The Holy Wedding
By Chaviva Pedya | 22/10/2009
What idea is behind the myth of the holy wedding (hieros gamos), and what is the meaning of several early wedding practices observed in Jewish Diaspora communities? Haviva Pedaya reexamines these customs through the prism of Jewish esotericism, in the hope that they will serve as the basis for understanding Jewish wedding customs from a place of tikkun
1. A study of the diminution of the moon in the version of Nahmanides and the members of his circle, and in the tales of R. Nachman of Bratzlav
I will divide the discussion into two: the idea of the wedding - the spiritual, divine, holy wedding (hieros gamos) - that appears in the Kabbalah and in Hasidism, as inspiration for the holy wedding both within every person's soul and in the outside world; and several elements of the wedding ceremony as a behavioral language, and the possibility of their refinement and polishing in light of the idea of the holy wedding, and their founding from anew on the gold pedestals of the rich tradition of halakhah and custom.
According to the Kabbalistic teaching, the Sefirotic aspect of du-partzufin exists within the system of the Sefirot. "Du-partzufin" (literaly, of two countenances) is the term used by the midrashic work Genesis Rabbah to describe the creation of Adam. The word "Adam" refers to both the male and the female: "Male and female He created them [...] and He called them Adam" (Genesis 5:2). The name of each is "Adam," and their common name is "Adam." This puzzling formulation, that raises many questions, might possibly express the idea that two might be one, just as one is two. In other words, just as a male and a female are likely, when complete, to be a single person, an individual is likely to contain two within him: the male aspect and the female aspect.
The processing of the polar duality to a single integral whole means deliverance from the danger of the dichotomous isolation of these two aspects within the psyche, and the creation of a flowing stream between these two inner entities.
The Kabbalah depicts the idea of the du-partzufin as active in the center of the system of the Sefirot. It speaks of ten aspects of the one God within the context of a system of symbols centered around the double element that aspires to and longs for harmony and unification. This theme is parallel to the central theme of many ancient rites and myths: the holy wedding. That is to say, a wedding that represents, symbolizes, and influences, a wedding with a ritual aspect, one that seeks to communicate with the language of tandem doing and becoming with the mystery of existence, to influence it, and to channel it to life, to the forces of fertility and spiritual powers.
Thus writes R. Abraham ben David of Posquieres (twelfth century, Provence; known mainly for his critical comments on the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides): "the 'agents of truth, whose action is truth' [...] But now that they are created double faced [= du-partzufin], each of them is close to the other and unites itself with it, and longs to be joined with it, in order that all may be one edifice" (Gershom Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah, trans. Allan Arkush [Princeton, NJ, 1991], p. 217).
The Power of the Suspended Voice
I will discuss three prime examples of the idea of the holy wedding in the Kabbalah and in Hasidism: the synthesis of the Adam and Eve myth and the myth of the diminution of the moon in Jewish mysticism, and the dynamic application of this united myth in spiritual life; and two of the tales by R. Nachman of Bratzlav, as exemplifying systems of thinking that can be read in light of the perception of the dynamic application of the myth in the developmental processes of the individual personality.
It will be interesting to examine how, within this mythic structure itself, that presumably possesses conservative power, a revolutionary power, as well, is at work, and how it acts in the symbolic language that is much broader than any logical-semantic translation. What I see as the main element of the great, and even tremendous, myths of existence is the force that raises to the surface the suspended voice by symbolic means, and within a sophisticated camouflage net. The most central of these voices is the female voice.
This voice, that was a voice suspended from the social and historical system, has an amazingly rich representation in the Kabbalistic literature. Various interpretations can be given to that portrayal; for me, most important is the spiritual-interpretation orientation that emerges from this depiction. The Jewish Kabbalists' tremendous awareness of the feminine dimension in the Godhead is unquestionably, and closely, related to structures that seek the psychological integration of their inner dual [= male and female] countenances, as part of the process of the development of the spiritual man. In such a process, the spiritual person does not only seek to adhere to the divine, he constantly upgrades the patterns of duality in his psyche of which the male and the female is one of the outstanding aspects.
The power of the suspended voice lies in its accumulation of perspectives outside the normative ruling system. As a consequence of its enforced suspension, it develops other talents in the individual's personality that would be unattainable for him in the social sphere.
Like ritual systems, myths, too, represent a system in which several forces, several orientations, and several messages are at work, and which at times might express contradiction or struggle. Since, however, there are myths concerned with beginning or end situations and times - with the awareness that man is generally in the interim time - then the role of mentioning the beginning or end could be perceived as revolutionary, or as subversive to the character of the existing order, which is always the order of a given narrow segment that is detached from these poles. Moreover, the awakening of the memory of the beginning or end might be a force in the life of the individual spurring the "middle" and rebirth.
