The Parshah of Chayei Sarah recounts the story of the first Jewish marriage, that of Isaac and Rebecca. That makes this a good week to present a classic teaching about the meaning of the wedding ceremony.
chanoch adds: Many of these different discussions come from the Oral Tradition which has been written in the Talmud among other sources.
It is an orthodox minhag for the bride and groom to separate and not see each other for the full week before the wedding. This is to build the vessel of desire for each other.
It is also an orthodox minhag for both bride and groom to fast the 24 hours prior to the wedding. This is to elevate the consciousness to the spiritual level and bring that level of consciousness into their marriage.
Before the actual wedding ceremony begins, the groom traditionally sits with relatives and friends and says some words of Torah. In many circles, he will discuss the following maamar, which was delivered by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 1954. In doing so, the groom is inviting the Rebbe to be present at the wedding.
If you listen carefully, you will notice that an entire chain of rebbes are mentioned by name, from the Arizal and the Baal Shem Tov up to the Rebbe’s predecessor and father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. As they are mentioned, each comes to participate in the celebration.
chanoch adds: If someone is not following the Chabad minhag it is good to say and list these Tzadikim including all the Tzadikim that the groom feels a connection with. Also include members of both the bride and grooms family that have already passed. I am of the opinion that it is good to mention all those that have chosen for whatever reason to not attend since mentioning their names brings their soul energy into the wedding and is asking for their Blessing which will always be given by the soul.
chanoch adds: Please note that no weddings in any Jewish denominations takes place on actual Shabbat. In some denominations a leniency is given for the weddings that start before Sundown on Saturday evening. According to Orthodox Halacha these people have “broken “ Shabbat and therefore are no longer in Shabbat.
“Come, my beloved, to greet the bride! Let us behold the Shabbat!”
At the Rebbe’s wedding, his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, unveiled the innermost meaning of this verse. He quoted from Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer that a groom is like a king. A bride is like a queen.
In this case, he continued, the groom, the king, is G‑d; and the bride, the queen, is the Jewish People.
That tells us that when the groom and bride meet under the chuppah, it's not just these two souls uniting. We say, “Come my beloved to greet the bride!” and we are inviting G‑d to approach His people with the anticipation and love that a groom feels for his bride.
And yet deeper:
The Kabbalah provides an intricate map of relationships at their origin. Zeir Anpin and malchut are the masculine and feminine of the divine. The Kabbalah provides an intricate map of relationships at their origin. That’s the ten sefirot, which are the divine, inner soul of every thing in our world. And their interactions are the soul of every communication in the world. Within the ten sefirot, the masculine and feminine aspects are called zeir anpin and malchut.
In our case, zeir anpin is the groom, and malchut is the bride—so that we are inviting zeir anpin to greet malchut. Under the chuppah, we are uniting the feminine and the masculine aspects of the divine.
In that talk, the Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, explains that there are two steps to this unification.
In the first step, as zeir anpin meets malchut, the effect is all-encompassing, dramatically shifting the relationship. Nevertheless, the effect is only external. Only after that is zeir anpin drawn to malchut in an inner way, so that there’s a real, inner change.
In every relationship where one is transmitting and the other is receiving, called mashpia – sharing or transmitting and mekabel – receiving. In every relationship where one is transmitting and the other is receiving, you will find the same order. We call the two parties of such a relationship the mashpia and the mekabel.
In the initial meeting of the mashpia and the mekabel, you could say the outside of the mashpia makes contact with the outside of the mekabel. Yet in that external meeting, the mekabel enters into the world of the mashpia. Now the mekabel is ready to receive in an inner way.
In the maamar – speaking/teaching, the Previous Rebbe provides two examples of this dynamic. One describes how a teacher relates to a student; the other describes how a father plays with his small child.
These are not just examples of the two stages these relationships pass through. They also describe something very profound about each of these two stages.
First, they tell us that the external meeting provides something that cannot be provided in an inner meeting. Because, in this meeting, the mashpia does not need to compromise with the mekabel’s capacity to absorb. That’s why it has such a powerful, all-encompassing effect on the mekabel.
