When our daughter got married, I knew her wedding would be a special experience for many of our friends who had never seen an Orthodox Jewish wedding before, but I hadn't realized just how special it would be. Bob told me beforehand that he had heard from others about the separate dancing for the men and the women, and I had described to him how people attend Orthodox weddings not merely to enjoy themselves, but to create joy for the bride and groom too. But nothing really prepared him for the gamut of intense emotion that seemed to pervade the whole atmosphere.
He was amazed how the mood of the crowd could jump so quickly, from one minute to the next. Teary eyes and sniffling accompanied the solemn music as the bride slowly walked down the aisle towards her husband-to-be. You could hear a pin drop as she circled him under the canopy seven times, tightly holding on to the hands of my wife and her new mother-in-law. But then, moments later, as the ceremony came to a close and the groom smashed the cup in remembrance of the Temple's destruction, the startling sounds of shattering glass gave way to euphoric ecstasy, as the lively music erupted to the sounds of singing, clapping, and dancing.
Juggling, somersaults, and perspiring faces wreathed in joy filled the room as the lively singing and dancing continued unabated throughout the evening. The release of such a torrent of emotions was something Bob had never experienced elsewhere. It set me thinking. What exactly is it about a wedding that can generate so much feeling?
What distinguishes marriage from any other relationship is its level of commitment. Marriage represents the deepest connection between two parties. The marital knot is so difficult to break -- in an emotional, legal, as well as in a spiritual sense -- because the husband and wife have invested so much in their commitment to one another. It is this commitment that is celebrated so joyously at a wedding.
The Talmud describes Shavuot, the day marking the giving of the Torah, as the wedding day between the Almighty and the Jewish people. The nation standing at the foot of Mount Sinai represents the couple standing under the canopy, while God's giving the Torah to the nation represents the groom placing the ring on his bride's finger.
What exactly is the parallel between the wedding and the giving of the Law?
Shavuot, too, marks a total commitment; the commitment between God and the Jewish people. The nation's declaration of "Na'asaeh V'Nishma," -- "We will do and we will understand," was a promise to follow the law under all circumstances, just as the bride pledges her faithfulness to her beloved under all circumstances. And in the same manner as the groom who accepts upon himself to love and cherish his bride forever, God committed himself not to forsake the Jewish people for all times.
We celebrate Shavuot as the anniversary of the original commitment made at Mount Sinai. But it does not only commemorate ancient history; it is a renewal of the original nuptial vows. The word "Shavuot" has the same root as the Hebrew word "shevuah" -- an oath. Each year on Shavuot we renew our nuptial vows to our Beloved Creator.
Many people have the custom to stay up all night, engaged in studying Torah. This reenacts the great excitement and love of the wedding night. The Torah, we explained, is compared to the wedding ring, and is admired and cherished through our study, displayed with great pride as a sign of our eternal commitment.
Shavuot is truly the wedding season of the Jewish people. Mazel tov!