We will now turn to one of the important Kabbalistic myths, that I will weigh on these scales.
Du-Partzufin and the Diminution of the Moon
The greatness and depth of the du-partzufin myth in Kabbalah, in the version of Nahmanides and the members of his circle, lies in its profound merging with the myth of the diminution of the moon. The former is the myth of the creation of Man as both male and female, a dual human that was split his entire length into two pining entities that seek each other. This myth, that was explicated in realistic fashion in the beings of Adam and Eve, was transformed by the Kabbalists into the story of the divided soul that seeks its sister soul, a soul that searches for what it has lost. The myth of the diminution of the moon was formulated by the Rabbis to tell of a primordial situation, in which the sun and the moon were two great lights equal in power. After the moon complained: "Can two kings wear a single crown?" it was diminished by God. At the sight of the moon's great sorrow, that its light would now be worthless, like that of a candle at noon, God's compassion was aroused, and He said: "Bring an atonement for Me for My having diminished the moon," but the diminution remained in force.
The Kabbalists' synthesis of the diminution of the moon and Adam and Eve myths draws into closer focus the idea of the woman's fall and her being unequal within the hierarchical system, while it adds the futuristic aspect to that of the ancient past.
The Kabbalah depicts the event of the moon's diminution as occurring in the divine world of the Sefirot. In the Kabbalistic conception, the linear descending order of the seven lower Sefirot is Hesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzah, Hod, Yesod, Malkhut. These Sefirot represent, inter alia, parts of the human body; some are identified with the female aspect, and others, with the male one. The sun, the Sefirah of Tiferet, represents the male aspect, while the moon symbolizes the female aspect: this is the Sefirah of Malkhut, the Divine Presence.
Surprisingly, when Nahmanides interprets the order of the days of Creation in the cosmic week of Creation - that for him represents the linear order of the Sefirotic emanation mentioned above - he secretly alludes to another order: first come the Sefirot of Tiferet and Malkhut: the male aspect and the female aspect, that also symbolize man's head, that are followed by the other Sefirot, in their order.
This means that in the primal condition the male and female - as egalitarian du-partzufin, in partnership and complementary - headed the system of divine emanation that can be depicted in the image of man. During, however, the deployment of the "seder" (i.e., construction; literally, "order"; a term parallel to linear concatenation) the unity and equality of these two Sefirot was violated. The tension between the two states of existence is the tension between what once was (and that continues to exist, in a static manner, as an archetypical-photographic situation): the du-partzufin couple that are in a state of equality, and what exists now: changing states of a linear hierarchy in which the woman is shunted to the bottom. This disparity created the two dimensions of time and the two planes in society, history, and the psyche; the dissonance between the primeval time of Creation - or the time of Redemption - and the present time. This is an order that was disturbed, but its traces remained in the act of Creation.
Just as many myths of collective redemption were channeled by the Kabbalists into contexts of individual redemption, so, too, the great power and fertility of the diminution of the moon myth are to be found in the spiritual interpretation that it will be given and that will locate it in the contexts of personal redemption on two levels: in the life of each person and the du-partzufin within him; and in the life of the man and wife and the spousal relationship between them. In effect, the spiritual interpretation relating to individual redemption transfers the myth from the time frame between the Creation and the eschatological End of Days, on the collective levels of the Universe and human existence, to the context of individual life, that is meant to include constant improvement and development during the course of a person's life.
In other words, the movement of the lunar aspect's aspiration to ascend and stand at the head the system, as equal to the solar aspect. is a movement that must exist within the soul of every individual, whether woman or man. This movement allows for the possibility of attaining an integrative state within the psyche that combines the "animus" and the "anima," in Jungian terminology. This state will likely lead, by itself, to wholeness and fullness, and to understanding and depth in the relations with the female or male "Thou" standing before you.
Every preservation of the dissonance between the male aspect and the female aspect is exile, and notwithstanding all the accolades for exile, they are outweighed by the praises of true redemption. Preserving this dissonance means the difficulty in distinguishing between the internal disconnection within the individual's psyche and the state of affairs in the social reality and the political systems. The individual's commitment to the redemption of his soul, if translated into the spousal relationship, has consequences for the social system, the family, and the community, as well. Furthermore, at times the power that seemingly descends into a given reality is the force that will eventually ascend. Ascent is the result of a complexly textured psychological-spiritual tikkun (correction), one that might also apply to social and political systems.
The Dualistic Development
Two important stories by Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav teach, directly and openly, and with his typical brilliant artistic momentum, of the extent to which the narrative of the soul is the story of the dualistic development.