Nevertheless, this is only a preface to the inner meeting. In the inner meeting, the mashpia must constrain himself to provide only that which the mekabel can receive. Yet it's through that inner meeting that they can both reach higher, even beyond that all-encompassing effect.
That’s the meaning of the chuppah. As the Alter Rebbe explains, the chuppah encompasses the groom and bride as one. When that stage comes first, then the inner connection that follows takes them to a yet higher place, a place where the very essence of both of them meet and unite as one.
chanoch adds: The groom stands under the Chuppah by himself without the bride and watches the Bride walk toward him in the processional. The groom exits the Chuppah to greet the bride and receive her from her father. This is the external meeting of the mashpia and mekabel. Then they both enter the Chuppah together – this is the internal meeting of the mashpia and mekabel, in my opinion.
Now let's look at those two examples.
The Talmud tells us that a teacher begins his lecture with a joke. Everyone laughs together. Then, when he's actually teaching, the students are sitting in awe, absorbing his wisdom.
On the one hand, the opening joke provides only a superficial glimpse of the teacher's mind. On the other hand, it’s with that small glimpse that the students are drawn into their teacher’s way of thinking. Now they are able to absorb the lesson that follows.
There's a whole Kabbalah to laughter. The Mittler Rebbe describes laughter as simple, undiluted pleasure. The Rebbe Rashab says that's what we are talking about here. Laughter acts as a kind of chuppah, an all-encompassing effect that is a vital preface to the inner connection that follows.
The inner connection is when the teacher transmits knowledge to the students. There's pleasure there too, but it's diluted by the pursuit of knowledge.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but the point is that the laughter is actually a more powerful transmission, from a more essential place within the teacher, than the lesson that follows.
Nevertheless, when the students absorb the teacher's lesson, truly internalizing it, and the teacher sees that, he experiences an even higher form of pleasure—such a deep pleasure that the teacher and student aren't even aware of it. It's beyond feeling.
That explains the assertion of the rabbis that you learn more from your students than from your teachers or colleagues. Because when your students absorb your teachings and make them their own, that touches the very essence of your being.
chanoch adds: As one knows I usually do not start my teachings with a joke, although I do try to bring out laughter of my students about their lives. Actually my teachings are external and only become potentially internal when a student internalizes the teaching/lessons.
Next comes the example of a father who wants to play with his little child. The child lives in a different world than the father, down there on the floor. So the father stoops down and picks him up.
The father hasn’t given anything to the child and the child hasn’t yet received anything from his father. Yet, through this uplifting, the child enters the father’s world. Now they can relate to one another.
The imagery of a child playing with his father’s beard has deep meaning. When the Mezritcher Maggid gave this example, he mentioned that the child plays with the father's beard. There's meaning there.
The beard represents the thirteen divine attributes of mercy that are beyond this world—and therefore capable of repairing it. And yet, they are still related to the world. They are, after all, G‑d’s compassion for His world.
In this way, the beard signifies the initial, external and all-encompassing connection—the delight the father shows by just playing with his child. Through that play, when the father begins to teach the child, the connection is much deeper. It reaches to the very core of both of them, uniting them there.
The Tzemach Tzedek explains this dynamic in many places: The initial meeting is actually much more powerful, but it’s the internal union that leads to the core-essence.
We go through this process on a daily basis.
We start the day with our prayers. The rabbis say that if you go out of your way to greet someone before you’ve said your morning prayers, it’s as though you made offerings on a forbidden altar.
The Rebbe Maharash explains: Before you have prayed, you are your own altar. Only once you've prayed are you connected to the divine.
To make that connection, the same two-step order applies. First there has to be an external kind of meeting. You reflect on how your soul is captured within a body and a mundane, limiting world. You feel bitter over the distance between you and anything divine.
To pray means to no longer be your own altar. After that, the prayer itself is an inner connection—so deep that you can now draw the divine into all your daily, material concerns. You can even make them expressions of the divine.
How can prayer make everyday activities divine?
There’s a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that explains that. The Baal Shem Tov asks, “What’s so terrible about greeting someone before praying?” And he answers according to a teaching of the Arizal.
The Arizal explains why all the siblings have to respect the oldest son. He describes a stream of life flowing from the father through each child, beginning with the the oldest and from there, step by step, to the other children. It comes out that the oldest son is the first, most vital transmission of the father’s spirit, upon which all the other sons depend.
