Sheva brachos lays the foundation for a life of joy
heva brachos, the week of rejoicing that follows a couple’s wedding, instituted by Moshe Rabbeinu, seems almost magical in nature. The chassan and kallah spend seven days dressed in their best clothing, they’re wined and dined each evening, and they aren’t allowed to go to work. The entire week is dedicated to enjoying each other’s company.
Chazal compare a chassan to a king. Similar to royalty, when the chassan goes to shul, he needs to be accompanied, and likewise the kallah needs an attendant when she goes out alone as well.
There was a sevenfold blessing that Hashem gave to Adam and Chava upon their marriage. We mirror these blessings for the entire week, jump-starting the young couple in their task of building a home of holiness and joy. What ideas can be gleaned from the week referred to as sheva brachos?
Happiness Is Key
Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that marriage is similar to creation; hence, there is one week of celebration, including a Shabbos. Hashem created the world with ten utterances; correspondingly, there needs to be a minyan present when saying the sheva brachos, these special seven blessings. There are also ten expressions of joy that are found in the final brachah.
One of the main themes of the week is simchah, joy. In his sefer Nitei Gavriel, Rav Gavriel Zinner explains that the mitzvah of simchah during the week of sheva brachos is akin to the level of simchah on Yom Tov. He brings an interesting parallel between the Yamim Tovim and the process a couple goes through from their wedding day through the week of sheva brachos. Chazal teach that a man without a wife is a person devoid of simchah. Therefore, he explains, there exists a fundamental difference between the teshuvah that the chassan and kallah do on the day of their wedding and the teshuvah during this week.
On the day of the chuppah, their teshuvah is done out of awe. As the couple isn’t yet married, they don’t yet have the ability to reach the higher level of teshuvah from love, which necessitates simchah. In the week of sheva brachos, during which their sins are forgiven, the added element of simchah the couple can now access elevates the process to teshuvah from love.
Rav Zinner draws a parallel to the teshuvah of Yom Kippur versus the teshuvah of Succos. The chuppah parallels the Yom Kippur motif. The week of sheva brachos is akin to Succos, when simchah takes central stage, and the closeness to Hashem emanates from love. The final day of Succos, Hoshana Rabbah, has a special holiness, and likewise, the last day of sheva brachos is the climax of the entire week
The happiness of the week of sheva brachos isn’t an end unto itself, though. The goal of this celebratory week is for this joy to permeate the couple’s home for their entire lives.
In Atarah Lamelech, Rav Pam quotes the tefillah of Uva l’Tzion Goel, wherein we say “shamrah zos l’olam.” Dovid Hamelech was telling the people to “bottle up” their feelings of passion for the Beis Hamikdash, so that even when these feelings waned, they’d still be motivated to donate. Likewise, the chassan and kallah need to fill themselves up with the overflowing joy that’s central to the sheva brachos week, so they can take it with them into their marriage for years to come. Inevitably, there will be tension and strife, and it’s important, when the low moments arrive, for the chassan and kallah to remember the words of praise they heard about their spouse.
This explains the last of the seven blessings, wherein the words “chassan and kallah” are interjected among the adjectives describing joy, singing, and exultation. Rav Pam explains that the goal of the week is for the chassan and kallah themselves to become vessels of joy, and allow their homes to be built on this foundation. When a person is in a state of joy, he is easily able to dismiss small concerns as nonconsequential.
Nitei Gavriel notes one concrete way for the kallah to express this joy. If this is the first time the kallah is lighting Shabbos candles, some suggest that she should wear a new outfit, or have in mind her new candlesticks, and say the brachah of shehecheyanu. This gives tangible expression to the happiness of this special moment, and she will be able to tap into this feeling each time she lights candles in the decades to come.
The joy is not limited to just the young couple. Imrei Emes notes that the chassan has to make others happy as well. Rav Pam explains that we say in the bentshing that the joy is “bime’ono,” in Hashem’s dwelling place. If Hashem is joyously present at this simchah, it behooves us to follow suit. Similarly, when Moshe Rabbeinu came to greet Yisro, all of the elders joined him as well.
The imperative to feeling the joy, and making the chassan and kallah rejoice, explains why it’s necessary to have panim chadashos — a new face — every night of sheva brachos in order to say the seven blessings. This person can’t just be a random stranger, like the tenth man for a minyan, but rather needs to be someone connected to the chassan or kallah, whose presence at the simchah is a source of joy to them.
On Shabbos this “new face” is not required, since Shabbos itself takes that role. In Ohel Moshe, Rav Scheinerman explains the connection between the radiant face of Moshe Rabbeinu, at the end of parshas Ki Sisa, and parshas Vaykhel opening with the mitzvah of Shabbos. He proposes that our faces are new on Shabbos, glowing with an aura not found during the week. Shabbos is known as the “time of our rejoicing” and this added element radiating within ourselves lends that new dimension of joy at the sheva brachos.
Messages for Life
There are varied interpretations of the meaning of the seven blessings themselves; they are either brachos of praise, mitzvah, or pleasure. They also contain within them many directives toward the couple on building their future home. In Uv’yom Simchas Libo, Rav Shechter notes that the brachah of “shehakol bara lichvodo” reminds the chassan and kallah that everything in this physical world needs to be elevated for the spiritual. The goal of building a Jewish home and raising children is to bring more kavod Shamayim into This World.
Rav Yosef Nechemia Kornitzer notes that the brachah of “samei’ach tisamach,” blessing the couple with the joy of the first couple in Gan Eden, reminds the chassan and kallah that they should feel like that they are the only couple in the world, and not compare their marriage to anyone else’s.
In Birchas Mordechai, Rav Ezrachi derives another powerful lesson from this brachah. He explains that Adam Harishon had to be enticed to enter Gan Eden. The garden was barren, awaiting Adam to work and guard it and cultivate it into Gan Eden, and Adam had to be persuaded to do so. Likewise, each marriage is a potential Gan Eden that needs to be worked and fostered to become like paradise. A couple has to know that marriage is about effort that will ultimately lead to success.
One final piece of advice for the couple is found at the end of the last brachah, which concludes, “kol mitzahalos chassanim meichupasam — the jubilation of the grooms from their chuppah.” Why the emphasis “from the chuppah”?
Everything in life is good, Rabbeinu Yosef Nechemia answers, but we need to merit to see that. We ask Hashem “nerenah v’nismechah b’chol yameinu — we should rejoice our whole lives, not just in retrospect.” We wish the couple that from the time they leave the chuppah, and for their entire lives, they should feel joy in their marriage, and the clarity that this is their intended life partner.
A couple’s celebration isn’t theirs alone, but becomes the simchah of all of Klal Yisrael. Each new home brings the Redemption one step closer.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 798)
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