Do you like stories of romance? If you're a woman, the answer is probably yes.
Guess what? God's answer would be yes too. He invented romance and uses it to picture His pursuit of humanity as He woos them back into relationship with Him.
He invented weddings too.
And nobody does weddings better than Orthodox Jews.
Compared to them, the traditional American nuptials are paltry in symbolism and certainly weak in enthusiasm. Now, my own wedding day memories are very special, as I hope yours are to you, but there's a tiny little part of me that wishes I had been Jewish! Talk about deep meaning and hidden beauty - that's what it's all about.
The Orthodox Jewish wedding juxtaposes the sacred solemnity of the ceremony with the joyful hilarity of the following reception. Those in attendance experience the whole range of emotion - it's a day that stands out in the memory of everyone there.
There is far too much involved to explain in great depth in this post, but here are a few details:
In contrast with modern weddings, the bride and groom are the centerpiece of everything. It's not just a time for friends and family to show up in their finery and laugh and visit. Every activity is focused on the bridal couple and their happiness.
Marriage, in the Jewish mind, is something to revere and celebrate, not primarily for sensual reasons, but because it is what man and woman were made for. An announcement of marriage is worthy of great joy. (In a deeper sense, of course, it is to be celebrated because it represents God's covenant with His people and Christ's relationship with His bride, the church.)
The ceremony is filled with great symbolism - both for the couple and for Scripture. The bride and groom are attended by both parents down the aisle; mother and father are very important as they give permission for their children to be joined together in marriage. The groom wears a long white coat (with his tux or suit) - it was the traditional garb for ancient feast days and is called the kittal (from the root word "to slay" - wow, there is deap meaning here from the first chapters of Genesis). The bride is veiled by the groom with a heavy cloth (the badekin) - to remember Leah who wore a veil when she married Jacob and to symbolize the husband's role of protection. The couple is married under a canopy (Chuppah) - to sybolize the covering of the heavens and God's covering of covenant with His people. The bride circles the groom seven times - to symbolize the days in which God created the world and the fact that this couple is creating a new home. At the end of the ceremony, the groom steps on and breaks a glass contained in a cloth bag - this symbolizes the destruction of Jersualem and the fragility of life (even in moments of great joy, Jews never forget the destruction of the temple).
The estactic dancing following the ceremony is almost childlike in its jubilant expression - on the men's side and the women's side, guests twirl and skip, laugh and sing. The groom and his friends often perform incredible feats - special dances, juggling, wild leaps, etc. It's not only an adrenalin rush, but also a chance for the groom to show off a little for his bride.
To the American mind, this form of celebration seems a bit awkward and even silly. Most of us would not think of behaving in such a way in public. But the Orthodox Jews are able to give in to their joy in the most basic of all modes of expression - laughing and jumping. Its what each of us does in some unguarded moment when a long-held dream comes true (recall images you've seen of lottery winners whose number has been called!) And it is a shadow of the kind of joy that will be ours in heaven someday. All of heaven will be an endless wedding celebration. It will be happiness and feasting and celebration forever.
The Orthodox Jewish wedding celebration combines the wonder of human romance with the awesome holiness of God. The Creator created this relationship to symbolize His deep love and commitment to us. Jesus, the very Son of God, attended a wedding in Galilee and was no doubt, part of the great joy on that occasion. The things He taught and the things He did often had great signifiance in relation to the Jewish understanding of betrothal and marriage. Even the Last Supper and His death on the cross have deep meaning for us as the Bride of Christ.
I have been captivated by the theme of romance, not only as a woman, but as a Christian. What I've discovered in my study has made me see my relationship with Christ in a whole new way. I am so excited about the new study book, Redeeming Romance: Delighting in God's Love. It is a message that I cannot get away from. It thrills my heart with its powerful beauty and makes me anticipate heaven more. After all, every bride looks forward to her wedding day.
(Look for the new study Redeeming Romance:Delighting in God's Love, available at Dayton IHC and for pre-order from http://www.wphonline.com/)