The Baal Shem Tov applies the same principle to your thoughts, words and actions over the day. They all extend, receive life, and are shaped by the very first words you say when you wake.
Your first words of the day are the channel from which all your other words extend. If so, the first words you say—and the first thoughts, and actions— have to be connected to your divine mission on earth, which is to serve your Maker. That way, you bring that divine mission into all your thoughts, words and actions of your entire day. And that’s no small thing. It says, “There’s tremendous produce in the power of an ox.” Meaning: By harnessing an ox, a human can harvest far more produce. So too, by harnessing the everyday, material world in your divine mission, you unleash the very essence of divine power.
chanoch adds: This is why we say 12 or 13 words upon waking up and before we leave the bed. They are Modeh or Modah Ani Lefanecha Melech chai Vekayam Shehehchehzartah Be Nesmati BeChemlah. - BeChemlah – if singing – Rabah Ehmunatecha.
BeChemlah is a word that relates to Mercy and Compassion. Its gematria is 85 which relates to the mouth and indicates that one does two things with the mouth. Eat and Speaks. This is why it is doubled in the singing rendition of Modeh Ani.
When one says 12 words one is connecting to HaShem within the 3 columns of the Tree of Life. When one sings 13 words one is connecting to the full unity of all of creation.
All this brings us back to the idea of uniting the masculine and feminine aspects of the ten sefirot. We need to ask the question: Why is it that only when the masculine enters the feminine in an inner way, only then do they both attain something so high, so essential?
The feminine aspect of the sefirot has much deeper roots, in “the beginning that cannot be known.” The reason is because the feminine aspect of the ten sefirot has much deeper roots than the masculine. The feminine is rooted in a place called “the beginning that cannot be known.” From there, it descends into creation, and with that descent those roots become concealed.
It’s up to the masculine aspect, zeir anpin, to uncover those roots. And when zeir anpin does that, then malchut, the feminine aspect, rises beyond zeir anpin, the masculine.
Now we can understand why the order has to follow those two steps:
First, zeir anpin—represented by the groom— has to be introduced to malchut—represented by the bride— in a way that expresses the advantage of zeir anpin’s qualities over malchut. What's that advantage? Quite simply, that only zeir anpin can connect malchut back to her roots.
But zeir anpin’s qualities are limited, as we explained earlier. So there has to be that inner connection. The whole point of that inner connection is for zeir anpin to put its own qualities aside and focus on the qualities of malchut.
It’s only through that kind of connection that we reach the place where malchut is rooted—far beyond the roots of zeir anpin. In fact, at that point there’s a reversal, and malchut becomes mashpia to zeir anpin.
That’s the meaning of the verse, “A woman of valor is the crown of her husband.” The crown is above the head, and empowers a king to rule.
chanoch adds: Understand this well. The female is above the male and when this happens she motivates his spiritual growth. When she is below the male she undermines his spiritual growth.
There’s then two extremes with malchut, parallel to the two extremes expressed in Shabbat.
On the one hand, Shabbat is the mekabel—it receives from the six days that precede it. If you don’t prepare anything during those six days, you don’t have anything to eat on Shabbat.
On Shabbat, there’s a reversal, and the feminine empowers the masculine. On the other hand, not only is Shabbat the holiest of all days, but Shabbat is mashpia to all of them. All the days of the week are blessed by Shabbat.
chanoch adds: Shabbat acts as the Mashpia to the 6 days of the coming week.
Why is it that way? Because Shabbat is related to malchut.
Malchut is that divine, feminine force that descends into our world to purify and elevate it, beginning with the animal within us. That labor of purification happens during the six days of work.
But through that labor, malchut—and so Shabbat—rises to a place beyond the six days, beyond zeir anpin.
Now let’s go back to that verse, “Come, my beloved, to greet the bride! Let us behold the Shabbat!”
As we said, that’s us beckoning zeir anpin to enter into malchut.
So the first step is just that zeir anpin should come to greet malchut. But through that, zeir anpin comes to behold the inner beauty of malchut, as she is rooted much higher than zeir anpin.
