you respect, adore, and with whom you wish to spend your life, there's all the more reason to postpone all intimate behavior. You may have had flings before, but this is the person with whom you wish to share a holy and meaningful relationship. Your goal is to merge souls, rather than merely the flesh. Refraining from engaging in intimacy indicates how much you treasure the relationship. It is creating a temporary distance which will lead to an unparalleled closeness.
The feeling of standing beneath the chupah with the deep satisfaction which stems from knowing that this marriage is the beginning of your shared sacred journey is indescribable.
Even one who has been intimate with their fiancé beforehand should take a hiatus during the engagement period. With the commitment to marry comes the ability to take the relationship to an altogether higher level. The first step in this "new" relationship is the commitment to reserving intimacy for married life.
To eliminate unnecessary temptation, it is vital that the bride and groom conform with the halachic guidelines of yichud which preclude a man and woman who are not yet married from being secluded together in a private area.
While this may sound counter-intuitive, due to all the abovementioned considerations, Jewish tradition actually encourages a reduction in contact between bride and groom during the engagement period. It makes for an emotionally amplified wedding experience.
It is perfectly normal for the bride and/or groom to experience feelings of doubt regarding their decision. These feelings can be attributed to a natural apprehension to enter into a commitment of such magnitude, they may stem from a character flaw one may have now noticed in their fiancé, or they may be caused by a variety of other reasons.
It is perfectly normal for the bride and/or groom to experience feelings of doubtIn such an instance, the first step is to rethink the reasons which originally led to the decision to marry this particular individual. Are those reasons strong enough to override the new concerns? Do the newfound information and/or feelings cause you to believe that the foundations for a happy marriage with this individual have been compromised? If you are unsure, then it is advisable to discuss the issue with a wise (but impartial) friend, or perhaps speak to your rabbi about your dilemma.
The Engagement Contract
Sometime during the course of the engagement, the tena'im, an official engagement document, is written and ratified by the bride and groom. Some do this towards the beginning of the engagement, while others wait until the reception which precedes the chupah before officializing the engagement. Click here for an article which discusses these customs and also includes a comprehensive review of the tena'im document.
The sanctity of the Jewish home hinges on the husband and wife following the guidelines of Family Purity. The woman's monthly post-menstrual immersion in the purifying mikvah waters infuses the marital relationship with holiness, and continuously adds new dimensions of depth, excitement and romance to marriage.
In order to be properly prepared, both the bride and groom must study up on the subject before the wedding day. It is customary for the couple to receive separate private lessons on Family Purity from qualified instructors. This personal tutelage ensures that the bride and groom learn not only the dry laws, but also get advice and perspective from someone who has personal as well as professional experience in this sensitive field. This personal and non-threatening forum is also a wonderful opportunity for the couple to ask any questions of a personal nature they may have which they may be uncomfortable asking of family or friends.
Your officiating rabbi will be able to refer you to a qualified instructor in your area.
The couple demonstrates their commitment to establishing a Jewish home by including Jewish gifts in the mixThe exchange of gifts between bride and groom during the engagement period is a longstanding Jewish tradition. While jewelry is an obvious choice, the bride should not be given a ring, a universal symbol of marriage, until the chupah.
The couple demonstrates their commitment to establishing a Jewish home by including Jewish gifts in the mix. It is customary for the bride to present the groom with Jewish books, and the groom does the same for the bride -- if possible books which speak of the Jewish woman's unique role and obligations. A gift of a charity box highlights the couple's commitment to establish a home based on charitable ideals.
It is customary for the bride (or her family) to purchase a tallit (prayer shawl) for the groom. In many communities, the groom, or his family, provide the bride with candlesticks which she will use to illuminate her home every Friday night.