What Weddings Can Teach Us About Community
Mishpachah (family). K’dushah (holiness). Ahavah (love).
These elements comprise the essence of every life event, both joyous celebrations and times of sorrow. They are the ingredients of our most treasured relationships; they lie at the foundation of any community.
Family, holiness, and love were present in large measure in my son Adam's birth ceremony, consecration, bar mitzvah, and confirmation, and even in his graduations from elementary school, middle school, high school, and college.
All of the same elements were present when Adam got married this year, too, but it was different, somehow.
It was deeper.
It was unique.
All of those other life events are significant landmarks along the path of life, bringing both sides of a family together. A wedding, though, is a moment of creation, when two families become one through the union of the couple standing under the chuppah (wedding canopy). Weddings also define which friends have become family-by-choice, not just through their presence on the guest list but through the connection they feel to the couple and the future events by which a shared history will unfold. Mishpachah, family, is a tree of generations, a web of connections, a story of how all of those bonds came to be and will continue to grow.
All religious and secular life events include specific rituals that set them apart from other moments, giving those times a dimension of k’dushah, holiness. A Jewish wedding typically includes: the chuppah, the canopy that represents the couple's first home; rings that illustrate their union as they form a circle of two; wine as a symbol of joy; and the breaking of a glass at the end of a wedding ceremony. With the shout of "Mazal tov!" this final tradition offers the culmination of a holy celebration often called kiddushin (taken from the root word for holiness).
Adam and Juli’s sacred ceremony was linked with weekly sacred Jewish time. We welcomed Shabbat with selected prayers before the rehearsal dinner, participating with Juli's parents. The next night, we recited Havdalah together before the signing of the ketubah (marriage contract), and then we moved into the wedding itself. We entered the holy space of kiddushin having marked the beginning and end of Shabbat, of which it has been said, "More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people." I know, that Shabbat will define a regular part of life for Adam and Juli, not only in time but in its underlying values of creation and working for freedom and liberation for all people. Those principles reflect a k’dushah all their own.
Ahavah, love, is central to what Rabbi Akiba called the "fundamental principle of the Torah": Love your neighbor as yourself. It is, of course, all-important in a marriage, in family relationships and friendships, and in the interconnections of community that we have the opportunity to create together.
As I looked around at those assembled for Adam and Juli's wedding, I could see the love in their eyes for the couple. I could hear the depth of the bonds between each of the rabbis and the bride and groom. I could sense the spirit that flowed between the parents standing on either side of the chuppah and the two people who were about to merge their life stories into one. Throughout the weekend, as I looked around at those present, I thought about how so many of them were a part of my own story, including my wife’s and my shared journey.
Yes, there was mishpachah, family. Yes, there was k’dushah, holiness, because of the uniqueness of the tales we have spun through shared experiences. And there was ahavah, love – not only among family, but among friends, as well. Such love can be a powerful source of joy, inspiration, and hope. As I picked up Adam's high school friends at the train station, I was reminded of the love and friendship that exists between them – and what a joy it is to behold.
Now, a young woman new to our family calls my wife “Mom” and me “Dad”; our son will call her parents the same. Mishpachah, k’dushah, and ahavah will guide us in strengthening newly formed ties that we will always cherish.
We know that this can happen in any type of community, if we see each other as part of the same family, if we are willing to recognize that what brings us together is unique and special, and if we allow the love of our neighbor and the love of God to embrace and engulf our souls. Then we will know what it truly means to be one.