The first tale is The Lost Princess: "There was once a king who had six sons and one daughter. This daughter was very precious to him and he loved her very much. He spent much time with her. One time he was alone with her on a certain day and he became angry at her. He inadvertently said, 'May the Evil One take you away!' At night she went to her room. In the morning, no one knew where she was. Her father was very upset, and he went here and there looking for her. The viceroy realized that the king was very upset. He stood up and asked [that the king] give him a servant, a horse, and some money for expenses, and he went to search for her. He searched for her very much, for a very long time" (trans. Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman's Stories [n.p., 1983], pp. 31-37).
All of Rabbi Nachman's tales can be read on two levels: the metaphysical-divine, and the psychological; and it is not insignificant that a fine line divides the two interpretations, since, in essence, they seek to merge. The two readings are mirrors of each other. Accordingly, the beginning of the tale, that places us in the context of the exile of the Divine Presence, also puts us in the context of the descent of the soul. In a moment of anger, the king rejects his only daughter, and in a moment of hester panim (the concealment of the divine countenance), she is distanced from the sons and sent to the kingdom of evil. The king is God, and his viceroy is the one created in His image, man. Man, the moment of whose creation is that of being cast into the world, is represented here in two aspects: the active and leading male aspect (the king's viceroy); and the captive and rejected female aspect (the daughter) - the animus and the anima in the psyche and the distance between them, that is one of exile, alienation, loss, and error. The search attempts to bridge this distance. In several rounds of searching the viceroy finds the princess and once again loses her, just as at times the awakening of the consciousness is very tenuous and threatens to once again be swept at any moment into the darkness of the lack of awareness.
The daughter is in the realm of the kingdom of evil. There, as a princess, she is led alongside the king to the palace in the midst of a banquet. Upon his arrival at the palace, the viceroy lies in a corner, and the daughter - who is always identified with the conscious aspect - recognizes him, and even explains to him how he can free her from her captivity: "It is impossible to get me out unless you choose yourself a place and remain there for an entire year. All that year you must long to let me out. Whenever you are unoccupied you must only yearn, seek and look forward to freeing me. You must [also] fast. Then, on the last day of the year, you must fast and go without sleep for the entire twenty-four hour period" (trans. Kaplan, pp. 40-41).
This means that longings in the personality continuum have the same power as the movement and energy of machines. Longing drives a person from one psychological place to another, and through this he creates and builds, and also redeems. Longings are the recognition of the distance-dissonance that creates a powerful act of closing the gap, creation, or giving birth to a new dimension. In other words, not every longing is embodied in the "I"'s going to the "Thou," but every longing might be embodied in the tremendous motive power of creating, of words that move from the "I" to the "Thou," which is the force that sustains and procreates.
At the very end of this period, on the last day, in which the viceroy is supposed to fast, refraining from food and sleep, he desires to eat a very fine apple, and immediately "fell asleep." He sleeps, not for a moment, but for years. What marks this tale as a living story is the repetition of the motif of sleep. The second time, only the prohibition of drinking wine is imposed on the viceroy, but on the last day, once again, he cannot withstand temptation and falls asleep. This time his slumber lasts for seventy years, and upon awakening he finds the daughter's kerchief, on which she wrote with her tears. Once again the years pass, and this time the viceroy must engage in a more active search for the princess. She is hidden in a golden palace; this time there are no directives to refrain from sleep or from eating, and he himself constructs the entire course of events with the help of the four winds and succeeds in extricating her. The story, however abruptly ends with the statement: "[The Rebbe] did not tell how he freed her. But in the end he did free her" (trans. Kaplan, p. 54).
A king and his son - God and man - appear once again in the short introduction to the Seven Beggars story. The king gives over the kingdom to his son, in his own lifetime. In the middle of the festivities and banquet, the king warns his son that he foresees that he will lose the kingdom, and in the continuation of the story we are informed that the king's son, along with his wise men, stopped believing in God.
Without any warning, the story seems to come to an abrupt halt and then begins from anew. We no longer hear of the king's son. "One day there was a mass flight from a certain country. All the people fled, and in the course of their flight, they passed through a forest. There, a boy and girl were lost. One person lost a little boy, and another lost a little girl. They were [both] small children, around four or five years old. They did not have any food. They began to scream and weep because they did not have anything to eat" (trans. Kaplan, p. 358). I assume that the boy and girl together comprise the king's son. That is, they present a picture of the psyche of the lost king's son: the animus and the anima, the inner du-partzufin; on the psychological level, the tale's movement toward their wedding is the holy wedding in the soul.
The Beggars' Gifts
The children are first helped by the seven beggars who appear one after the other, each of which has his own defect: the blind beggar, the deaf one, the one with a speech defect, the one with a crooked neck, the hunchback, the one without hands, and the one without feet - all defects in the organs and limbs that comprise the human body. Afterwards, the children remain under the patronage of other beggars, who finally decide to marry them. The wedding is held in a pit of dung, that was prepared especially for this purpose, and for the feast the beggars bring the leftovers that they collect. The bridegroom and bride greatly long for the original seven beggars who raised them, and then they appear, each giving the couple a present of a sort of homily. Only the seventh beggar does not appear, and the story remains truncated. (The nonappearance at the wedding banquet of the seventh beggar, who has no feet, represents the lack in the reality, and indicates the spiritual, Godly, interpretation: the tikkun of the feet is the last tikkun of Lurian Kabbalism, and represents the "footsteps of the Messiah.")
