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Lessons from Eisav’s Wedding

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Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen
The last verse in the Torah portion of Toldot recounts how Eisav married his first cousin: “Eisav went to Yishmael, and he took Machalat, the daughter of Yishmael, the son of Avraham, the sister of Nevayot, in addition to his other wives as a wife.”[1]
The reason he decided to marry her is stated explicitly in the verse – that he realized that “the daughters of Canaan were displeasing in the eyes of his father.”[2] Since Eisav was very particular to honor his father,[3] he married a woman who was not of Canaanite origin but who was a family member, just as Yitzchak had instructed his brother Yaakov to do.
The commentaries add other reasons for Eisav’s decision to marry Machalat
·        Since Yitzchak had sent Yaakov to Aram to marry his family members after giving him the blessings, Eisav came to believe that the land of Canaan would never be awarded to people descended from the Canaanites. He therefore decided to marry a non-Canaanite woman so that his descendants from her would be eligible to inherit the land.[4]
·        According to one opinion in the midrash,[5] Eisav had decided to “convert,” i.e., to renounce his wicked ways and begin leading a righteous life. His marriage to a woman of good lineage was his first step in this direction. This is why she is called “Machalat” which means forgiveness (see below). Unfortunately, this inspiration was short-lived, and he didn’t maintain any change in his lifestyle.
·        Another opinion in the midrash says that Machalat was a wicked woman and Eisav only married her for appearance’s sake – to please his father.
·        According to yet a third opinion in the Midrash,[6] Eisav’s marriage was initially part of a sinister plan. Eisav’s intention was that, after marrying Machalat, he would tell Yishmael how Yaakov had “robbed” him of his birthright. He expected that Yishmael, being a wild man,[7] would kill Yaakov in a fit of rage. Eisav would then kill Yishmael as the blood avenger (goel hadam– a close relative of a murdered person) of his brother. He would then be able to inherit both Yishmael and Yitzchak’s possessions. However, Yishmael died before Eisav married Machalat, and so Eisav was unable to carry out his plan.
·        Some[8] reconcile two of these opinions. Eisav’s plan was to have Yaakov and Yishmael killed and inherit them. But when the plan fell apart with the death of Yishmael, he decided to mend his ways, and he married the righteous Machalat to begin his teshuvah.
Basmat or Machalat?
Although the name of Yishmael’s daughter is given in our portion as Machalat, in the Torah portion of Vayishlach her name is given as Basmat.[9]
The Jerusalem Talmud[10] says that, although her name was Basmat she is called Machalat at the time of her wedding to Eisav to indicate that they[11]were forgiven for their sins. The Maharal explains[12] that she had two names, but the name Machalat is used in reference to her marriage to indicate forgiveness as explained above.[13]
Rabbi Zeira’s Reluctance
The Jerusalem Talmud recounts how the sages wanted to bestow Smicha(ordination)[14] upon Rabbi Zeira but that he was hesitating due to his humility.[15]
He made his decision to accept the position after hearing the following teaching:
Elevation Atones
There are three people who receive atonement for their sins in the merit of being elevated to a higher position:
·        A sage who is appointed to a leadership role. This is derived from the verse which places the laws of how to treat a sage immediately before the laws of how to treat a convert. [16] This teaches us that, just as a convert is forgiven for his sins since he is like a new person,[17] so too a newly appointed sage receives forgiveness.
·        A bridegroom and bride[18] on the day of their wedding, as we see from the name Machalat (see above).
·        A king on the day he is coronated. This is derived from the verse which says that King Saul was one year old when he became the king.[19] Obviously, this cannot be taken literally. Rather it means that he was free of sin like a baby.[20]
Why the Atonement?
Several explanations are given by the commentaries as to why these people receive atonement:
·        New People
The Maharal[21] explains that, just as a convert is like a new person and starts with a clean slate, the same can be said of a groom, sage and king. A man and woman are considered to be only half a person until they merge and become one entity upon their marriage. Similarly, a person who accepts a leadership position (as a sage or king) goes from being a private citizen to being part of the public sphere.
·        A Sign from Heaven
Since the abovementioned appointments are most certainly determined by G-d, it must be that those individuals repented and G-d forgave them for their sins before elevating them to those positions.[22]
·        A Catalyst to Repentance
When a person is elevated to an important position, he recognizes that his actions are more significant and is careful to act accordingly. This is especially true since he knows that others will be looking at him and following his example.[23]
·        G-d Cares for Those who Care for Others
When a person is single and not in a leadership position, he has more time to perfect himself spiritually.[24] Yet in the merit of the fact that he is caring for others (the chattan and kallah for each other and their children, and the sage and king for the community), G-d will certainly aid him to achieve his own spiritual perfection as well.
