MEANING IN MITZVOT by Rabbi Asher Meir
Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on the commentary “Meaning in Mitzvot” on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, which is serialized on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Virtual Beit Midrash, www.vbm-torah.org.
FAST OF THE WEDDING DAY
We learn at the very end of our parsha that Esav’s bride is referred to as “Machlat”, meaning “forgiveness”. (Bereshit 28:9.) Our Sages understood this as a hint that on his wedding day his sins were forgiven (Yerushalmi Bikkurim 3:3). We see that the wedding day is a day of forgiveness, akin to Yom Kippur. This aspect of atonement is one reason mentioned for the Ashkenazi custom that the bride and groom fast on their wedding day. (Rema EHE 61a.)
In fact, the forgiveness of the wedding day is in some ways greater than that of Yom Kippur, since unlike the atonement of Yom Kippur it is not completely dependent on repentance. We know this from two sources. First there is the inference from the wedding of Esav - who was not exactly known as a righteous person.
The second source is in the gemara which tells us that if a man betrothes his bride on condition that he is completely righteous, the betrothal is valid, and she becomes his wife, even if he is a totally wicked person. The reason is that we assume he has contemplated repentance in his heart (Kiddushin 49b, EHE 38:1). Normally, contemplating repentance doesn’t make a person righteous; at the very least, confession is required. Again, we see that the unique forgiveness of bride and groom does not require full repentance.
A NEW PERSON
The reason is easy to understand. The essence of repentance is that a person has set aside his previous negative habits and transformed himself into a new, better person. This is one reason a penitent often changes his name and his place, as if to say that he is not the same person who sinned. (Rambam Teshuva 2:4.)
But as we explained last week, the marriage bond effects a total transformation in the bride and groom, turning two separate individuals into one new person, a more perfect human being with a far more complete expression of G-d’s image. “Male and female he created them, and He called their name ‘man’”. (Bereshit 5:2.) From this we learn that the appelation “man” applies fully only when the male and the female are together. (Yevamot 63a.)
Even so, repentance is appropriate for the wedding day. The character of the new creation, the married couple, obviously depends on the character of the man and woman it comprises. The bride and groom should strive to be as holy and pure as possible at the moment of their chuppa.
Another reason the commentators give for this fast is so that the couple will be sure not to drink any intoxicating drinks, which would limit their judgment. (Maharam Mintz cited in Beit Shmuel 61:6.) The essence of the marriage act is da’at, the deepest and most complete consent and commitment on the part of husband and wife. This commitment is what ties the two individuals together into a new, unified family unit. We are careful not to compromise the judgment of the couple in any way.
Yet another reason mentioned for this custom is that the wedding service, which is meant to be the pinnacle of unity for bride and groom, can ironically be a unique source of conflict - especially when money matters are involved. Quarrels between the families naturally leave a mark on the couple, and disturb the harmony they are so anxious to create; the fast is meant to dispel animosity. (Mahari Bruna 93 cited in Shaarim Metzuyanim beHalakha.)
It is important to emphasize that such a lack of harmony does not affect the fact that a new act of creation is taking place. The formation of a new family unit through marriage is effected through the marriage act itself. Even if a husband and wife don’t get along, they are still a single unified family, until such time as they are committed to separation.
Even so, this new family will not be able to function and shine with holiness unless there is true peace and cooperation between its members. The humility engendered by fasting is a beautiful way to remind the couple that their first priority as a new family is their spirituality, and the sometimes divisive monetary arrangements, important as they may be, are secondary.