Oif Simchos

The following story is absolutely true; I was at the wedding at which it took place.

A number of years ago, an American yeshiva bochur was getting married to a girl who was from America as well, but whose family had moved to Eretz Yisroel. As such, the wedding was taking place in Eretz Yisroel, in Yerushalayim. A friend of the chosson was slated to announce the various kibbudim at the chupah. The mother of the chosson asked that friend to request of the guests to please sit silently and respectfully for the duration of the chupah.

“I know it’s uncomfortable,” she acknowledged, “and you can blame me, saying that the chosson’s mother asked you to announce this, but if there is one thing that is important to me at my own child’s wedding, it is that the chupah be a solemn ceremony.”

So much for the plans of man…

What happened at this chupah was that, to begin with, both the chosson and kallah were the oldest children in their families. Neither family had made a wedding before. Additionally, whereas in America there is almost always someone from the hall who takes care of the chupah – telling the parents when to march down, handing them the candles to hold, pouring the wine into the kos, placing the glass to be broken under the chosson’s foot, etc. – in Eretz Yisroel this is taken care of by the families themselves. The chupah takes place outdoors, outside of the hall, and the hall and caterer have nothing to do with it. There are gemachim for glass-enclosed candles, and the wine and a kos are brought from home.

Since these were American families making their first wedding, and in Eretz Yisroel, they were on their own and in unfamiliar territory. The chosson walked down accompanied by his parents. So far, so good.

Then everything began to unravel.

When they reached the chupah canopy, the father and mother extinguished their candles, as is done in America. In Eretz Yisroel, however, the widely accepted minhag seems to be for the parents to hold the candles lit until after the chupah. The mesader kiddushin asked if the candles could please be relit. Being encased in glass, and having burned down from the top where the candles had reached at the beginning, they now seemed quite difficult to relight. Sticking in a match didn’t work; the person trying that almost burned his fingers!

Someone tried turning the candle upside down to light it that way. The glass covering, however, fell down and smashed. Apparently, it wasn’t attached to the bottom holder, but was merely placed on top of it. The mesader kiddushin may have been waving at them to just forget it, but, in their concentration at getting the candles relit, they were not even looking at him.

Eventually, they accomplished the task, sans one glass enclosure. Now the kallah and her parents began making their way down the aisle. A friend of the chosson had sung Mi Adir for the chosson, and now began Mi Von Siach when the kallah reached the chupah canopy.

This fellow had picked a tune that hits some pretty high notes (Aishes Chayil from Volume 2 of The New York School of Jewish Song, for the music aficionados out there. Yes, quite an oldie, but an amazing fit for Mi Von Siach). The friend figured that he could reach those high notes for the one time required for the chupah. As he was belting out “Hu yevoreich es hechosson v’es hakallah,” a buzz of voices around him slowly infiltrated his consciousness.

“Where’s the wine?” one voice asked.

“They can’t find the wine,” another voice, urgent, cut in.

The chosson’s father, standing beside the friend who was now singing the last bars of “v’es hakallah,” whispered in his ear, “Sing it again. We can’t find the wine.”

The boy’s face registered shock and confusion. Again? He wasn’t prepared for this, the song was basically over, and he wasn’t sure he could even do it again. He ended the song and froze with uncertainty, then realized that once he hadn’t immediately started again, it was too late.

An uncomfortable silence reigned. Nothing was happening. What was going on? People were beginning to stir and whisper and look around when someone came running up with a bottle of wine and a kos. They’d found it!

The chupah proceeded.

The “fun,” though, was just beginning. As the ceremony reached its end – thankfully, uneventfully! – it was time for the chosson to step on the glass. The chosson had specifically gone out to a housewares store to buy a glass that would be easy to break. He’d even done a practice run in his dorm, after which he’d bought another glass of the same exact type that he now knew was easy to smash.

The glass, however, was nowhere to be found. The chosson has specifically given it to his brother to hold. The brother, it turned out, not realizing its significance, had assumed that it was some sort of gift and left it among a pile of bags and boxes of other gifts.

Now, everyone waited under the chupah – and there was no glass to break!

The poor brother ran to look frantically. The murmur among the guests now reached an uncomfortable level, but what can one expect? The guests were surely at a loss to understand what was going on.