Learning from Eisav
It is significant that we learn that a wedding day achieves atonement from the wicked Eisav. This teaches us that, when one decides to influence others in a positive way (whether as a parent or in any communal role) G-d will help them overcome even their worst deficiencies just as He forgave the wicked Eisav for all of his heinous sins.[25]
Fasting on the Wedding Day
It is customary among Ashkenazi Jewry for the Chattan and Kallah to fast on their wedding day.[26] There are seven reasons given for this custom:[27]
1.     To aid the atonement
As explained above, a chattan and kallah are atoned for their sins on their wedding day. In order to merit this atonement, they fast and repent for their sins.[28]
2.     To ensure sobriety
Fasting ensures that the couple are completely sober and are making the decision with a sound mind.[29]
Based on this reason, a shliach (agent) who is betrothing a woman on behalf of the chattan or who is accepting the betrothal from the chattan on behalf of the kallah should also fast in order to ensure he is completely sober. This explains why Eliezer, servant of Avraham, refused to eat when he arrived in the house of Betuel. Instead, he said, “I will not eat until I have spoken my words.”[30] Since he was a shliach to betroth a wife for Yitzchak,[31] he was fasting until he completed the betrothal.[32]
3.     Like a king
A chattan is like a king about whom the Talmud says[33] that a king is judged (by G-d) every day. As such, he (and the kallah) must repent so that they will be found meritorious in judgment.[34]
4.     To avert fights
The Talmud says that there is no wedding that doesn’t involve some fighting or distress.[35] By fasting, the chattan and kallah hope to take that distress on themselves instead of having any actual fighting.[36]
5.     A precious mitzvah
Some have a custom to not eat on the day that they will be performing a precious mitzvah until they complete that mitzvah. This includes the mitzvot of shofar and lulav. Getting married is also a precious mitzvah, and this is why some people fast on the wedding day before performing the mitzvah.[37]
6.     Like the giving of the Torah
The customs of the wedding are derived from the giving of the Torah when we were G-d’s bride. Just as the Jewish people fasted until after the Torah was given, we also fast until after the Chuppah.[38]
7.     In honor of the celestial guests
According to the Zohar,[39] the souls of the predecessors of the chattan and kallah come to their Chuppah. In order that the chattan and kallah not feel embarrassed and unworthy in the presence of these holy souls, we instruct them to fast and repent. G-d then forgives them for their sins, and their relatives can justifiably be proud of their progeny.[40]
Rules of this Fast
·        It is customary for the chattan and kallah to break the fast under the Chuppah (by drinking the wine) even if the day is not yet over.[41]
·        Sefardim do not have the custom to fast on this day. Nevertheless, on their wedding day, a Sefardic chattan and kallah should not eat delicacies or drink any intoxicating drinks. Rather, they should spend extra time in Torah study, prayer and introspection.[42] The same applies for Ashkanzim on days when fasting is prohibited (see below).
·        It is not necessary to formally accept this fast while praying mincha on the previous day,[43] although some say to do so.[44]
·        If the chattan or kallah feel weak or sick they may break this fast.[45]
No Fasting Days
There are some days when, according to halacha, it is forbidden to fast. A Chattan and Kallah should not fast on those days, even if they plan on breaking their fast before nightfall.[46] These days are,
  • Rosh Chodesh
  • Chanukah
  • Purim
  • The day after a Yom Tov (Isru Chag)
  • Tu Bishvat
  • The fifteenth of Av
  • Shushan Purim as well as Purim Kattan and Shushan Purim Kattan.
Fasting Days
There are some days in the Jewish calendar on which it is customary to not fast although it is not strictly forbidden to do so. The Chattan and Kallah should fast on these days as the custom of fasting on the wedding day overrides the custom of not fasting on those days.[47] These days include,
  • Lag Ba’Omer
  • The first to the 13th and the 24th to the 29th of Nissan
  • The 2nd to the 5th and the 9th to the 12th of Sivan
  • The 11th to the 14th and the 25th to the 29th of Tishrei.
