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Parshah Halacha – Parshat Toldot
Open Air Chuppah and Accompanying the Couple
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At the end of the Torah portion of Toldot, Yitzchak and Rivkah ask Yaakov to travel to Padan Aram to find a wife for himself from the daughters of Lavan. Rivkah had an additional purpose in sending him – to protect him from his brother Eisav who was enraged at having his blessings “stolen” from him. The Torah writes (Gen. 28:5),“Yitzchak sent Yaakov, and he went to Padan Aram, to Lavan the son of Betuel the Aramean, the brother of Rivkah, the mother of Yaakov and Eisav.”
Rashi writes that he doesn’t know why the Torah finds it necessary to mention that Rivkah was the mother of Yaakov and Eisav.
The commentaries offer several explanations:
- The Ramban says that the Torah is pointing out that since Yitzchak and Rivkah had two sons they should have sent both of them to find a wife among Lavan’s daughters. Despite this, Yitzchak didn’t send Eisav as he now recognized that Yaakov would be the one to carry on his traditions and those of Avraham Avinu.
- The Ohr HaChayim says that one may wonder why Yitzchak and Rivkah would send the righteous Yaakov to find a wife among the daughters of the wicked Lavan. The verse therefore points out that a wicked man can have a righteous child as we see that the wicked Betuel fathered Lavan as well as the righteous Rivkah. Rivkah in turn, despite her wicked ancestry, mothered the righteous Yaakov.
- Similarly, the Chizkuni explains that the verse is addressing a general question one can ask about this Torah portion: How was it possible that the righteous Rivkah could mother such a wicked son as Eisav? The verse therefore says that Rivkah, mother of Yaakov and Eisav, had a brother named Lavan. And since most children are similar to their mother’s brothers, it was not surprising that she had a wicked son.
- In addition, the Chizkuni says the Torah is teaching us that when Rivkah sent Yaakov to Lavan, she was doing so as the mother of both Yaakov and Eisav, i.e., for the benefit of both of them. In the case of Yaakov it was to save his life and find a wife while in Eisav’s case it was so that he not commit murder.
- Rabbeinu Bachaye quotes his teacher (perhaps it is the Rashba) who explained that the Torah spells out the family connection between Lavan and the brothers Yaakov and Eisav to explain why Rivkah sent Yaakov to his house. Since Lavan was their uncle, he would do his best to prevent either brother from harming the other.
- The Pardes Yosef explains that the purpose of these descriptions is to explain why Rivkah sent Yaakov to choose a wife from her side of the family as opposed to from Yitzchak’s side (i.e., the descendants of Yishmael or Keturah). Rivkah wanted to make sure that whoever would be Yaakov’s host and father-in-law would do his best to protect Yaakov from Eisav. She was concerned that they might hear through “the grapevine” that Yaakov had “stolen” the blessings from Eisav and would therefore side with Eisav. So she sent Yaakov to her brother because he would be more likely to believe her version of the events. She also sent a letter with Yaakov in which she described Yaakov as the firstborn. This is alluded to in the verse (mentioned above at the end of the first paragraph) that says Rivkah was the mother of (first) Yaakov (and then) Eisav, indicating that in her opinion Yaakov deserved the blessings of the firstborn even though he was born second.
Since Yaakov was going to find a wife, we will segue into discussing various customs of the Jewish wedding ceremony. We began discussing this in last week’s article. I found the book The Eternal Bond by Rabbi Chaim Press as well as a pamphlet about Chabad wedding customs by Rabbi Sholom Osdoba and Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Konikov to be helpful in this research.
Chuppah under the Sky
The Rama writes that it is customary (at a first wedding) to get married under the sky as this is symbolic that the couple should have many descendants like the stars in the heaven. Sefardim don’t have this custom (Yalkut Yosef Sova Smachot, vol. 2 6:9).
There are several other reasons given for this (Askenazi) custom:
- Chatan’s Domain
The Chuppah is when the Chatan (groom) symbolically brings the Kallah (bride) into his domain. As such, one would have thought it should be held in the actual property of the Chatan. But since there may be questions about who the actual owner of a property is, it is preferable to use a public space in which the Chatan certainly has a partnership. In addition, by having the Chuppah in a public space, we’re saving a Chatan who doesn’t yet have a home from being embarrassed (Ezer Mikadesh, Siman 55).
- Like Avraham’s Tent
The four poles with a canopy over them set up under the open sky form a tent which resembles that of Avraham Avinu’s which was open to the four directions of the world. This encourages the young couple to establish a home that will also be wide open for guests, to do acts of loving kindness, to acquire the positive character-traits of Avraham Avinu, and to be satisfied with the lot given them by G-d Almighty. Since it is the woman who sets the tone for how welcome the guests will feel in the home (see Zohar, Parshat Beshalach 44a), it is appropriate to make this symbolic tent upon getting married.