Each beggar's gift is a speech, which contains tremendous spiritual depth. Each beggar tells a story that is a sort of parable and moral, a dream, or an allegory, a complete picture, from which we learn that his defect is not a disability, but an advantage and a wonderful wholeness.This perfection should open expanses - of memory, awareness, and illumination - and alertness for longings and for tikkun. The eye, the ear, the mouth, the neck, the hand, and the foot build man's stature for the boy and the girl, who are the soul's structure of du-partzufin, of the fallen king's son (who himself is the archetype of Everyman, while, at the same time, the seven Sefirot are represented in him). The holy wedding is conducted in a dung pit, in the fringe, in a place where refuse is discarded, and is the opposite of the expected center; the givers of the spiritual gifts are paupers.
In this tale Rabbi Nachman is faithful to the midrashic metaphor, that is also developed by the Kabbalah, of this world as a palace built in refuse. His choice of this metaphor, however, was not by chance: the holy wedding is not conducted amidst external magnificence and pomp, in the heart of status symbols or with appreciation for the material; the effort is to ascend from within the material, while adapting life's materials, and with the consciousness that is capable of focusing and directing itself to what is deemed marginal, of fashioning the center that exceeds the mechanical order of the systems of religious or social function, and of ascending to the spiritual nuptials. The story as a whole is directed to the redemption of the Godhead and all existence, of the world of the human and the psychological reality.
In order to understand this duality in the soul and in substance, and its relevance for the relationship forged between the "I" and the (male or female) "Thou," I will now present a structural key for interpreting the homily gifts of the seven beggars. First, we should add a reservation: any interpretation of the story necessarily shunts others aside, but this key is basic for all the various types of interpretations. All the stories-homilies are meant to temporarily arouse in the consciousness wonder, riddle, and paradox, to pave the way for an expansion of the bounds of consciousness and alert awareness, that is, awareness that is a state of awakening in a reality that at times exists within sleep. They are not occupied with the mystical experience, but with the waking consciousness.
The six deep pictures that the beggars' tales contribute to the holy wedding can be thought of as three story-pairs, each with its own pattern. The first pattern is the expansion of the boundaries of the awareness and comprehension of the time or place that seeks to understand the reality as a minuscule segment in the expanses of a mysterious and all-encompassing reality. The immediate significance of this mold is an expansion of memory and the activation of dimensions of time that had laid in oblivion. Such are the story of the blind beggar, that strives to expand the dimensions of time - the memory of what preceded life, and of what will follow it - and that of the hunchback, that wishes to expand the spatial dimensions: a wondrous tree planted above the ground, as the center of the Universe.
The second mold is a binary pattern of the reality that presents the entity itself (the essence of existence) as driven by the force of longing, which is presented as both movement and a static condition. Such are the story of the one with a speech defect that centers around the longings of the heart and spring; and that of the beggar with a crooked neck, that focuses on the terrible longings of two gigantic birds that had lost one another.
The third pattern is that of spoilage and correction, that is expressed in the story of the deaf beggar: the wonderful garden that sustained an entire country is destroyed, and the gardener who tended it is lost and thought insane; and in the story of the beggar without hands: the love between the king and the princess is spoiled following the king's dream, in which he sees that she wants to kill him. This is a tale of violent coercion, flight, and rescue while at death's door. The handless one heals the princess by taking different types of pulses, and melody.
These three planes of existence give expression to hidden possibilities and dimensions of the du-partzufin existence, that of the holy wedding. The tales of the blind man and of the hunchback teach of the possibility of totally going beyond the reality, memory that is beyond the present segment of life, and the place that is beyond man's perceptual ability in this world; notwithstanding this, they may be reached in strong experiential states or those of alert and illuminated consciousness. The holy wedding is a type of spiritual covenant, and as such it is committed to a metadimension that goes beyond the normal reality, one from which the here and now draw sustenance and vitality. It is not incidental that the dimensional expansion also relates to connection with the collective memory: "return to your treasures, and make use of them," in the words of the eagle in the blind beggar's story.
The tales of the crooked-neck beggar and of the one with a speech defect illustrate the force of longing, that both creates and annihilates: the lover's soul wanders between these polar opposites. Significantly, their defects are a sort of limitation-advantage connected to speech and the producing of sound: the neck represents the roar and wail of the nonverbal sound in the lament of longing, while the mouth stands for the type of longing that, with all its yearning and pain, gives birth to song. Longing is the motive force of existence, it is the essence of love that is never consumed; it is the basis for every developmental state within life that must contain the sense of the space that opens between man and what he aims for. This is the Eros, the longing, in the couple's existence.
