Part 2 – What’s in a wedding. The Chuppah
Before I continue with today’s story, I would like to highlight or perhaps clear the air on a couple of things that I think should have been made obvious in my last blog post.
It’s easy to pay attention to one small negative thing like; me being a fly on the wall. However, I want to make it emphatically clear that the experience was an extremely beautiful one for me. I loved the food, the ambiance, those who took time out to chat with me and make me feel at home, at ease, and as part of a beautiful family irrespective of who or where I came from. I loved the families and their shared love for one another.
The beauty of uniting two hearts, two families, and 2 bloodlines was the occasion of the day, and nothing could take away from that experience.
I’ve thought about Rabbi Z quite a bit since the event, and how kind he was for inviting me to the wedding. He didn’t have to, but he did. I would imagine I was the least of those who gave to his organization. Actually, I barely gave anything at all. If anything, he did a mitzvot by inviting me. It reminds me of the saying of Jesus where he says; “if you give even a cup of cold water to these little ones of mine, you shall by no means lose your reward” (Matthew 10:42).
Now, about the wedding, I got to the wedding and was greeted by his daughter Rachel, She’s a younger sister to the bride. I told her my first name and she immediately made an attempt at pronouncing my last name, asking; are you Gloria XYZ. I responded with; how did you know my name? She smiled and responded with; it’s my job to know everyone who is coming, so everyone feels at home and part of the family. She had the most warm and welcoming smile. I felt completely at home just by staring at her. she taught me to pronounce her name with a tradition Hebrew Chet. Like RaKul
I asked where her dad was, and she responded with; he’s gone to the men’s section. I said; the men’s section? She chuckled and said; at Hasidic weddings, females celebrate with the bride, while males celebrate with the groom in separate areas.
This was fascinating information to me, because I wasn’t aware that males and females were separated at traditional Chasidic weddings.
I chatted with her for a little bit then quickly wandered my way around the venue to catch a quick glimpse of the place and try to mingle with others. After meeting and chatting with a few people (including the nanny who gave me a charger), I settled with a nice lady named Bronya. She talked me through the various parts of the wedding. She was Chasidic with a family line from Russia, hence the name Bronya.
I had arrived at the part of the event known as the kabbolas Ponim, or Pre-Chuppah Reception. This part of the wedding is a mixture of singing, light refreshments and words of Torah, followed by the bride’s veiling by the groom. The mood was festive yet solemn.
What intrigued me the most was how the entire event was tied around God’s connection to his people.
The idea of “wedding” in traditional Jewish thought is always tied to the Torah and the belief in God being the divine Groom. You’ll find this ideology echoed subtly in John 2:1 – 11 where Jesus performs his first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilea.
To shed some light on this ideology I’ll briefly describe what a Hebrew or Jewish wedding entails.
Hebrew weddings are broken into 2 distinct parts. First part is called the Kiddushin or Erusin which is the betrothal stage, while the second part is known as the Nissuin; the actual wedding (which I was attending). In biblical times, the Kiddushin or betrothal happens a year before the actual wedding. But in modern times, some traditions may carry out the betrothal on the same day as the wedding.
The betrothal is actually a romantic experience (at least from what I’ve heard and learned). I often wonder why it’s called Kiddushin, because Kiddushin means sanctification or dedication. The root word is Kadosh which means holy. I guess it’s for the same reason one might call any other marriage Holy matrimony. But no one ever calls getting engage Holy or dedicated. Most people would yell; Hey, I just got engaged, not hey I just got dedicated to this guy or girl 😊.
The rabbis teach that it’s because before the giving of the Torah, marriage was very transactional. Pre-Torah both parties got together and shacked up for the sake of fulfilling individual needs, without really giving any commitment to each other. But with the giving of the Torah to the sons of Israel, came a responsibility for the sacredness in marriage. The Torah mandated a sense of commitment. When the man chooses his bride, he had to dedicate himself to her, and likewise she had to dedicate herself to him.
The Kiddushin involves; giving the betrothal blessings, the proposal, and the giving of the ring before 2 witnesses. Most traditions will have the man give the woman something valuable. This could be the wedding contract (Ketubah) detailing how he plans to care for her all of his life, or an expensive ring, or even giving himself to her on that day, i.e. here I am take me home with you (I don’t understand how that works though, because the very act of proposing is giving himself to her already 😊)
This reminds me of the betrothal process in Africa. In my own tribe, the betrothal is known as an “Introduction”. Unfortunately, the Torah isn’t read or mentioned at this events, but the processes are similar. The man gives the woman a marriage contract (like the ketubah) detailing how he will care for her. He brings with him what’s known as a bride price, which is usually expensive gifts for her and her family (in biblical Hebrew context, this would be the Mohar), and the wedding doesn’t usually take place till later on.
