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Reception

Reception

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Jump to: How | Why | Kabbalistic Meaning

How:

While the bride and groom spend a few private moments in the yichud room, the invited guests gather in the wedding hall where the first course of the wedding meal is served. While the crowd partakes of the appetizers, the newlyweds exit the yichud room and, together with their immediate families, proceed to a side room for photographing.1

After this quick photo-op, the bride and groom enter the wedding hall, where they are ceremoniously greeted with music, singing and dancing. The singing, dancing, and merrymaking are the central feature of the affair, and continue until the Grace after Meals, with several intermissions when the various food courses are served.

After the first dance, the bride and groom take their seat at the head table. Also seated by the head table are the bride and groom's parents, grandparents, the rabbi, and any other dignitaries in attendance.2 Traditionally, the groom recites the hamotzie blessing on an oversized challah which is then sliced and shared with the crowd.

The greatest sages set aside their diligent Torah study to entertain the new coupleParticipating in the wedding feast and rejoicing with the bride and groom, to cheer them and gladden their hearts on this special day, is a great mitzvah. The Talmud relates that the greatest of our sages set aside their diligent non-interrupted Torah study for the sake of entertaining the new couple with song and dance.

Aside for the standard singing and dancing, the traditional Jewish wedding typically features juggling acts, assorted props, and various forms of amateur acrobatics and stunts — all performed in front of the bride and/or groom.

On their wedding day, as well as during the entire following week of Sheva Brachot, the bride and groom are treated like a royal couple. They are wined and dined, and their every wish is catered to. It is considered a privilege to serve them!

According to the Zohar, it is proper to invite poor people to the wedding feast. No joyous occasion is complete unless it is shared with those who are less fortunate. It is also of great importance that the establishment of a Jewish home be based on kindness and compassion. Following this reasoning, the Rebbe encouraged the placing of a charity box on the head-table(s) of the wedding.3

The men with the groom, and the women with the bride, dance in separate circles.4 A mechitzah (divider) should be placed between the men's and women's dancing circles.5

Why:

According to Jewish tradition, joyous occasions are always celebrated with food. Specifically, the observance of a great mitzvah is celebrated with a seudat mitzvah, a "mitzvah repast," which should include bread, meat or poultry, and wine. Thus participating in a wedding reception which celebrates the mitzvah of marriage is an honor and a mitzvah in itself.

Kabbalistic Meaning:

Emotions cannot be felt by the physical senses, but certainly have an impact on, and express themselves in, people's physical behavior. They determine whether people walk with a bounce in their step or slouch along miserably. Joyful emotions are expressed through dancing; a person who is happy naturally "dances for joy."

The most intense joy is expressed in the "free dancing" which characterize Jewish weddingsThere are two general sorts of dances, each one expressing a different level of joy. There is the choreographed dance which is composed of different steps and movements. All participants follow a rhythm; their steps determined by the rules of the particular dance.

Then there is a dance which is not choreographed at all. When King David first brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, he is described as "hopping and dancing" with joy.6 The unbridled joy which consumed him at the moment didn't allow him to restrict his movements to the orchestrated steps of a given dance. His whole being danced and jumped.

While choreographed dances are tasteful and beautiful, and are a staple of all weddings, the intense joy experienced at a wedding is expressed in the circles of "free dancing" which characterize traditional Jewish weddings.

Every Jewish person is a part of the larger Jewish body — a body which includes every Jewish soul throughout the generations. A Jewish marriage creates a link between all the past generations and all the future generations. Thus, every Jewish marriage is a historic and momentous event, not only for the couple and their families, but also for the community at large. This is evidenced by the participation of all the invited guests in the dancing and singing — every individual rightfully feeling him or herself to be very much a part of this momentous occasion.

Footnotes
1.

Typically, much of the photography, particularly all the solo shots of the bride and groom, have been completed earlier in the day; however, since the bride and groom do not see each other before the wedding, all the joint bride-groom pictures are taken at this time. Needless to say, the timing of this photo-op isn't mandatory — some couples who wish to spend more time with the invited guests choose to postpone this session until after the guests leave. However, most couples opt to have the pictures taken while they are still fresh — before the ties are soup-stained and the clothing wrinkled from dancing.

2.

At Chabad weddings, there are two head tables, one situated in the men's section and headed by the groom; the other one is headed by the bride and is located in the ladies' section.

3.

There are those who will place a charity box, together with a small amount of change to be used for charity, on each table in the hall.

4.

In many orthodox communities it is customary to have a mechitzah separating the men and woman for the entire wedding separation. Click here for more information on the subject of mechitzah.

5.

In certain chassidic communities — not including Chabad — it is customary to have a mitzvah tantz ("mitzvah dance") ceremony after the guests have departed. During this dance, the groom and certain male members of the immediate family (such as fathers, grandfathers and uncles) individually dance with the bride for a few moments. Other than the groom and the father and grandfathers of the bride, all others dance with the bride via a gartel (long sash); both dancers holding on to one end of the gartel.
Though the mitzvah tantz has great kabbalistic implications, its practical advisability has been questioned.

Artwork by David Brook. David lives in Sydney, Australia, and has been selling his art since he was in high school. He is currently painting and doing web illustrations.
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