The pattern of spoilage and correction is connected to dissociative psychological states, going astray, the nonidentification of the sources of depth and resources. These are states that are usually also related to the inability to participate in love as a process of building, conditions in which the spousal relationship - in the psyche and in society - is liable to find itself: repression, being forcibly taken, expulsion and dispossession, hatred and illness. The deaf beggar's story of the garden symbolizes the inner disconnection from the treasures of the Garden of Eden in the human psyche, and the tale of the handless one is that of the self-forgetting of the soul and its efforts to escape its captivity and awaken; in the extremely realistic realm, this is a tale of the relationship founded on repression and forceful dominion that beget suspicions, envy, and hatred. In such a relationship, the greatest effort is invested in escaping from marriage as the most strongly-guarded prison, and, by the skin of one's teeth, from this malady (most human injustices are committed within the family, and within the realm of the unsuccessful attempt to establish the holy marriage - and the object of repression in most is still the wife or the child).
Three principles are necessary for the dual-countenance marriage to come to pass in the psyche and in the couple that weds, as they emerge from the verbal wedding presents of the beggars in the tale by Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, namely: the expansion of memory, the vitality of the longing between and within the couple, and the tikkun (correction), that negate states of compulsion, repression, and inequality. The very presentation of the gift givers as paupers and with physical disabilities teaches us of two additional important principles: the secret of contraction in property in favor of spiritual possessions, and the secret of the advantage in limitation.
These are the golden pedestals on which structures of spiritual development will be imprinted, both in man's inner psyche and in a shared life.
2. The Ritual Structure
"Return to your treasures, and make use of them": The early ceremony as a cultural resource
After examining the spiritual concept of the holy wedding, we can now take a look at the ceremony itself, and connect the fine chords between symbolic language and that of action, each in turn.
I wish to clarify various aspects of the language of the ceremony, as they relate to the spiritual, ideational, religious, and social patterns at the basis of the ceremony. I will relate to the language of the implementation of the ceremony as it is presented and documented in the halakhic and minhagim (customs, practices) literature. Only fragments and parts of these customs appear, on the practical level, in the current Israeli wedding culture.
Beyond modern halakhah's inclination for uniformity, there is also a cultural standardization that is the almost deterministic result of economic and social conditions, production technology, and globalization whose influence is evident also in music and dance, and of shared and nonconscious assumptions regarding the nature of joy and sorrow and their separate place. This creates the common platform that consumes the ceremony from within.
As regards the junction at which the ceremony is situated, that between the social and the spiritual, we must consider the dissolution of the entire ancient structure on which the ceremony is based: a group that joins to eat together, the unifying value of eating and drinking, music as creating a spiritual atmosphere, dancing as a minimalist language of gestures that arouses hopes and memories, and that is meant to express both joy and sadness.
The alternative to the uniform wedding hall culture could consist of communal solutions that are universally accepted, promoted by intellectuals and religious personalities, and also rabbis, if they are to be found. If we turn to the halakhah and minhagim literature as a cultural resource of possibilities for the renewal of the ceremony, we will find much food for thought. During the history of the halakhah and minhagim, the principle was accepted that local practice is not to be altered. Now, however, after the dissolution of the term "place," together with the shattering of many traditions, and the dismembering and loss of traditional behavioral continuities - a process connected in recent generations with the Holocaust, on one hand, and, on the other, the establishment of the State of Israel - it seems that individuals who are detached from the tradition should open the texts, to learn how to fashion a language. This study should be intellectual and abstract, so that the literature will not be perceived merely as a source from which behavioral components of whatever sort can be drawn.
The Ceremony's Concepts of Time, Place, and Community
The wedding, as the most central rite of passage in a person's life, was originally much more broadly spread over the expanses of time and place. Look, for example, at the testimony by R. Jacob ben Moses Moellin (1360-1427, one of the greatest spiritual leaders of Ashkenazi Jewry) on Mainz Jewry in the fourteenth century. Weddings were conducted on Fridays. Thursday evening, the wedding feast would be held, and on Friday morning the complex rite of passage would be conducted: the beadle would convene the congregation in the synagogue at sunrise, the rabbi would lead the groom before him, by the light of torches, accompanied by the playing of musical instruments and dancing for this religious purpose. After this, they went to the bride's house and brought her, together with her girlfriends, to the synagogue, also by the light of torches and accompanied by musical instruments. Upon her arrival in the synagogue courtyard, the rabbi and the worthies of the community would bring the groom to the bride. The groom would take the bride by her hand, "and when they joined together, everyone threw wheat on their heads and said three times: 'Be fruitful and multiply.'" Then the bride and groom would go to the entrance of the synagogue and sit there for a while. Afterwards the bride was led back to her home. The bride wore wedding garments, over which she was wrapped in a shroud. Her face was covered by a veil, with a mantle over her head, as was the custom of women mourners. The groom wore his Sabbath clothes and a kittel [a white surplice]. He, too had "his mitron [head covering] tucked into his neck," as did mourners, in memory of the destruction of the Temple.
