"GOING TO THE CHAPEL..."

 

I. "MY BEST CHINA!"

As happy as they are, they are points during a Jewish wedding ceremony which are more sober. There are at least two points during the proceedings where an eating utensil is broken. The first is the practice of breaking a plate after the signing and public reading of the Tana'im. Unlike by the chupah, where the groom breaks the glass (more on that in a moment), here the breaking is done by the parents, usually by the two mothers. The reason for this is that by the chupah itself, the joy of the groom is at its highest level, and thus it is he himself who must perform the action that diminishes somewhat from that joy. However, by the signing of the Tana'im, the groom's joy is as yet incomplete and thus others can do the breaking as well.

Why is a plate broken at all? Several reasons are given. Eliyahu Rabba writes that it serves as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple, and that our joy remains incomplete so long as the Temple is not rebuilt. The Mishbetzot Zahav (Pri Megadim) writes in a similar vein that the breaking of the plate is to "shake up" those observing so as to detract somewhat from their joy, since there cannot be complete joy while the Temple lies in ruins. The Aruch HaShulchan (E.H. 50:26) writes that the reason is more technical it is simply a sign that the contractual obligations of the Tana'im have been agrees upon. The Yalkut HaMinhagim claims that we break specifically a plate that is made from pottery, which cannot be fixed, as if to say that just as this plate can never again be fixed, so too shall this couple never again be apart (although I will grant that the logic on this reason seems a bit backwards).

There are at least two differences in practice among these reasons. The first is whether or not the plate has to be whole before it is broken. If it is done merely to dampen people's moods, then there is a concern that it will be a violation of "bal tashchit" (wasting something useful), and thus a plate should be used that is already broken a little. However, if there is a more defined purpose for the breaking, then the act of breaking the plate is not considered to be a waste and the plate can be whole. The second difference among these reasons is whether or not the breaking of the plate is cause for an outburst of singing and dancing. It is a common practice that the breaking of the plate is the last action done before dancing with the groom to the bedeken, and thus it is often followed by much celebration. However, if the plate is broken as a reminder of the Temple, then it should certainly not give rise to such revelry. Nevertheless, as there are other reasons why this is done, and since the singing at this point seems to focus more on what is to come than on what just occurred, there does not seem to be any reason to stop this practice.

The other broken vessel (my apologies if this is sounding needlessly Kabbalistic) is the glass that is broken under the chupah by the groom after the sheva berachot have been recited (which is the common practice there are those who hold that it is done earlier). This is done for two reasons. The more famous one is that it is a reminder of the destroyed Temple, and thus the groom (and in some places, everyone) recites the verses from Tehillim 137 of "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten, etc." The Rokeiach bases this practice on the verse of "Serve Hashem with happiness and rejoice in trembling." The gemara interprets this quixotic verse to mean than wherever there is joy, there should be trembling in the presence of Hashem as well, as a reminder that He is still our Lord and king. Thus, at this happiest moment of the groom's life, he must instill some degree of fear and trembling into his joy. The Yam Shel Shlomo draws on the comparison between the giving of the Torah and the laws of weddings (as mentioned last week), and says that since the first set of tablets were broken then, we remember them now by breaking the glass.

While the general practice is that the groom breaks the glass by smashing it with his foot, there are those who allow others to break the glass. Also, there are those who break the glass by throwing it against a wall or by throwing it backwards over their shoulder against a wall. The Sdei Chemed points out that the glass that is used should be of some considerable value, so that loss is felt for the glass itself, and that sense of loss can then be transferred to feeling the loss of the Temple (a suggestion which takes human psychology very much into account).

 

II. C'MON BABY LIGHT MY FIRE

There is a practice to either have candles lit during the chupah or to have people who escort the bride and groom down the aisle carry candles. Our source for this practice is the Tashbetz, who writes that this custom stems from the comparison to the giving of the Torah, when Hashem, playing the role of the groom, greeted his bride, the Jewish people, with a tremendous display of light. There are various practices as to who carries candles to the chupah.

We should point out that the practice (which I have never seen but may nevertheless be done by some) of the bride making a blessing on the lighting of candles at the wedding is a mistake. It stems from the fact that it was common for weddings to be done on Fridays, and thus the bride would like Shabbat candles and bless on them soon after the chupah was completed.

 

III. ALL DRESSED IN WHITE

The Tur writes that the bride and groom should wear nice clothing for the wedding. While this seems obvious enough, this statement has ramifications insofar as if one were to put aside a particular garment for his wedding and a holiday occurs before the wedding, he does not have to use that garment for the holiday, even though we try to honor the holidays as much as possible and new clothes are one of the ways in which we fulfill that practice.

There is a common custom that a groom wears a kittel (basically, a white robe) under the chupah. Ya'avetz writes that this is the garment of the deceased, and thus it is worn to remind the groom of his mortality at this happiest moment of his life. As such, others should dress him in the kittel, since the deceased are dressed by others. In connection with this reason is the verse in Kohelet 9:8 that states that one's clothes should always be white, which the Kol-Bo explains as being a reminder of the day of death and thus a reminder not to pursue the pleasures of this world too intensely. The Matteh Moshe writes that the kittel is a sign of forgiveness, and thus is appropriate on the day when all of the groom's sins are forgiven (similar to the practice of wearing the kittel on Yom HaKippurim).

 

IV. WHY YOU WANNA GIVE ME THE RUNAROUND...

The last custom that we will focus on this week is that of the bride walking around the groom seven times (or three times in some places). The She'erit Yaakov writes that is done as a reference to the seven heavens, to show that this wedding is done for the glory of He who resides above those heavens. The Sefer Ta'amei HaMinhagim cites the Korban Ani, who claims that it is done to symbolize that with marriage, the groom acquires a light that surrounds and protects him. In a similar vein, the gemara in Yevamot states that a man who lacks a wife lacks a "wall," based on Yirmiyahu 31:21. Maharsha there explains that just as a wall protects a city from outside enemies, so too does a woman protect her husband from his evil impulse and from sin. Thus, she circles him to symbolize this role that she will now fill. Finally, the bride is very often led around the groom either by the mothers or by others who are standing under the chupah. This is done due to the fact that a groom is compared to a king, and thus the processional of people going around the groom is comparable to the treatment accorded to those of royal stock.

The custom of the bride making only three laps has several possible sources. Tashbetz claims that it is due to the fact that the Torah uses the phrase "and when a man takes a woman (in marriage)" three times (Devarim 22:13, 24:1, 24:5). The second possibility is that the word "I will betroth you" appears in Hoshea 2:21-22 three times. Others write that it is a reference to the three ways that a woman is acquired as a wife, namely through money, a contract, and relations, and the three things that a husband is required to do for his wife, namely provide for her clothes, food, and relations. I would like to suggest that the aforementioned gemara in Yevamot may also serve as a source. The original statement in the gemara there is that one who lives without a wife lives with happiness, without blessing, and without goodness. Thus, her three circuits around her groom signify the three ways in which she will help to make his life more complete.


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