Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Sheva Berachot

Post-marriage Sheva Berachot parties are definitely ‘in’, and especially welcome by those who still feel hungry after the wedding!

The Sheva Berachot – seven blessings – said under the chuppah towards the end of the proceedings, form the major part of the ‘Nesuin’ – nuptial – part of the ceremony. They are repeated (in a slightly different order) following the wedding dinner Grace. They are also recited in the presence of a Minyan after meals attended by the couple during the week after the wedding. The Minyan must include at least one new participant who has not yet celebrated with the couple, although on Shabbat there is no need for a ‘new face’. The Sheva Berachot are recited for a week only when one, or both, of the couple has not been previously married; otherwise they are said just on the day of the wedding.

The term ‘Sheva Berachot’ has come to refer to a dinner-party thrown for a newly-married couple in the week following the nuptials. It might be a large, formal affair, or a modest, informal gathering; the idea is to create the circumstances in which the blessings can be recited in the presence of the couple. And while there is no absolute obligation for the newly-weds to attend such occasions, where circumstances permit, it is certainly desirable, and tremendous fun besides!

The blessings themselves are part of the great inspirational experience of Jewish marriage. They note that every aspect of human life is dedicated to the glory of God; refer to the creation of the world, and specifically to the uniqueness of human beings, who are formed in God’s image and are capable of emulating Him. They talk of Man’s creation as a single entity, before division into male and female, and pray for the new couple to experience a level of contentment akin to that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Finally, they observe that God alone is responsible for every possible dimension of pleasure that the newlyweds can experience and yearn for ultimate joy in the Messianic age celebrated in a peaceful, spiritually replete Jerusalem.

In a few short lines, the Sheva B’rachot encapsulate the Jewish vision of the purpose of life, the yearning for love and inspiration, the historic role of marriage from the Garden of Eden through to the distant future, as well as the vital role of relationships, sexuality and happiness in building a meaningful physical and spiritual life. No wonder that the great mediaeval philosopher Rabbenu Bachya considered a wedding a micro-recreation of the universe itself; for the very concepts on which creation was based are reborn with every new union.

The ideas contained in the Sheva Berachot are multifaceted to an astounding degree – each time they are replayed in front of the couple we hope that they internalise a little more of their powerful, timeless message. By the end of the week, they are set up for good; inspired to develop a life together in which every moment is sacred.

A version of this article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle. It is republished here with permission.

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