Eventually, not finding the sought-after glass, the brother asked the caterer if he could please just take a glass from the kitchen. They’d pay him for it, but everyone was waiting and this was getting ridiculous. The caterer gladly complied, and the brother came running up the aisle holding out a glass.

Someone quickly bent and placed the glass under the chosson’s foot, and the chosson stepped on it – but nothing happened. This was “unbreakable” glass that caterers, of course, are wont to use. Realizing that this won’t be easy, the chosson tried again and again, each time with more and more force. Finally, after one particularly forceful stamp, the glass flew out from under the chosson’s foot and went flying. The chupah was outdoors on a hilly Yerushalayim street, and when the glass landed, it began rolling and bouncing down, down, down…

A few men and boys gave chase, and the guests tried their utmost to avoid breaking openly into titters. Finally, the glass was retrieved. A resourceful uncle, a talmid chochom, realizing that some extra intervention would be necessary, took a bag of tissues from his pocket (in Eretz Yisroel, tissues are – or at least were – sold in bags rather than boxes). The bag was not the slippery type, but rather a plastic that would provide some friction when rubbed. He removed the tissues, placed the glass in the bag, then placed one edge of the bag under the chosson’s foot to prevent it from flying away. He then had the chosson stamp, with his other foot, on the edge of the glass.

It worked! The glass broke, everyone joined in joyful cries of mazel tov and the chupah was (finally) over!

A Day that Impacts a Lifetime

Boruch Hashem, that chosson went on to build a beautiful family. He has wonderful children, he finished Shas, and he’s surely providing his parents with much, much nachas. Though a quiet, respectful chupah was so essential to his mother at the time, and it may indeed be a worthy ideal, the beautiful family that one builds in the years and decades after one’s chupah surely render whatever may have occurred at that time almost insignificant. (Besides, you have to admit that had it not been someone’s actual chupah, it was kind of funny! I doubt that a comedy skit in camp could equal what took place there in real life.)

Imagine, however, if we would prepare for something that is truly important in life, something with lifelong significance and consequences – only to have it all unravel in one or two short hours. Imagine further if we would be the ones undoing our own life’s dreams. We would never do that, would we? Nobody would!

The yom hachupah, the day of one’s marriage, is indeed quite a significant one. On the most basic level, it is when we are laying the foundation for a new entity that until now never existed. One would have a difficult time piling up a two-foot tower of plastic cups if the bottom one is crooked. Forget about building an actual skyscraper on a foundation that is cracked or uneven.

On a deeper level, the day of one’s marriage is a time to daven not only for that day, but for one’s entire married life. The seforim are replete with tefillos for one’s yom hachupah. In halacha, the day has significance for the chosson and kallah similar in numerous ways to Yom Kippur. They fast, they recite Al Cheit during Mincha, and they receive atonement for their sins.

We live in a time when, for better or for worse, many of us are uncomfortable with open displays of frumkeit or yiras Shomayim. At weddings of even the nicest and truly frum families, the average guest sees only food, dancing, merriment and all manner of celebration. Besides for perhaps some davening during the actual chupah, one rarely witnesses any open displays of awareness of the intense kedusha of this night or the lifelong ramifications of this day for both the chosson and kallah.

Deep inside, though, we all recognize that this day is more than just a party. After the three or four hours of partying comes a lifelong of reality for the new couple. Long after the guests have moved on to the next simcha, a newer singer, the latest dance moves and a fresh round of partying, the chosson and kallah alone are left to deal with the thousands of aspects of real life.

The long-dreamed-of getaway can turn into a nightmare, chas veshalom, if a sudden health issue, a misunderstanding or any other issue crops up. None of the partying of the wedding night will make any difference at that time. The same goes for a year later, five years, a decade, with having children, with having healthy children, with parnassah and with a million other things. Without Hashem’s continued brocha, we would be hopeless. That brocha – even decades later – is affected by, and begins on, the wedding night.

Guess Who’s Coming to the Wedding?

