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Marriage – why bother?

What's the point of having a wedding? I know many couples that love each other, have meaningful relationships, live together and even raise wonderful, kind children without ever having formalized their relationship with a wedding ceremony. Is a wedding really necessary? How can we justify spending so much money and going through so much tension for an event that is over within a few hours? Why not skip it and go straight to the honeymoon? What does a ceremony give us that we don't have already?

The Jewish answer: a fusion of souls.

The customs and traditions of the Chupah serve to create the eternal fusion of two soulsTwo people can share a beautiful relationship together for many years and remain just that – two people. A Jewish wedding changes all this. The Chupah is not just a ceremony - it actually unites the couple into one being. How does the Chupah achieve this? By introducing a third element into the relationship that is bigger than both of them – a Divine element. Through the spiritual traditions performed under the canopy we create a bond that is not defined by human limitation, but rather has the eternity of the Divine.

And that's a very good reason to get married.

The customs and traditions of the Chupah all serve to create this eternal fusion of two souls into one. Let's look at a few examples.

Why does the groom put the veil over the bride's face before the Chupah?

There is a common misconception that the groom has to check that he is marrying the right bride before the Chupah, to avoid what happened to our Patriarch Jacob, who was tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. This has nothing to do with it. The groom covers his bride's face with the veil; if he is meant to be identifying her he should surely rather uncover her face!

The real reason (or at least one of many reasons) for the veil is the following: on our wedding day we look our best. After hours being made up and dressed up, we make a beautiful couple indeed. By covering his bride's face, the groom is making a statement. "As beautiful as you look today, my love for you is not skin-deep. I want to marry you not because our outfits match, but rather because our values match. It is not just your eyes that dazzle me, it is your persona, your character, your views on life – the real you. I can cover your sweet face with a veil and still marry you, because your face is just one level of your true beauty."

What does the Chupah-canopy represent?

The Chupah is a married couple's first homeThe Chupah is a married couple's first home. It is a bit flimsy, the décor pretty plain, but inside is an atmosphere of love, brightness and warmth. The Chupah serves as a model for all the homes they will build in their future together. What makes a home happy is not the walls, nor the decorations, but what fills it. Better a tent full of love than a three-storey mansion without it.

Also, the Chupah represents the Divine energy that is hovering above the couple. It encompasses the two of them so it can bring them together as one.

Why does the bride walk in a circle around the groom?

The Kabbalah teaches that a husband and wife are actually one soul, split in half before birth. The marriage is a reunion of these two halves of one single soul. And once soul-mates are reunited, they never separate again. In the words of the Ketubah, they will be together "for this lifetime and beyond".

A circle represents this idea, because a circle has no beginning and no end. For that reason circles are a major feature of a Jewish wedding. The ring is circular, the bride encircles the groom, and the traditional dances are in circles. When the bride makes a circle around the groom, she is saying that just as the circle is eternal, so you will eternally be the centre of my life. And the groom places a circular ring on his bride's finger, to say that his heart will be eternally open to let her in.

Why do we specifically use a ring in the ceremony?

The ring resembles a link in a chain. At the very first Jewish wedding, Abraham placed a ring on Sarah's finger. This was the first link in a chain that has spanned millennia. Every generation adds new links to the Jewish chain. The wedding rings that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents used when they got married are the links that connect us to this chain. At our wedding we are now adding another link, which will connect our children and grandchildren to the very same chain that Abraham and Sarah started. And our children in turn will continue to add links to the eternal Jewish chain.

Why do we incorporate wine in the ceremony?

At the first Jewish wedding, Abraham placed a ring on Sarah's finger. This was the first link in a chainWine has a very unique property. Generally, anything physical becomes weaker as time goes on. Food decomposes, buildings crumble, clothes wear out. The one exception is wine. Wine, although physical, actually improves with age. This indicates that wine has a spiritual element to it, because the body dies, while the soul lives on forever. We use wine in our ceremonies, especially a wedding, to introduce this higher spiritual element into our lives. The message to the bride and groom is that it is hard to keep the passion alive in a marriage based on superficial, skin-deep attraction. We all get old, we wither and we lose our youthful beauty. But our spirit doesn't wither; it gets stronger as we get older. If you love each other for what lies beneath the surface, for the spiritual connection you share, then like the wine, your passion for each other will only grow as time goes on.

Why do we break the glass?

At the end of the Chupah, the groom breaks a glass under his foot, and everyone says "Mazel Tov!" This commemorates the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. This event was the catalyst of all the tragedies that the Jewish people have suffered since. Why remember such sadness at a wedding? For we are taught that if we are sensitive to the pain and suffering in the world even at the height of our joy, then when we ourselves have to go through tough times we will be strengthened with the knowledge that things will change for the better and good times are ahead.

But then the question is: why do we wish "Mazel Tov" after commemorating pain and sorrow?

There is a deeper explanation to the breaking of the glass.

At a wedding, everything seems flawless. Look at the bride and groom, all smiles and happiness. If you believe the speeches, they are the two greatest people that ever lived. It seems that their future together will be just perfect.

But soon after the wedding, real life sets in, and real life isn't perfectBut soon after the wedding, real life sets in, and real life isn't perfect. We all have ups and downs, and sometimes we make mistakes. We aren't always as considerate as we should be, even towards the people we love. Sometimes, in a rash moment, we may even hurt each other. That's because we aren't perfect. We are humans, not angels. Angels always do the right thing. Humans don't. We even break things sometimes.

But to that, we say "Mazel Tov!" Mazel Tov that you married a human being, not an angel. Angels may be perfect, but they're boring. You can't have a meaningful relationship with a being that doesn't make mistakes! What would such a being need you for? It is precisely because of our imperfections that we need each other, and that makes us lovable.

By accepting each other's imperfections, and working together to try and overcome our flaws and failings, we have something real going.

So we end the Chupah with the breaking of the glass. Welcome to real life, where things aren't always perfect. But don't forget, that's what makes it exciting and meaningful. And that's what makes you lovable.

Mazel Tov!

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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