What is the significance of the badeken ceremony practiced in Ashkenazic communities?
It’s one of the most magical moments of the wedding: the chassan, accompanied by his father and future father-in-law, witnesses, and friends, comes to put the veil over the kallah’s face. The kallah, flanked by the two mothers and other family members, sits on a royal throne eagerly awaiting this special moment.
What is the significance of the badeken ceremony practiced in Ashkenazic communities? Let us try to unveil some of the deeper meaning to have a greater appreciation of what’s transpiring.
A Message from the Chassan
Rav Aryeh Kaplan ztz”l, in his sefer Made in Heaven, explains that the source of this custom is Rivkah Imeinu’s act of veiling herself upon seeing Yitzchak Avinu. A veil is a sign of modesty, and the hope is that the new couple will live a life of holiness akin to that of Rivkah and Yitzchak.
Although the customs vary as to who veils the bride — the chassan, members of the family, or a representative from the community — this source indicates the chassan should be present at the time of the veiling.
There are some sources that see the veiling as a fulfillment of the actual chuppah requirement, and conclude that it has legal ramifications. When Ruth asks Boaz to marry her, she asks that “he place his garment over her.” One of the husband’s obligations is to provide clothing for his wife, so when placing the veil over her, he’s symbolically setting up house with her. This would then explain why the chassan places the veil over the kallah, and why she doesn’t place it on herself as a sign of modesty.
The Belzer Rav sees this act as a reflection of the chassan’s commitment to his kallah. In placing this veil on her, he’s essentially saying that he’s not interested in any other woman; they’re exclusive to one another. This idea is also expressed in one of the sheva brachos, when we say that the joy this couple feels should mirror the specialness of the original couple in Gan Eden. Just as Adam and Chava knew there was no one else more suited for either of them, this is how the chassan and kallah should view each other.
There are other messages the chassan is giving to the kallah at this special moment. Sichos HaRan notes that the chassan is emphasizing that her beauty is exclusive to him, and not for the eyes of anyone else in the world. At the same time, he’s informing her that he’s covering her physical beauty, to convey that more important than her physical beauty are her spiritual qualities.
Revelation and Protection
The name of the ceremony, the “badeken,” suggests the sefer Davar Naeh Umekabel, is related to the word, bodkin, to check. The chassan is checking to make sure this is the correct woman, ensuring that the switch that Lavan made with Rachel Imeinu and Leah Imeinu won’t happen to him.
But according to this reasoning, the chassan should take off the veil, not put it on. The sifrei mekubalim explain a deeper significance to this ceremony, one connected with these Imahos. We know that each of the Imahos represent high spiritual levels: Leah Imeinu represents the alma d’itkasya, the concealed world, and Rachel Imeinu, the alma d’itgalya, the revealed world.
When the chassan approaches the kallah, he sees her in her “revealed state,” the Rachel Imeinu aspect of herself. This is the aspect of the kallah he’s gotten to know. The chassan then takes the veil and covers the kallah, intimating that he’s also marrying the “Leah Imeinu” aspect of the kallah. He’s committing to building a life with the parts of the kallah that are hidden, that he’s not yet aware of, the more “challenging” parts as well. Only after making this commitment is the chassan ready to stand under the chuppah.
Another dimension of covering the kallah is offered in the sefer Kishutei Kallah. The entire wedding ceremony is very public, and therefore there’s a fear of an ayin hara. Covering the kallah is a way of “protecting” her from any negative forces, and from people’s stares. This again emphasizes the modesty that is a prerequisite to building a home of holiness and purity. Each couple that builds a house in Yisrael brings the ultimate closeness of Hashem and His people closer to realization.
Much of the marriage ceremony mirrors spiritual dimensions as well. Sefer Matamim notes the veil over the kallah is her way of expressing that she’s ready to follow the chassan with unquestioning faith. Symbolically, this parallels the Jewish People’s willingness to follow Hashem blindly as well. The kallah sits on a “throne,” which the sefer Kishutei Kallah notes is a reflection of our wish that Hashem’s “throne” be complete.
Blessings and Tears
The day of a wedding is a propitious time of blessing. Pnei Menachem notes that the chassan and kallah get a new soul on this day, similar to the day they’re obligated in shemiras mitzvos. This higher level of holiness affords them the opportunity to give brachos to others.
The sefer Chovas Ha’adam B’olamo adds that the parents of the chassan and kallah also have the power of giving blessings on this day. They’re referred to as the “baalei simchah,” and joy is connected to giving blessings. (Birkas Kohanim is said every day only in Israel, since this is the place of joy.)
After the badeken, it’s customary for parents and grandparents to bless their children. There’s a specific custom to bless the kallah with the blessing that Lavan gave Rivkah Imeinu: “Achoseinu at, hayi l’alfei revavah v’yirash zareich es sha’ar sonav,” and then with the brachah that is customarily given on every Friday night.
Chiddushei Rav Yosef Nechemya notes that the honored members of the community give her this brachah, emphasizing that she’s “their sister” and that her children should resemble them. Rav Dovid Hofstedter in Darash Dovid explains that in saying this brachah, Lavan was cursing himself. Indeed, Rivkah’s children would vanquish her enemies — who were the descendants of Lavan. This brachah, therefore, is a completely altruistic one, and such a brachah has the greatest power.
Rav Pinchas Friedman, in Shvilei Pinchas, quotes the idea that “thousands and myriads” are a minimum of 22,000, which is the number needed for the Shechinah to rest on the Jewish People. In giving this brachah, we bless the couple not only in proliferating and having many children, but also that the Divine Presence should rest on their home. When the Shechinah is found in a home, all blessings are found there as well.
Bishurun Melech offers a chilling insight into the meaning of this specific brachah. Kedushas Levi explains that one of the reasons a chassan cries under the chuppah is that his soul is aware that the neshamos of his future children don’t want to leave their celestial home to descend down into this world, and they cause him to cry.
Vayivchar Moshe explains that before any soul comes down to this world, the angels appease it by saying the pasuk of “achoseinu at,” that the soul has the potential to produce many generations in this world. Hence, this pasuk is used at the badeken not in reference only to the kallah, but to the souls of their future children, appeasing them over the fact that they’ll be brought into this world.
The badeken takes but a moment to carry out — and years to bring to full fruition.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 786)
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