That’s why we say “Let us behold the Shabbat!” Us—in plural. Because not only will malchut be connected to her original place, but zeir anpin will also receive from that origin of malchut, through malchut.
With every mashpia and mekabel there’s a reversal at the end of the process. And that’s the way it works with every mashpia and mekabel—there’s this reversal at the end of the process. By connecting the mekabel to her roots, the mashpia attains something he cannot get on his own—as in the example of the teacher who gains more from his students than from any teacher or colleague.
It’s especially so with a groom and bride. At that point where the groom puts himself aside so that there can be an inner connection with the bride, that’s when a woman of valor becomes the crown of her husband.
Through that, an infinite light is brought into the world, which is manifest through upright and blessed children and children’s children occupied with Torah and mitzvos.
In The “Olden Days” (Before Avraham) People Did Not Get Old
There is an interesting Medrash in Parshas Chayei Sarah: On the pasuk “And Avraham was old, coming in days…” [Bereshis 24:1] the Medrash points out that Avraham asked for (signs of) old age. Avraham Avinu was the first person in the history of the world to “get old” and the Medrash says he in fact asked to “show his age”.
His argument was that a man and his son (who would look like each other and both would appear to be young and vigorous) would come together to a new place and the townspeople would not know to whom to give more honor and respect. In our world, we have many cases where fathers and sons look alike, but it is very obvious as to whom is the father and whom is the son. The individual who is wider around the waist and white in the beard and the head, the one with more wrinkles on his skin – he is the father. Avraham and Yitzchak had a problem. They looked alike and they both had black beards and their skin was the same.
The Almighty told Avraham that his request was a reasonable one. “By your life, this phenomenon will begin with you!” From the beginning of the Torah until Parshas Chayei Sarah the Torah does not use the word ziknah [old age], until this parsha where we read “And Avraham was old…”.
This request for “old age” and G-d’s concurrence, as it were, that it is a good idea runs counter to the mindset that we have today. Today, people do not want to get old, they don’t want to look old. People spend billions of dollars in order to remain and to look young. They use face lifts, cosmetic surgery, Grecian formula or Botox injections. People spend a lot of money in order to not look old. As Rav Shimshon Pincus, z”l, writes in his sefer, this has even crept into our circles. Chanoch adds: our circles refers to the Chabad participants yet it also applies ot all parts of the western world's populations.
We refer to certain great teachers in our tradition as “The Alter from Slabodka” and “The Alter from Kelm”. This literally means “The old man from Slabodka” or “The old man from Kelm”. This is not a pejorative and it is not a derogatory term. On the contrary – this is a badge of honor. In Eretz Yisrael where these individuals are referred to by a Hebrew (rather than a Yiddish) title, they are not referred to as “HaZaken mi Slabodka” or “HaZaken mi Kelm“, rather they are referred to as “HaSaba mi Slabodka“, etc. (the “Grandfather” from Slabodka, not the “old man” from Slabodka). Why? It is because even today, “ziknah” is something to be embarrassed about.
So what is the deeper message of Avraham’s request for “ziknah“? It is obvious that this was not merely a practical matter of trying to identify who is the father and who is the son. It would have been a much simpler idea to have them wear name tags. The father could have had the name ‘Avraham’ embroidered on his shirt and the son could have had a matching shirt with the name ‘Yitzchak’ embroidered upon it! Problem solved.
However, Avraham said, “No. I want to be old and I want to look like an old man.” And the Ribono shel Olam said, as it were, “It’s a great idea!”. So what has happened between the time of Avraham Avinu and our day and age? I don’t know historically when this focus on youth began – whether it’s a twentieth century phenomenon or a nineteenth century innovation. I am not sure when it started — but that is certainly the mindset today. People do not want to be old and they do not want to look old.