The wedding rite was conducted after the morning Shaharit service. Once again, the bride, accompanied by musical instruments, was brought to the entrance of the synagogue, where she waited until the rabbi brought the groom to the synagogue tower, where he put dirt on his head, where his tefilin would normally be, to commemorate the destruction of the Temple. Then the rabbi stood the bride to the right of the groom, with their mothers standing there as well. The rabbi recited the blessing while facing to the east, and when he recited the "Bring great joy to these loving friends" blessing, he turned towards the bride and groom. After concluding the blessing, he gave the groom to drink, and then the bride, following which he gave the cup to the groom, who turned to the north and threw it against the wall and smashed it. This smashed cup was the one over which the seven nuptial blessings were recited.
This is a social rite of passage of the first order, that is still anchored in and integrated into all the mores of the community and the society. The conducting of the ceremony on Friday morning was apparently related to man's creation on Friday, the day of the Garden of Eden. By throwing wheat on the heads of the bride and groom and by the triple recitation of "Be fruitful and multiply," the congregation fills the role of God the Creator, who so blessed the first couple that He had created. In this manner, the entire wedding ritual is conducted, as it were, in the week of Creation, and relates to the Creation myth. The movement conducted in the geographical space, which is the community's little world, from the pole of the home to that of the synagogue, and back to "the groom's home," seems to express life's two focal points, the private and the social-religious. The wedding rite is held in the synagogue, where the congregation stands as witness before God, and there the transition occurs, from the parent's home to the shared home. The bride, who has been spending several hours under her veil in a state between blindness and slumber, represents the axis of female memory - the apprehension at the unknown which has dramatic consequences for her standing and very being - and the axis of male structuring that is in store for her: lulling to sleep and training. The garments of both the groom and the bride together symbolize the axis of collective historical memory: the destruction of Jerusalem. They literally "place the memory of the Destruction on their head." Their clothing also bluntly represents death.
The rite, that is conducted aon a tower, is open to the public as a whole and to the sky. I wish to indicate its wholeness: our first target in reading it as inspirational is its complete anchoring in the language of the congregation. A study of this rite teaches us that over the course of time, with adaptation to the varying conditions of the time and place, wedding ceremonies underwent a process of contraction, compression, and diminution of space, place, and time: the bride's home, the groom's home, the procession in the expanse between the geographical spaces, the synagogue (the venue of the wedding ceremony), the yihud and meal room [where the newly married couple are alone together for the first time], the place of the wedding feast - today, all these have been brought into and are represented in the context of the hall.
In our time, the term "huppah" usually refers to the entire rite. As part of this, the actual physical huppah is the canopy over the couple: a talit, in the contemporary Sefardic custom, and an embroidered curtain held aloft by four poles, in current Ashkenazi practice, that originated in the sixteenth century.
The "huppah" itself, in its original realistic meaning, is the canopy that covers the heads of the bride and groom together: a cloth, scarf, or some item of male head covering, or some item of female attire: a turban or veil. Another prominent central idea among the medieval authorities is that the huppah and the yihud are synonymous. According to this understanding, the entry to the huppah is the entry to a complete structure, where the wedding blessings are recited and where the couple eat. In any event, the huppah-wedding canopy is a unique sacramental structure that came into existence for the sole purpose of marriage. This is obviously a clear symbol of a roof over one's head; a metaphor, given substance and concrete form, of the home that is built in covenant and partnership.
In the early Land of Israel practice, the wedding canopy was fashioned as a house or a sort of booth, that is, not only as a "roof," but as a complete structure with walls. Thus, for example, in an attempt to answer the question of what huppot the Holy One, blessed be He, made for Adam in the Garden of Eden, R. Aha bar Hanina suggests that He "made walls of gold, and roofs of precious stones and pearls." R. Isaac ben Abba Mari, who lived in Marseilles in Provence in the twelfth century, writes: "The huppah is that the father gives over and brings her in to her husband, to the house which has something new, like the sheets [...] around the walls, and some make a booth with a rose and a myrtle, as is the custom, and the two are alone together in it." According to the continuation of this description, it was customary to hang in the wedding canopy nuts, pomegranates, other types of food, and jewelry: bands of purple stuff and gold crescents.