In both cases (African and Jewish), the bride and groom are considered married from inception at betrothal, but the marriage isn’t consummated till after the actual wedding (The Nissuin). The biblical tradition of waiting a year between betrothal and marriage does put a lot into context. I think of Joseph being betroth to Mary and after finding her pregnant before the consummation of their marriage, wanted to put her away privily (i.e. divorce her) (Matthew 1:18-20). It also begs to wander; why 1 year? Why not 2 days? Or 1 month, or 6 months?
This tradition of a year between Erusin (betrothal) and Nissuin (the wedding) in Jesus’s day sheds some light on Matthew 9:15 where Jesus answered “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
It also calls to mind Daniel’s 70 weeks, and Messiah being cut-off in the middle of the week.
But before I get carried away, let’s get back to the wedding.
The Pre-Chuppah reception ended with a lady reading a scripture, giving a sermon around the significance of the event, and telling us what was to come next. She explained that the groom would soon come veil his bride, symbolically telling her he wasn’t marrying her for the sake of her beauty alone. He was marrying the hidden part of her. She mentioned that this tradition dates back to the time of Rebecca who veiled herself upon seeing Isaac her betroth.
After the veiling of the bride by the groom was done, we watched the bride being led to the Chuppah by her parents holding candle lights, followed a few minutes later by the groom being led out to the Chuppah by his parents holding candle lights as well.
Watching the procession to the Chuppah reminded me of Yeshua’s parable about the 5 wise virgins and 5 foolish virgins (Matthew 25: 1-13). I still wasn’t sure why they had to carry lights though. Perhaps in Galilean tradition this would have been different? Maybe the wife was led to her husband’s house at night? All the same, it’s all about being ready to escort the bride or groom.
I couldn’t help but notice that the bride never stopped smiling all through the event. My friendly host Bronya told me both of them haven’t seen each other in a week. It’s a modern Hassidic tradition for both of them to avoid each other for a week before the wedding. It’s believed this builds up the excitement when they finally come back together at the wedding.
I could smell their excitement; it was romantic and palpable.
Now mind you, I don’t know them from Adam, so chances are the palpability of the excitement I’m sensing right now is probably coming from me thinking through life, love, and messiah and his bride.
The female MC earlier had tied the chuppah ceremony to God being the divine Chuppah, and his marriage to the Jewish people when he gave the Torah. She said; many of the customs observed at a Jewish wedding mirror the giving of the Torah at Mt Sinai. Which was the cosmic marriage between God and Israel. Hence, it all begins with the groom being called up to the Torah.
I couldn’t help but think about Messiah’s chuppah and his promise of coming back to receive us to himself.
I was soon startled out of my daydreaming by the new male MC’s voice. The bride and groom and their families were now under the chuppah, and the MC was reciting a series of blessings while the bride and her entourage walked in a circular motion around the groom. They had to recite 7 blessings. The MC called out to the audience to connect to the blessings in this very moment, and in this tradition. He said; “for those needing healing, for those needing Yeshua, connect to the blessings in this”.
At first, I thought, did he just say; “for those needing Yeshua”? I chuckled at the beauty of hearing that line from my own point of view.
I watched the blessings and prayers till the end and then went looking for Rabbi Z to thank him for inviting me. After finding him and thanking him, I followed the female crowd to the banqueting hall, while also watching the bride and groom go into a secluded area.
The banqueting hall was beautifully set and brightly lit with free sitting for all. I picked a spot next to Bronya and enjoyed some delicious salmon with what looked like spaghetti zucchini. Bronya and I talked about our lives and enjoyed each other’s company. It turns out she worked for the Chabad and has worked for them for over 30 years.
At this point I was no longer thinking of the guy who got kicked out in the parable from Matthew 22:1-14. I was remembering Revelation 19:9 which says, “blessed are those who are invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb”.
I ended up leaving early before the part of dancing and drinking with the bride, because I had kids to get back to and I didn’t want to drive back while it was super late. I was a stranger in this area and driving in the dark in unfamiliar places wasn’t my strong suit.
Although I didn’t get to the dancing and drinking part, I left the wedding with a heart full.
After leaving, I kept remembering the bride’s face and how happy she looked.
I looked through the pictures I had taken, especially the faces of those at my table in the banqueting hall. I couldn’t help but notice this sense of solemn, or somber, or perhaps humble expression on their faces.
There’s an untold story in every story, and the story of this African girl at a Chasidic wedding started a long time ago, when Yeshua a Galilean Jew had his “introduction” to our world.
Back then he gave himself as the gift. Today we say; Toda Raba Abba, and Bo Yeshua