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus, z”l, offers the following insight: If a person has had an accomplished life and can look back proudly at his years, he is not upset at the fact that his future may be very limited. A person can look back at what he has acomplished and be proud of it. On the other hand, if people look back on their lives and do not have so much to show for them, the only thing that consoles them is the future that lies ahead of them. If you are 30 years old and you have a good 40, 50, or 60 years ahead of you then you have no problem with that. However, someone who is 60 or 70 years old knows that he has already lived most of his life. He faces the specter that “he may not have much time left”. A person wants to delude himself to think “I am still young. I still have a long time ahead of me.” What about the fact that I go to the mirror in the morning and I see that I am not so young? Well, there is a way of getting around that. There is cosmetic surgery, there is hair coloring and there are there are face lifts. I want to be young or I want to look young. I want to feel young. Why? Because I want to tell myself that the future still stretches in front of me.
When people live empty lives, they do not want to get old, look old or feel old. Avraham Avinu had no problem with this. Avraham was “bah b’yamim” – he made good use of every single day. He looks back – at this point in his history – and says “Yes, I know most of my life is over, but that does not upset me because I have what to show for it.” Therefore ‘ziknah‘ – old age, is a badge of honor to wear. “I am old, but look what I have done.” Therefore Avraham asked for ziknah. It is only when a person cannot be proud of the past and his whole mindset is “there is still a future” that he needs this charade that he still has a long and glorious future ahead of him even though chronologically that may not be the case.
As the Author says we do not know when this obsession to youth began; yet I am of the opinion that it is part of HaShem's plan to generate a desire for a younger body as part of the transition to the “resurrection of the dead”. Our sages teach that initially the way we come out of the grave will be the same as when we went out of the grave and then immediately we will return to a youthful age. This requires a desire and that is my reasoning for this aspect of the plan of Creation.
chanoch adds: Do you think there is a Shidduch Crises? It is the perception that women are delaying having children since they now have access to birth control. Why would this be happening in this generation? Perhaps we will answer this alter in the document.
The parsha deals with the episode of Avraham Avinu sending Eliezer on the most important mission of his life – to find an appropriate mate for Yitzchak. The future of Klal Yisrael depended on this match. The narration records that Avraham makes Eliezer swear that he will not take a girl of Canaanite lineage. As we have explained many times in the past, Avraham knew that Canaanite personality traits (midos) were not what he wanted in his daughter-in-law.
Avraham further instructed his servant not to take Yitzchak back to the land of Avraham’s birthplace and family: “Hashem, G-d of the heavens, Who took me from the house of my father and from the land of my birth; and Who spoke concerning me, and Who swore to me saying, ‘To your offspring will I give this land’; He will send His angel before you, and you will take a wife for my son from there.” [Bereshis 24:7].
Abraham was a Prophet and thus knew where Isaac's soul mate was located in the world. It is also important for people to realize that there is a “cosmic” soul mate for every soul. In earlier generations – prior to the flood – the soul mates were born with or close to the person. Perhaps a twin of a brother or a cousin relationship. This is who the Children of Jacob married – their brothers twin sisters – according to the Midrash.
In our generation it is difficult to find your “cosmic” soul mate. Yet this will need to happen, in my opinion, as part of the Mashiach consciousness. There are many marriages today that are not soul mate marriages yet when they went under the Chupah they became soul mates while married.
The ARI taught us signs to know a mate is a “cosmic” soul mate. There are 5 signs:
1. They have complementary astrological signs and charts.
2. They must cross a sea to meet. This can mean a physical sea or be just next door but not thinking of the other as a potential mate until they are ready.
3. They have a spiritual task and goal together.
4. Prior to the wedding the families do not want the marriage and do everything they can to stop the wedding. If there are no family members then the friends will try to do so.
5. Their love continues to grow through out their marriage. This last sign can not be determined until many years of marrage and that is so no one can be certain from a physical perspective.
back to the essay
Rashi notes that in Chapter 24 pasuk 3 Avraham uses the expression “I will have you swear by Hashem, G-d of the heavens and G-d of the earth” but in pasuk 7, a scant 4 pesukim later, Avraham merely invokes the name of “Hashem, G-d of the heavens…” without any reference to G-d also being the “G-d of the earth”. Why is this so? Rashi says (on pasuk 7) “…now – at this moment in history – he is the G-d of the heaven and the G-d of the earth for I have familiarized Him in the mouth of the people (i.e., for I have put people in the habit of mentioning him); but when He took me from my father’s house, He was G-d of the heavens, but not G-d of the earth, for those who lived in the world did not recognize Him.