There is a minhag in many circles for the chosson and kallah and/or their parents to visit the burial place of parents and grandparents shortly before the wedding and “invite” them to the simcha. Indeed, no less a source than the Zohar (Pinchos 219b) tells us that Hashem Himself “I’aker lon m’Gan Eden, brings them [one’s parents] from Gan Eden, and He takes them along with Him to the celebration, to take a part in the jubilation along with Hakadosh Boruch Hu u’Shchintei.”

What a wonderful and awesome event! The sefer Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah (Sha’ar Hakollel, ch. 15) quotes the Zohar and speaks of it at length, explaining that the same, in fact, goes for any simcha, be it a bar mitzvah, a siyum, etc. When we celebrate a happy event, Hashem Himself joins us, along with the souls of previous generations, and He brings His bountiful blessings along with Him. Even if there is any sort of kitrug, of judgment, chas veshalom, against the baalei simcha, “Kudsha Brich Hu uShchintei mishtateif,” says the Zohar. Hashem Himself comes to join the simcha, thereby ensuring only blessings on all.

How lucky we are to have this protection. Indeed, the opening words of this Zohar is “Kamah chavivin Yisroel kamei Kudsha Brich Hu, how beloved is Klal Yisroel before Hakadosh Boruch Hu!”

There is one catch, though.

Imagine. We’re making a simcha, a day for which we’ve looked forward to for years. Which girl doesn’t dream of becoming a kallah, and which boy isn’t rightfully excited to be embarking on his own life? Everything is set, the guests are arriving, the baalei simcha are glowing. The holy neshamos of the fathers and mothers of the baalei simcha that have already left this world have now come down to join in this momentous event. They have arrived with Hakadosh Boruch Hu Himself who brings along endless blessings.

This is the chosson and kallah’s night to party, though. It’s their friend’s night to indulge. Rather than celebrate with geshmak and excitement, there is instead an atmosphere of letting loose and letting go. Rather than exhilarating and uplifting music and song – of which boruch Hashem there are plenty, both contemporary and classic – the pounding and jarring, the gyrating and the pushing of boundaries take its place. (We won’t even discuss the further breakdown of various areas of basic decency that can occur.)

Like the long-hoped-for quiet and solemn chupah that slowly began to unravel and fall apart, this long-awaited wedding, too, though we may not see it, is suddenly coming apart as well. The neshamos of the fathers and mothers, whom were shlepped from Gan Eden for this special event, are forced to leave in anguish and shame. Hakadosh Boruch Hu, waiting with all His love and brachos, is forced to depart with His Shechinah from our simcha.

This, after all, is what the Zohar himself states. The blessings and the participation of Hashem and the neshamos of the baalei simchos’ most beloved takes place when one is “d’shatif Kudsha Brich Hu uShchintei b’chedva dilei,” when one includes Hashem and His Presence in his simcha. When that Presence is excluded, chas veshalom, the Zohar is explicit in stating that neither Hashem nor His blessings can remain. As the Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah puts it, it is a “tenai kodem l’ma’aseh”; all the wonderful things he speaks of at length are inherently dependent on the simcha remaining one at which Hakadosh Boruch Hu is celebrating along with us.

Indeed, the Mishnah Berurah (Hilchos Eruvin 415:2) states unequivocally in the name of many poskim that at a simcha where there is frivolity and “lo yinohagu shom kedos,” the behavior is not appropriate, “ain nachon levorech b’kegon zeh ‘shehasimcha b’meono,’” one cannot recite the brocha of shehasimcha b’meono at such an affair.

Of course, such discussions always lead to statements such as, “Who says that this music/song/dance/behavior is unacceptable?” After all, today’s music and youth are simply not the way they once were. Does that mean that they are wrong or bad?

This author’s personal opinion is that the question is, in fact, moot. We know – each and every one of us – when our actions are bringing us up or down. We know when the music is simply of a newer sound or beat or when it is of a type that causes us to let loose. We know whether we are including Hashem in our celebrations or not. We know that there are contemporary songs that are truly geshmak, that we can dance to and enjoy and celebrate, and that there are others that may be exciting and exhilarating but don’t leave us feeling very good about ourselves.

It’s not always easy to make the right choices, to exchange an immediate thrill for a more lasting joy. Still, if something has to go wrong at a wedding, rather than it being, chalilah, a missing Divine Presence or the runaway neshamos of our loved ones, let it instead be some missing wine or a runaway chupah glass.