With my wedding day fast approaching (actually there’s a good chance by the time you read this I will be married!!!), there’s one last thing I wanted to cover. The Sheva Brachas.
The Sheva Brachas (or Brachot depending on your preferred pronunciation) are seven unique blessings that are given to the couple under the chuppah, as well as at any celebratory meals during their first week of marriage. This holy and profound ritual acts to sanctify and elevate the marriage, inspire joy, and praise God for making the man… Wait what’s that last one?
As with most things in Judaism, if you give them a real close look, they may strike you as a little odd. The Sheva Brachas are no different. So let’s go through them one by one. At the chuppah, honorees are called up to make each bracha individually. Just a note, at the chuppah, the order is slightly different than when you’re saying them at the end of the meal. The order I’m listing here is the order at the chuppah.
The First Bracha – What’s a celebration without alcohol?
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Blessed are You HaShem, our God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.
The Sheva Brachas are made over a cup of wine and so it would make sense to make this familiar blessing is recited. Most of us know “borei pri hagafen” from Shabbos kiddush or from going to Jewish day school/Sunday school. Now, what is odd is that the person making the bracha isn’t actually going to drink the wine. Does that create a problem for saying a blessing in vain? Though some argue that the first honoree should sip some of the wine, most don’t hold that way because the blessing on the wine functions to sanctify the mitzvah taking place.
Similarly to kiddush on Shabbat and holidays, the wine acts to help make the day even more special, giving a physical delight to savor the blessings the ritual ushers in.
The Second Bracha – Glory to God?
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהַכֹּל בָּרָא לִכְבוֹדוֹ
Blessed are You HaShem, our God, King of the universe, Who created all things for His glory.
It’s an odd thing to say that an all powerful Creator would need to create things for His glory. God doesn’t need anything from anyone, or as some Rabbis like to say, “What can you do for an infinite being?” The answer is nothing. However, it is well known that showering things with love has a positive physical/emotional affect while hateful or angry feelings deteriorate the object of derision. Since God is everywhere, praising, loving, and giving honor to God lifts everything around you.
There are many blessings that praise God, but this blessing in particular is only found in the Sheva Brachas. This leads us to conclude that there is a special opportunity at the moment a husband and wife come together to praise God that lift up all of creation in a unique way. Anyone who has shed tears in prayer and finally found their beshert knows that it could only have come about through the orchestration of His divine hand. That recognition paired with the answering of those prayers makes the moment all the more special.
The Third Bracha – Man oh Man!
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, יוֹצֵר הָאָדָם
Blessed are You, HaShem, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned the Man.
Straight out of the Book of Bereishis (Genesis) we have the line that man was formed out of dust from the ground. When God creates, he does so in one of a few ways. If we see בָּרָא, it means God created something out of nothing. But here we see יוֹצֵר or formed, meaning it was created by fashioning what was already there. This is the nature of man that the blessing invokes. An essential thing to keep in mind was that man was not complete until God made him a partner.
The Fourth Bracha – Man oh Man… Again?!
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם דְּמוּת
תַּבְנִיתוֹ, וְהִתְקִין לוֹ מִמֶּנּוּ בִּנְיַן עֲדֵי עַד: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, יוֹצֵר הָאָדָם
Blessed are You HaShem, our God, King of the universe, Who fashioned Man in His image of his likeness and prepared for him for building for eternity. Blessed are You, Lord, Who fashioned the Man.
We get ANOTHER blessing for “the Man.” Why the repetition? Two thoughts. The first is that Judaism believes that a man is not complete until he gets married. Judaism also believes, generally speaking, that the nature of man is that of a selfish one, where women are more likely to nurture and give. When a man takes on the responsibility of providing for the wife, he comes closer to his purpose. So here there is a more robust blessing, channeling not just that man was fashioned from the ground, but also in God’s image. The balance of those two aspects builds the soul and prepares it for what it was ultimately created for… eternity.
Another thought on the two blessings is detailed by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. He says that there are two blessings to represent two forms of mankind, the physical and the spiritual. Or natural and transcendental. When the Torah first describes the seven days of creations, man is simply the final step of that physical process. Then in chapter two, the Torah retells the creation story. This time man is given a Godly soul and his job isn’t just to dominate the physical but to work and preserve all that is in the garden. So the fourth bracha blesses mankind on this higher level, connected to responsibility and purpose.
The Fifth Bracha – Barren all the Joy
שׂוֹשׂ תָּשִׂישׂ וְתָגֵל הָעֲקָרָה, בְּקִבּוּץ בָּנֶיהָ לְתוֹכָהּ בְּשִׂמְחָה
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ ,מְשַׂמֵּחַ צִיּוֹן בְּבָנֶיה
Bring intense joy and exultation to the barren one through the ingathering of her children amidst her in gladness. Blessed are You, HaShem, Who gladdens Zion through her children.