Some say that if the wedding takes place on a day when fasting is forbidden that the chattan and kallah should fast on the previous day.[48] The Lubavitcher Rebbe mentioned this custom.[49]
May we soon hear the voice of the chattan and kallah[50] with the coming of Moshiach!
[1] Gen. 28:9
[2] Ibid, verse 8
[3] See Bereishit Rabbah 63:10
[4] Ohr HaChaim
[5] Bereishit Rabbah 67:13
[6] Ibid 67:8
[7] See Gen 16:12
[8] Ha’amek Davar
[9] Gen. 36:3, 10 and 13
[10] Bikurim 3:3
[11] The printed version of the Jerusalem Talmud says that “he (i.e., Eisav) was forgiven.” According to the Rash Sirilio, the correct version is “she (Machalat) was forgiven.” This is also what Rashi (on Gen. ibid) says.
[12] In Gur Aryeh on Gen. ibid
[13] See also Da’at Mikra on Gen. ibid, who says that both names mean “sweetness.” He bases this on similar words in Aramaic and Arabic.
[14] The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 14a) says that they wanted to give him Smicha. The Jerusalem Talmud says that they wanted to “appoint him.” Some say this is also a reference to Smicha (see Penei Moshe) and others say they wanted to appoint him as the head of the court (Av Bait Din) [Mahara Fulda].
[15] The Margaliyot HaYam on Sanhedrin 14a gives several examples of Rabbi Zeira’s humility: He never walked in front of someone greater than himself (Megillah 28a). When he had no strength to learn, he would sit in front of the Bait Midrash to be able to stand up for the students of the Torah students (Brachot 28a see Rashi). He called his student “My Master” (Menachot 81b).
Sanhedrin (ibid) says that Rabbi Zeira said “It is better to stay in the shadows (out of the limelight) and live.”
[16] See Levit. 19:32 and 33
[17] See Yevamot 22b
[18] See note 12, above
[19] Shmuel I, 13:1
[20] A fourth person who receives atonement is a convert on the day he converts. It seems that the Talmud does not list this as it is obvious, since they are considered to be a new person in many ways. See also Yefie Mareh
[21] In Gur Aryeh ibid
[22] HaKoteiv on the Ein Yaakov (on the Jerusalem Talmud) based on Sanhedrin 14a “A person isn’t elevated to greatness unless he is forgiven for his sins.”
[23] Yefeh Mareh on the Jerusalem Talmud
[24] HaKoteiv in the Ein Yakov
[25] Likutei Sichot vol 30 page 168
[26] Rama on Even Ha’Ezer 61:1.
[27] These are cited in the Yalkut Yosef, Sova Semachot vol. 1, beginning of chapter 3
See Likutei Sichot vol. 30 page 164 where these reasons are discussed at length.
[28] Responsa of Maharam Mintz, 109. Rabbi Moshe was a 15th century rabbi of Mintz, Germany, and Posen, Poland
[29] Ibid
[30] Gen. 24:33
[31] See Tosfot D.H Shene’emar, Ketubot 7b
[32] Kedushat Levi on Gen. ibid
[33] Jerusalem Talmud Rosh HaShanah 1:3
[34] Responsa of Mahari Bruna, 93. The Mahari Bruni was a 15th-century Rabbi from Brunn, Moravia/Czech Republic
[35] Shabbat 130a
[36] Mahari Bruna ibid
[37] Ibid
[38] Tashbetz Kattan 467 [465]
[39] Parshat Pinchas 219b
[40] Yalkut Yosef ibid in the name of the Nitei Gavriel (I was unable to find this [see there, Nissuin vol. 1 chapter 5]).
[41] Rama in O.C. 662:2. This custom is understood according to 2,4,5,6 and 7 listed above. According to the first reason (that we fast to deserve atonement) we must say that, once the person merited to get married it is a sign that they have achieved the atonement, so they may break their fast. The Mahari Bruna actually rejects the third reason (that a chattan is like a king) as he writes that, based on this reason they should have to fast until dark.
[42] Yalkut Yosef, ibid
[43] Aruch HaShulchan, Even Ha’Ezer, 61:21
[44] Chupat Chatanim, Dinei HaChuppah, 6:1
[45] Aruch HaShulchan ibid
[46] See Magen Avraham 573:1
[47] Ibid
[48] See sources in Nitei Gavriel, ibid, 10
[49] Likutei Sichot, vol. 24, pg. 464
[50] Yirmiyahu 33:11
Wishing you a Chodesh Tov and a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!

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