In many (Ashkenazic) communities, at the start of the chuppah marriage ceremony, it is customary for the bride to circle the groom counterclockwise (three or) seven times. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory—once remarked in a letter that the circling “is a segulah for a good life.”1 But why do we circle seven times? There are a number of reasons given.

The Start of “Full Life”

In a fascinating Letter, the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—cites the tradition of the Zohar that marriage is a union of two halves of the same soul.2

This is not a union of two identical halves, but rather of two complementary parts. The sages note that “the nature of the male is to conquer,” while Scripture calls the woman the “foundation of the home.” When these two soul-parts come together, they start living a “full life,” and together they build a harmonious, balanced home.

When G‑d desired a home for Himself, He created the world in six days, and the seventh day He designated as a holy day of rest. The number seven thus symbolizes completion and holiness within time and space. So when a couple is about to set up a home and begin a “full life,” it is fitting that this symbolism be reflected in the marriage ceremony.

We can now understand the choreography of the seven circuits.

The groom (the “conqueror”), who takes the initiative to create the union, is initially the center of the new Jewish home. He is the first to take his place under the chuppah. The bride circling the groom symbolizes the delineation of their own private world within the outer world, with her husband-to-be at its center. She continues to circuit seven times, symbolizing that she, the “foundation of the home,” is founding a lasting edifice that will be complete until the end of time. Once she completes the seven circuits, she stands beside her husband-to-be in the center of the circle. After the preparations for building the home are completed, both husband and the wife form its center, surrounded by the protective walls the wife created around their metaphysical home.

A Man Without a Wife Is Without Torah

Elaborating on the verse “A woman [נקבה] shall circle a man [גבר‎],”3 Tikkunei Zohar explains that the first letters of the words for “woman” and “man,” nun and gimmel respectively, add up to 53, corresponding to the 53 Parshiot of the Torah. Some explain that the seven circuits of the bride bring the number up to 60, corresponding to the 60 books of the Mishnah.4 Thus, the seven circuits bridge the Torah and Mishnah.

What does all this have to do with a wedding? For this we turn to the Talmud, which elaborates on the above verse with the statement “He who dwells without a wife dwells without Torah.”5 Thus, her circling demonstrates that his Torah accomplishments are due to her.6

Bringing the Walls Down

When it came time to conquer the city of Jericho, the Jewish people circled the walls of the city seven times until the walls miraculously sank into the ground. Mirroring this, the bride circles the groom seven times to bring down any walls that may separate them.

For more on this, see A Man’s Deepest Secret.

The Seven Brides

Some explain that the seven circles correspond to the seven times the word kallah, bride, is mentioned in Shir ha-Shirim (Song of Songs), which couches the relationship between man and G‑d in the imagery of a loving couple.7

The Seven Heavens

The seven circuits symbolize that the union is for the sake of G‑d, who dwells in the “seven heavens.”8

The Seven Canopies

Although I have not seen this given as a reason for the seven circuits at the chuppah, it is interesting to note that the Talmud tells us that in the days of the final redemption, “G‑d will make seven canopies for every righteous individual.”9

Reasons for Three Circuits

As mentioned above, some have the custom to do three circuits rather than seven. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • It corresponds to the three times the Torah says “When a man takes a wife . . .”10
  • It corresponds to the three times G‑d says through the prophet Hosea, “And I will betroth you.”11
  • It corresponds to the groom’s three biblically mandated obligations to his wife: sustenance, clothing and intimate relations.12

Watch: Male and Female Attributes