Here the huppah is a blooming, blossoming, and decorated booth in which the couple sit and eat fruits and confections. The pomegranates and nuts also have a symbolic function of fertility and power. Yihud (the couple being alone) is performed under the huppah, which is a sort of walled canopy, a floral sacramental structure with the force of growth, that gives off the fragrance of roses and myrtles, and that expresses the ancient hope for fertility and the continual freshness of love, as "our couch is leafy" (Song of Songs 1:16), "within, it was decked with love" (3:10). The wedding canopy in the Provence custom seems to expand the early Land of Israel custom, which in itself can be seen as a sacramental "expansion" of the crowns (atarot) of brides and grooms - the groom's wreath of roses or myrtles, and the bride's wreath of gold or purple stuff - into a whole booth structure. The gold and the purple stuff, burning metals derived from the ground, represent earth and the bride's fertility, while the roses and myrtles stand for the groom's ability to impregnate and cause to grow.
Over the course of time the wedding ceremony was split into two units: the canopy spread over the heads of the bride and groom during the recitation of the erusin (betrothal) and nisuin (marriage) blessings, which is the huppah; and sitting in a shared structure, which is the yihud room. For us, there is a firm halakhic basis for reviving the practice of building the huppah as a closed space. This approach is to be found, not only among the sages of Provence, but also in northern France, among the Spanish authorities, and this is also the ruling of the Shulhan Arukh. The renewal of forgotten practices is not unknown in Judaism; accordingly, we can once again fashion the space in which the wedding ceremony is conducted, along with the movement within it.
Creative focusing on the huppah-booth structure will likely channel the need for all the activity surrounding the wedding, and divert it from purchasing to the work of creating a symbolic product that will be influenced by the joy, excitement, and intent in the making of the joint life that is about to begin.
The huppah as a floral canopy plants the couple in "the Garden of Eden, so long ago," perhaps with the hope for them of the same ancient bond, whose existence as a foundation is the compassion that precedes any structure that can be built and deepened with volitional and conscious powers. The intent reflected in such a canopy is also set forth in the Seven Blessings: "Bring great joy to these loving friends, as You brought joy to Your creations in the Garden of Eden, so long ago." This blessing places the male and the female together as "loving friends," and recalls that the basis for human existence - either alone or as a couple - is to be found in the ancient pleasure in being together.
The ideal of the rectification of the garden, that is the wedding present given by the deaf beggar in Rabbi Nachman's story, presents the restoration of the primordial Garden of Eden experience as the basis of the holy wedding. Rabbi Judah Aryeh Leib of Gur (1847-1905) writes in Sefat Emet: "The allusion to Adam and Eve, who were in true unity, and were placed in the Garden of Eden, but after the sin became a mixture [...] with weeping and singing becoming part of the matching, and a foreign element became intermingled with the joy." Consequently, planting the wedding canopy in the primeval Garden of Eden reflects the hoped for return to the state of Creation, one of true unity, in which the couple do not swing between the momentary joy of closeness and remoteness and alienation. Creation from anew within this existential state is like redemption.
The Wearing of White Garments
The bride's wearing of white garments will likely stress a separate system of what is expected of the woman. And especially so when the groom wears a Western black suit, that emphasizes life and death and highlights the dichotomy between them.
A study of the early sources teaches of a custom in which the groom, as well, wore white garments. This practice is maintained to the present in various Hasidic circles, with the wearing of the white kittel. This custom should be renewed, and thereby give prominence to the couple's partnership in fear and trembling, soul-searching, and awareness of the significance of the step they are taking.
The strongest and most cogently formulated testimony to the essential connection between the wedding and death is that of Rabbi David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (1480-1574, the leading rabbi in sixteenth century Egypt): "The early practice in Egypt was that during the wedding ceremony white is worn, [as] during the sitting of mourning, the sitting of lamentation, and at the time of death, since it is said [Psalms 2:11] 'rejoice with trembling' [...] and this is a fine practice." This authority explicitly places the time of the wedding ceremony and that of death in a single continuum. His daring parallel placement of rejoicing and mourning draws upon a very profound religious sentiment regarding the awful mystery: joy and awe issue forth from the psyche simultaneously.
Accordingly, the wearing of white garments by both the bride and groom emphasizes the soul's simple, abstract stance, that is stripped of any status and pretension - including the pretension of distinctions between the sexes - before its God at this important moment of passage in life. The male and the female's cleaving to each other joins together with the remembering soul's desire to adhere to its Maker. God's mastery over these two equal souls, who forge a covenant together and desire to be blessed together, should be at the center, and not one's mastery over the other.
The practice of breaking a cup hints of a connection between the bride and death, as can be guessed from the components of the early ceremony and the language of the folklore.
According to some explanations, this symbolizes the bride's leaving her father's house. Some smashed the cup over which the blessing had been recited while it still contained some wine. Beyond the connotations of abundance and fertility, this might also be a metaphoric representation of the smashing of the state of virginity.