I saw an interesting observation in the sefer Shemen HaTov from Rav Dov Weinberger. Is Avraham bragging to Eliezer? Is he saying, “You, know Eliezer, it is only because of me that G-d is now considered G-d of Heaven and G-d of earth as well!”? This is not Avraham Avinu. He is not boasting and he is certainly not boasting in front of Eliezer. So why does he stress “and G-d of the earth”?
Avraham Avinu was telling his servant, “Eliezer, now you are going to go do something called ‘finding a shidduch’ for my son. In order to find a shidduch, you need not only an Elokai haShamayim (G-d in Heaven), but you need an Elokai haAretz (G-d of the earth) as well. Shidduchim come about because of the direct involvement of the Ribono shel Olam. You cannot do this on your own and we cannot do this on our own, we need the involvement of the Master of the World.
As the Chazon Ish once said, in our day and time, when the Divine Providence of G-d is so often hidden, there is still one area of life where we can see the direct involvement of the Ribono shel Olam. That is in marriage matches. We see that indeed “marriages are made in heaven”.
Here on the threshold of sending his servant to find a match for his son, Avraham mentions that Hashem is the G-d of Heaven and also the G-d of earth. He is personally and actively involved in all that happens in helping us make our shidduchim.
This brings me to the following comment. As everyone painfully knows, there is a phenomenon that impacts our community that is commonly called “the shidduch crisis”. Unfortunately, there are hundreds if not thousands of singles in our community who want to get married but have not yet able to do so. While this is a problem that affects both boys and girls, it seems to be a much greater problem when it comes to girls.
I constantly receive calls inquiring about different boys in the Yeshiva. I can many times hear the panic and terror in the parents’ voices when they have an older daughter and she still has not yet found a shidduch. It is in fact a terrible crisis. Some time ago, a group of people joined together and initiated what is referred to by the acronym N.A.S.I. – The North American Shidduch Initiative.
Everyone has different theories as to the source of the problem. N.A.S.I. arranged for a group of actuarial scientists to ‘crunch the numbers’. They came up with the theory that the shidduch crisis is being exacerbated by the fact that boys tend to marry girls that are several years younger than them. The problem, they feel, derives from the rapid growth of the ‘frum‘ community. If one assumes a 3.5 – 4.5% growth rate per year and a 2.5 – 3.5 year gap between the age when boys are getting engaged and when girls are getting engaged, the mathematical basis for the problem is evident: If we assume a 4% growth rate per year, 100 ten year olds there will be 104 nine year olds and 108 eight year olds. So if boys on the average marry at age 23 and girls on the average marry at age 20, this means that for every 100 boys there will be 112 girls. This translates into a community that has a serious problem. The math decrees that there will be girls “left out” if all boys marry girls younger than themselves.
To solve this problem, N.A.S.I.’s goal is to encourage boys to marry girls that are closer in age to themselves and even to marry older girls. This is something tangible that can be done to address this problem. True the Ribono shel Olam is involved in the process, but we need to make our own efforts. Therefore by encouraging this shift in mindset as to what age girls and boys should consider marrying, we are doing something tangible to solve this problem.
N.A.S.I. is offering monetary rewards to people who make shidduchim where the boys are closer in age to the girls they marry or even younger than them. When bochrim in the Yeshiva come to me and ask me this question – and I get this shaylah very often – “Is there anything wrong with marrying a girl who is older than me”, I tell them the following fact: Rebbetzin Neubereger, ob”m, was older than Rabbi Neuberger ob’m and that Rabbi Neuberger even then was a smart man. To my knowledge, they had a wonderful marriage. In short, there is nothing wrong with going ahead with such a shidduch. So what if a girl is six months or even a year older than her chosson - groom? Even two years older, so what? Actuarially, men live fewer years than women. What is the problem?
This is an idea that is important to discuss on Parshas Chayei Sarah, the parsha of Shidduchim. We should have this idea in mind and people who have sons of marriageable age should encourage them to marry girls that are near their age or even older. Let us all take these ideas to heart and hopefully help contribute to the solution of this very painful problem.
This is the beginning of other life events in the Children of Israel. The Shidduch Problem will be discussed later as well.
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