And Hashem said: It is not good for man to be alone. I will create for him a helper companion. (Sefer Beresheit 2:18)
1. The structure of betrothal in halachah
The marriage process begins with kiddushin – betrothal. Through this process the bride and groom enter into a binding agreement to complete the marriage. With the completion of the kiddushin, the process of marriage begins and a bill of divorce is required to separate the parties. There are a number of ways in which the agreement of kiddushen can be executed. Commonly kiddushin is accomplished by the man placing a ring upon his intended’s figure and stating the traditional formula, “You are betrothed to me with this ring according to the faith of Moshe and Yisrael.”
One of the interesting, noted, and often misunderstood aspects of the betrothal process is that the man betroths the woman. He presents the ring to his intended. He makes the declaration. And although, the complete acquiescence of the woman is required, she plays a relatively passive role in the betrothal process. Why must the man be the active party in this process?
And Adam assigned names to all of the animals, birds of the heavens, and the beasts of the field. But for Adam, he found no helper companion. (Sefer Bereseheit 2:20)
2. The creation of Chavah
Before answering this question, it will be helpful to consider another issue. The marriage process includes also the recitation of seven blessings – the Sheva Berachot. The third and fourth blessings in this series recall Hashem’s creation of Adam and Chavah – the first human couple. Why is reference made to this first union between man and woman at every wedding ceremony?
In order to understand the relevance of this reference, the circumstances surrounding this first union must be reviewed.
The Torah tells us that man was initially created without a mate. He observed that all other creatures had a mate but that he lacked a partner. Only in response to this recognition was Adam’s mate – Chavah created.
Hashem’s wisdom dictated that Adam should first recognize that he was alone and incomplete before he received his partner, Chavah. Apparently, Hashem concluded that the union between man and woman must be predicated upon a sense of need, loneliness, and incompleteness. Adam was required to appreciate that his union with Chavah completed him; it completed his own creation.
And Adam said: This time it is a bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. To this one I will call Eiyshah – for this one was taken (and formed) from man. Therefore, a man will leave his father and mother but cleave to his wife and they will be a single flesh. (Sefer Bereseheit 2:23-24)
3. The basis of a meaningful marriage
Adam recognized that he was completed by Chavah. Although she was later named Chavah, Adam initially named his partner Eiyshah. This name is a feminine version of the Hebrew word eish – man. Adam explained his intention in referring to his partner as Eiyshah. The name was intended to communicate the closeness between them and their interdependence.
Halachah requires that we recall man’s creation and the initial union between man and woman at every wedding. Through recalling this union, we communicate to the bride and groom that this initial union is the model we seek to emulate at every marriage. We suggest to every bride and groom that their marriage must be modeled upon this first union. Marriage – the union between man and woman – can only be meaningful when the partners recognize that each can only be complete through this partnership. Marriage should not be a mere arrangement of convenience. It should resonate with the deepest, heartfelt needs of the parties and must be the response to this intense need. Each party must recognize that we become completed only through this union.
4. The roles of the man and woman in the kiddushin process
Now, we can understand the respective roles of the man and woman in the traditional betrothal. The man and woman are reenacting the drama of the first union – the union between Adam and Chavah. The chasan – the groom – steps under the chuppah – the wedding canopy. He may be accompanied by his loving parents and he may be surrounded by friends and family. Yet, he is alone. He is incomplete. There he awaits his beloved kallah – his bride. His beloved joins him under the chuppah and he demonstrates his recognition that like his ancestor Adam, he completes himself through his union with his kallah. His presentation of the ring to the kallah and his declaration of the betrothal formula complete the reenactment of the drama of the first union.