The first meal shared by the husband and wife with their guests has religious significance. It is considered by the law to be a se’udat mitzvah, a festive meal in fulfillment of a commandment, and serves an important psychological purpose: le’same-ach chatan ve’kallah, to "rejoice the groom and bride." The roots of this first meal reach far back into Jewish history, when Jacob’s father-in-law, Laban, invited all of the local people to a party immediately after the wedding (Genesis 29:22).

The wedding is the peak of joy. The Rabbis of the Talmud said, Ein simchah be’li chuppah (there is no real joy outside of the marriage ceremony) and every mitzvah repast is traced to this prototype. Joy in the Jewish tradition is never self-contained; it reaches outward. For many centuries, it was customary to invite the poor to the wedding, in order to bring happiness into their often drab lives. While nowadays this is largely impractical, it does teach us to give charity as a sign of gratitude to G‑d who gave us joy.

The purpose of the meal is to instill joy into the hearts of bride and groom. Superficially, it might appear that since this event in life is the very epitome of joy, there should be no need to make them rejoice. But beneath the laughter, the music, and the exchange of mazal tovs, there is often a tense concern for the future. The responsibilities and adjustments of living together and raising a family are not always anticipated during the dating game, and after the wedding the partners may wonder if they have made the right choice.

Hence when guests rejoice the bride and groom, they distract them and at least temporarily lift their burden and free their minds to concentrate on one another. To this end, the greatest and most staid of scholars would customarily dance with the bride, each holding one end of a napkin or handkerchief, in what is called a mitzvah tentzel (a mitzvah dance). One of the auxiliary purposes of this dance is to give the groom more confidence in his choice, and the bride in hers. Musical instruments, which were usually discouraged by the Rabbis in memory of the Temple’s destruction, were not only permitted at a wedding but were considered an integral component of "rejoicing" the couple. Ran holds that not only at the chuppah are we instructed to rejoice them, but wherever they go they should find the community participating in their joy.