THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – SHEVA BERACHOT
Having already discussed the birchat erusin said at the beginning of the wedding ceremony, we turn now to the sheva berachot, the seven blessings which constitute the nisu'in, the formal marriage aspect of the proceedings.
The gemara in Ketubot 7b says that "birchat chatanim" (a reference to the sheva berachot) are said in the house of the chatan for seven says with a quorum of ten people. Rabi Yehuda says that they are only said if "panim chadashot" (lit. "new faces" or "new people") are present. We will return to all of these issues in turn. However, we focus first on the blessings themselves. As listed by the next few lines of the gemara, the six blessings, to which a blessing on wine is added to make seven, are:
Rashi, and Ran following his lead, explains several aspects of the blessings. Before explaining the meaning and order of the blessings, Rashi first explains why some of these blessings begin with the "baruch ata Hashem" formulation and end with it as well, while others do not. In general, unless a blessing is only one line long (such as those made on eating fruits or performing a mitzva), we prefer that it begin and end with this formulation. When such a blessing does not conform to this rule, we often place two such blessings together, and thus the second blessing "borrows" this formulation from the ending of the previous blessing ("bracha ha-semucha l'chaverta" – a blessing adjacent to another blessing).
The first two blessings are only one line long, and thus do not fit into the string of blessings that would borrow the blessing formulation from each other. Additionally, Rashi notes that the first two blessings are also exceptions from a thematic point of view. As we will see, blessings three through six speak about the newly married couple. The first two blessings, however, serve other purposes. The first blessing, which notes that everything was created for Hashem's glory, is a blessing said as a way of inviting and gathering together all of the guests to the feast. Specifically, the focus is on thanking Hashem for His original kindness of serving as a "best man" for Adam HaRishon when he married Chava. The second blessing is also an exception, as it thanks Hashem for creating man, but still does not focus specifically on the bride and groom.
The next three blessings use the strategy of "bracha ha-semucha l'chaverta." Blessing number three begins with a standard blessing formulation, but neither number four nor number five does, although they all end with such a formulation. By doing so, they form a continuous string of "long blessings." The question then arises as to why the sixth blessing begins with "baruch ata Hashem" instead of borrowing that formulation from blessing number five? As we will see, this blessing is unique insofar as there are times when not all of the blessings are recited and this final blessing alone is said. Thus, it must begin and end with this formulation so as to accommodate such an occasion.
Returning now to the order of the blessings. After dealing with general issues in the first two blessings, we begin focusing on the marriage and the bride and groom. The third blessing (asher yatzar) concludes by mentioning the creation of woman ("binyan adei ad") and the joining of man and woman together in the Garden of Eden. The fourth blessing speaks of "the barren one," which is interpreted to be a reference to Jerusalem. As with the breaking of the glass at the end of the ceremony, this highlights the fact that our joy cannot be complete so long as the Temple still lies in ruins.
The fifth and sixth blessings focus specifically on the happy couple. The fifth blessing begins "rejoice beloved friends as your Creator rejoiced in the Garden of Eden in days of yore." The reference to "beloved friends" is a reference not to those who have gathered but to the bride and groom themselves. Rashi makes the beautiful point that the bride and groom are not merely husband and wife, but that their relationship is premised on the fact that they are first and foremost friends, and on top of that friendship is their love for one another. Finally, the sixth and final (and longest) blessing serves as a kind of a summary of all of the blessings.
Rashi points out a slight difference between the endings of the last two blessings. The fifth blessing ends "...who makes happy groom and bride," while the final blessing ends "...who makes the groom happy with the bride." Rashi explains that the fifth blessing is a prayer for the success and happiness of the bride and groom for their entire lives, although not focusing on their achieving those goals with each other. By contrast, the final blessing focuses on their relationship together, and thus asks that Hashem should grant them happiness with and because of each other.
There are two textual emendations found in the Frankel edition of Rambam which are worthy of note. First, in the fifth blessing, instead of writing "b'gan eden mi-kedem," translated loosely as "in the Garden of Eden in days of yore," he writes "mi-kedem b'gan eden." While the second version is meant to mean the same thing, it eliminates a generally undetected reference problem. The first version can also be translated as "East of Eden," which, according to Bereishit 3:24, is where Adam and Chava were banished to after their sin, certainly not a reference that we want to make at such a holy moment. Thus, Rambam offers a version that is translated as "from days of yore, in the Garden of Eden."
The second change that Rambam makes in is the sixth blessing. Instead of writing that the sounds of bride and groom and joy and happiness will be heard "in the cities of Yehuda and the courtyards of Jerusalem," he writes that they will be heard "from the cities of Yehuda and the courtyards of Jerusalem." The explanation for this change is that were these sounds to be heard in these places, they could theoretically be coming from some outside location, and be loud enough to be heard within the city limits. Since, presumably, we are yearning for such joy to be found within our holy city, Rambam tightens the wording of the blessing to more precisely state exactly that point.
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