- Like the Giving of the Torah
Every wedding is reminiscent of the “wedding” between G-d and the Jewish people which took place at the giving of the Torah when G-d suspended Mount Sinai above the Jewish people in a manner that resembled a Chuppah (see Shabbat 88a, Maharsha on Ketubot 7b D.H. Pirush Birkat Eirusin and Yam Shel Shlomo on Ketubot ibid) and “married us” under the open sky. Following this concept, Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Yam Shel Shlomo ibid) writes that the breaking of the glass under the Chuppah is reminiscent of how Moshe broke the Tablets at the base of the mountain. This is a powerful reminder to remain faithful to one’s spouse unlike the Jewish people who went on to serve the golden calf shortly after receiving the Torah. (Responsa of Yehudah Ya’aleh by Rabbi Yehudah Assad of 19th-century Hungary, Siman 38)
- Fixing the Sin of the Golden Calf
When the Jewish people sinned with the golden calf, they publicly engaged in forbidden relationships. (See Exodus 32:6 and Rashi there.) We rectify this by making our wedding ceremonies outside, thus publicly declaring that we are following the Torah’s way of marriage, i.e., the way of modesty and fidelity (ibid).
- Public Show of Joy
By conducting the Chuppah outside we are publicizing our joy in fulfilling this great mitzvah of getting married. This is similar to the verse (Yirmiyahu 33:10 and 11) which we paraphrase under the Chuppah, “יִשָמַע … בְּערֵ֚י יְהוּדָה וּבְחֻצוֹת יְרוּשָׁלַם… קוֹל שָׂשׂוֹן וְקוֹל שִׂמְחָה קוֹל חָתָן וְקוֹל כַּלה – There shall again be heard in this place… in the cities of Yehudah and in the streets of Jerusalem… the sound of laughter and the sound of joy, the voice of a bridegroom and the voice of a bride.” (Yehuda Ya’aleh, ibid)
There is an ancient custom for the bride and groom to be accompanied by others as they walk to the Chuppah. The people who accompany them are called Shushvinim. This began at the very beginning of time when G-d was the Shushvinin for the first man and woman, assisting Adam and Chava in their wedding (Brachot 61a). The Midrash (Berirshit Rabbah 8:13) says that the archangels Michael and Gavriel assisted Adam and Chava. The Ben Ish Chai (Behayahu on Brachot ibid) reconciles these views and says that G-d sent the angels to lift Chava up from the ground where she was lying after she was created and present her to Adam. (G-d also braided her hair as it says in Talmud Brachot ibid.) Since these angels were sent by G-d, it is considered that G-d assisted them. Sefardim do not have this custom (Yalkut Yosef ibid, 6:4).
- Like a King and Queen
Some say that the purpose of accompanying the bride and groom to the Chuppah is to honor them and treat them like a king and queen who are always accompanied wherever they go (Mateh Moshe, Behachnasat Kallah, chapter 1, by Rabbi Moshe Mat of 16th Century Poland in the name of the Tashbetz).
Like Moshe and Aharon
As mentioned above, our wedding ceremonies mirror the giving of the Torah at which time the Jews were betrothed to G-d. Just as at that time Moshe and Aharon accompanied G-d and the Jewish people (i.e., they assisted in the process of the giving and the receiving of the Torah) so, too, the Chatan and Kallah should have people accompany them.
The Zohar says that just as G-d brought Chava to Adam (Gen. 2:22) so, too, the parents of the bride should bring their daughter to her Chatan. This is echoed in the verse (Deut. 22:16) where the father says, “I gave my daughter to this man as a wife.”
The Mateh Moshe (ibid) mentions that when walking to the Chuppah some have the custom that all those involved in the wedding (i.e., close family members) carry candles while others have the custom that only the two main shushvinim (people accompanying) carry candles.
Several reasons are given for why we use candles:
- Light Denotes Happiness
This is from the verse (Esther 8:16), “The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor.”
- Like Mount Sinai
The light is reminiscent of the lightning bolts at Mount Sinai (Mateh Moshe ibid see Exodus 20:15).
- Gematria 500
The word נר/ner (candle) has the numerical value of 250 which means that two candles have the gematria (numerical value) of 500. According to the Talmud (Bechorot 45a), a woman has 252 limbs and a man has 248. Since the total number of their limbs is 500,the two candles (which we have at the very least) symbolize the merging of this couple into a single unit (Mateh Moshe).
- Be Fruitful
In addition, the gematira of פרו ורבו (Be fruitful and multiply) is also 500. Thus the two candles evoke the blessing that the couple should be fruitful and bear many children (ibid).
May we soon hear the sound of laughter and the sound of joy, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem!
Wishing you a Chodesh Tov and a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!