Even though the modern state of Israel exists, and with that the city of Jerusalem, we don’t view today’s Jerusalem as the true and holy monument we speak about in our prayers. Without the Temple, Jerusalem is cut off from the true source of its holiness and lacks the level to be known as Zion. Much of Jewish literature personifies Jerusalem as a barren woman, estranged off from her true love. However, when a bride and groom come together under the chuppah, it brings us one step closer to the redemption. Similarly to how we say that Elijah the prophet attends every bris, we also say that Mother Zion is in attendance at every Jewish wedding. It is a consolation and a beacon of hope. Also what Jewish mother isn’t kvelling at a wedding. All the more so for the Jewish mother of Jewish mothers.
The Sixth Bracha – In the Garden of Eden Baby… Don’t you know that I love you…
שַׂמֵּֽחַ תְּשַׂמַּח רֵעִים הָאֲהוּבִים כְּשַׂמֵּחֲךָ יְצִירְךָ בְּגַן עֵֽדֶן מִקֶּֽדֶם. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ מְשַׂמֵּֽחַ חָתָן וְכַלָּה
Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creations in the Garden of Eden from aforetime. Blessed are You, Lord, Who gladdens groom and bride.
This is the first blessing that actually blesses the couple as Choson and Kallah (groom and bride). It invokes the more sublime and perfect time in religious history, the Garden of Eden. I happen to believe this is a connection to the radiant joy of a new, young, and exciting love. There is a tradition in Judaism to make the first year of marriage particularly sweet. Parents used to support the couple for the first year so they could take vacations, be free of stress, some even would go study in Israel together. It is all so the foundation of the relationship could be rooted in a joyous time the couple can look back to when times inevitably get tough. So this blessing seeks to bless those blissful vibrant feelings of connection and love.
The Seventh Bracha – Quite the mouthful.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא שָׂשׂוֹן וְשִׂמְחָה חָתָן וְכַלָּה גִּילָה רִנָּה דִּיצָה וְחֶדְוָה אַהֲבָה וְאַחֲוָה וְשָׁלוֹם וְרֵעוּת מְהֵרָה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ יִשָּׁמַע בְּעָרֵי יְהוּדָה וּבְחֻצוֹת יְרוּשָׁלָםִ קוֹל שָׂשׂוֹן וְקוֹל שִׂמְחָה קוֹל חָתָן וְקוֹל כַּלָּה קוֹל מִצְהֲלוֹת חֲתָנִים מֵחֻפָּתָם וּנְעָרִים מִמִּשְׁתֵּה נְגִינָתָם. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ מְשַׂמֵּֽחַ חָתָן עִם הַכַּלָּה.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, brother- hood, peace, and companionship. Lord our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the grooms’ jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You, HaShem, Who gladdens the groom with the bride.
Once again the blessings seem to have a redundancy with the seventh repeating similar sentiments of the sixth. But there are some notable differences. Let’s start at the end. The sixth bracha finishes, “Blessed are you Hashem who gladdens the groom and the bride.” But this one ends “who gladdens the groom with the bride.” Why switch from a conjunction to a preposition? I believe this is a comment on the change of the nature of the relationship. In the sixth blessing, the union is new and so is the love. But eventually that novelty wears off. The marriage can become stale and boring. However if the couple works at the marriage, putting in the time, consideration, learning, and giving, the union takes on an entirely different quality and with it, the happiness is in an entirely different league.
The bracha goes on to list 10 different words for happiness! It’s clear that not only is this level of happiness in a whole other stratosphere, it is also referencing something else. Where 7 represents completion on a physical level, 8 represents the supernatural, and9 represents return… 10 is understood to be completion on a divine level. When a Choson and Kallah not only come together, but put effort into the relationship, the joys of that work are exceedingly holy. The bracha continues on, noting that the joy radiates out. It becomes a beacon, inspiring others. You’ve heard happiness is contagious? So this bracha blesses the marriage to be realized in its loftiest and most full of forms and continue to spread, changing all who witness it.
Happiness and Creation
Why does the couple only have the opportunity to say these blessings in the first week of their marriage? Why not the first month? Why not the first year? If we look at the brachas as a whole, they seem to fall into two categories, blessings on things that are created or fashioned and blessing of simcha/happiness. On the creation theme, we see the Garden of Eden and notions from the book of Bereishis referenced. It is clear that marriage has a fundamental connection to the creation story. A wedding not only is a union but a rebirth as both the Choson and Kallah are considered a new united soul. And so like a new born boy must go through seven days of life before a bris, it is essential the couple experience seven days of joy as they embark on their microcosm of creation.