In this week’s Parsha Chayai Sara, through the first Jewish courtship and marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, we learn the true spiritual depths and great significance in a Jewish wedding and it’s many traditions. In this week’s Dvar Torah I would like to discuss and delve into some of the many sacred beliefs and lessons expressed through the Jewish wedding ceremony.
The ‘Ketuba’- Wedding contract
Not only is the Ketuba vastly important in Jewish marital life, but it is also the first known recorded document in antiquity detailing the rights and entitlements of women. The first sources of the Ketuba and a wedding dowry are recorded in this week’s Torah portion. Upon Eliezer the servant of Abraham meeting Rebecca the soon-to-be matriarch, he lavishes her with several gifts, one being “a golden ring of a half-shekel in weight.”. Surely Abraham, one of the wealthiest and most prosperous men of the Orient, would want to bedazzle and impress his future daughter-in-law? Why then was Rebecca given a ring merely a “half a shekel” in weight and not more? To answer, it must be understood that the ‘Ketuba’ holds much more significance than a mere nuptial and financial agreement. The “half a shekel” ring represents the idea that marriage is reunion of a ‘halved’ soul, separated throughout the course of existence but now rejoined. Under the wedding canopy the groom and bride enter as two separate entities but exit as one. Both equal partners and consort in their dual endeavour together of establishing a Jewish home.
The Bedeken- Veiling of the Bride
The source for this ceremony also comes from this week’s Parsha in which Rebecca veils herself upon encountering her betrothed husband Isaac. Although veils and various forms of coverings are associated with modesty and monogamy, in the Jewish wedding the Bedeken has a deeper connotations. One of the other few times ‘veiling’ is mentioned in the Bible is Moses being compelled to shroud his face upon returning from atop Mount Sinai because it radiated a supernatural spiritual glow which the Israelites could not bear to look upon. Marriage’s purpose is to bring both joy and the Divine between both partners. However, marriage is a private union, to internally illuminate the lives and homes of both husband and wife. Through the Bedeken it is symbolised the seclusion of this relationship. The Bedeken also signifies that this union is not based on the physical, rather on the innately deep spiritual connection between the two. The husband chooses his bride not due to her physical beauty but rather her inner qualities.
The Bride Encircling the Husband
In this week’s Parsha we witness the role of a spouse and matriarch. “And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah …and she comforted him for[the loss of] his mother.” By encircling her groom, the bride creates a “protective wall” around her husband and their soon-to-be home and future. In many communities it is customary for the bride to encircle the groom seven times.The number seven is vastly significant in Judaism symbolising many things, but it also represents the seven attributes and emotions that every individual contains. Through her is defined and determined the make-up and attributes of their future house to-be. The bride walking around her groom also represents the circle of life- the inner circle which is just the bride and the groom followed by the outer circle of people standing under the Chuppa- the immediate family. The bride and groom standing under the Chuppa are now becoming whole. This union is the completion of two halves of the same soul becoming infused as one.
May we always celebrate simchas together!