Popular customs added an additional layer to this: in some communities, the groom saved the pieces of the cup, which were called "kallah sherbelekh," bride fragments. When one of the couple died, these pieces were placed on his/her eyes, thus closing the dead mate's eyes with the slivers of the cup of blessing that they had drunk on the day of the rite of establishing their everlasting home, while going to the soul's betrothal after life in this world.
Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berditchev writes: "This is why the groom weeps during the wedding ceremony, since the soul that came to this world is grieved for having been taken from the world of delight, joy, and gladness for this world. Accordingly, a person cries when he leaves his mother's womb, for the soul cries over its coming to this world. This is why the groom weeps during his wedding, because the souls that will come from it arouse him, and for this he cries."
Given a new interpretation, the stylized smashing of the cup might represent the breaking that is at the basis of every tikkun, the recollection of the fall of the soul of the king's daughter-bride and the anxiety at the descent of the soul. For Rabbi Levi Isaac, in his understanding of the breaking of the cup the center of gravity shifts from the actual woman to the breaking of the heart and the descent of the soul.
The preparation for the wedding and the preparation for joint life, the goal of the bride and groom, cannot be separated. The joint study before the wedding by the couple, as the subjects and objects of the ceremony, must be the basis for its performance. This can be compared to taking fine crystal vessels as they were given over to us, with all the dust of their travels on them, and their cleaning and polishing; or, in other words, the removal of the dross from the musical score, whose contents are then arranged and given additional depth, while determining which of its multitextual and multivoiced languages require preservation and highlighting, and which have lost their force.
Contentual engagement with this important step should include preparation for the danger of the death of the psyche and spiritual blindness, that might strike those who have no life. The ideal of each of the couple should be that his/her mate live a life no less full and rich than hers/his. The aspiration for conscious preparation for spiritual life and mutual spiritual procreation is no less worthy than the desire to give birth to children. Therefore, the ceremony as opening the expanse of shared life must express the hope for the existence of this expanse, and the stylistic language must express the sincere intent not to be stricken with showing off at the other's expense or to desire his/her spiritual death. A lessening of external wealth and status symbols, and the use of the idea of poverty in order to enrich the spiritual treasures of the ceremony and the life to which it leads might make this engagement easier.
In the story The Seven Beggars by Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, it is the beggars who conduct the wedding. Rabbi Nachman thereby aims for a reversal of social values, as the basis for establishing a spiritual agenda. The wedding symbolizes entry to a different social standing, and Rabbi Nachman is concerned with it as a symbol of the entry to a new spiritual state.
The pauper, with all the threat he poses and the fear he engenders, might be perceived as the representative of the satanic. The poor man, as casting his evil and envious eye, as possessing the power of curse, is a cross-cultural topic. The pauper has always served as a source of apprehension at weddings, which explains the proliferation of legends about the groom or bride being saved from death thanks to the correct identification of the pauper at the religiously obligated and joyous wedding feast. The poor person is a marginal figure, whose hunger and envy are sometimes understood as casting an evil eye, not only at the feast, in its literal meaning, but at the "feast" as a whole, that is, at the lives of the guests of honor.
In the wedding culture current in Israel today, the wedding banquet not only ignores the external pauper; it frequently also disregards the depleted resources of the couple themselves. The depreciation of externalism, in favor of the enrichment of spirituality and adding one's own content, from oneself, might infuse this important rite of passage with a spirit of pity and compassion [see Zechariah 12:10], and it might serve as a trigger for removing the obscuring veil that adheres to many powerful and beautiful rites. This would follow the path proposed by Rabbi Nachman, as exemplified in the seven beggars, to reveal the advantage in limitation.
It is of profound significance that in Rabbi Nachman's tale it is the poor who give gifts and spread their protection over the wedding ceremony; they are the characters who give the boy and girl their spiritual education for a life of du-partzufin, on the level of supreme commitment to the concept of the holy wedding.
The attempted inclusion of the mention of death in the early wedding ceremonies was meant to remind a person that when he dies, he is not accompanied by silver or gold, but only by mitzvot and good deeds. Why, then, should we not bring these true companions into the shared life ahead of us?
Every ceremony that takes into account the limitations and potentialities of its participants will be spiritually enriched. This will anchor the ceremony within the reality of which it is a part and to which it relates, and will certainly increase the attention paid to content and creativity, inspiration, and the fraternity between the couple and within the community in which they live.
The immediate result of focused thought on form, on the connection between the conducting of the ceremony and the ideas that stand behind it, will be the aggrandizement of the Torah. According to one Kabbalistic tradition, after reciting the blessing on the Sabbath candles, the woman recites in a whisper: "May it be Your will to restore former glory, and may two kings wear the single crown." This should be the shared wish of the two who want to erect an everlasting building.
Haviva Pedaya is a Professor of Kabbalah at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Translated by Ed Levin