One of the more popular films of 2005 was the comedy hit “The Wedding Crashers”. It related the antics of two bachelors who crashed weddings in the hope of meeting eligible women.
Jewish tradition also deals with the issue of unexpected wedding guests, but of a highly different nature.
A brief look at the three types of visitors who might “crash” a Jewish wedding provides wonderful insight into the law and lore of Jewish values, as well as a profound understanding of the Jewish wedding itself.
The three unexpected “crashers” include departed souls, the Creator, and the poor and needy.
While conventional texts of Jewish law make almost no mention of afterlife, according to the Zohar, the classic work of Jewish mysticism, souls of departed ancestors may be present at the wedding.
It writes: “Even though his (the groom’s) father and mother have departed from this world, they participate in every ‘simcha’ (joyous occasion). The Holy One, Blessed Be He, goes to the Garden of Eden and takes the groom’s father and mother, who are partners with the Creator (in giving birth to the groom) and brings them along with Him to the simcha. And all of them are present but the people are unaware.”
Other opinions go so far as to say that even the grandparents and great grandparents are present as well.
What’s so remarkable about this passage is not only that the souls of the departed participate in the wedding, but the Creator, Himself, takes them by the hand, so to speak, and personally escorts them to the wedding. And, as if this were not enough, the Creator too is a guest at every wedding!
Being the skeptic and rationalist that I am, I never placed much faith in this idea until the birth of my youngest son, eleven years ago.
Several months before he was born my mother passed away.
When we conducted his “brit milah” (circumcision) eight days after his birth, as is traditionally done, I had the strangest feeling that my deceased mother was amongst the celebrants.
I can’t explain it, but I felt her presence near. I had never experienced that feeling prior to this event, nor have I since. But I’m convinced, on that special morning, she was with us.
The third type of Jewish wedding crashers I’ve become accustomed to see are more prevalent in Israel than in America. These are those whom the Kabbalah refers to as society’s “broken vessels”. The poor, the hungry, and the homeless.
At my own wedding, twenty six years ago in New York, the planning of seating arrangements was a major undertaking. Taking care to make sure that each guest was seated with the right people, required considerable thought and sensitivity. Every table and chair was carefully accounted for.
In Israel, where I’ve lived for the last twenty five years, weddings are much more informal.
Usually there is no reserved seating. Guests tend to sit wherever they feel comfortable. It is not uncommon at Israeli weddings for a number of uninvited guests to also attend. These include the indigent and the less fortunate members of society.
Jewish law is very explicit in it’s demands that the wedding feast is not complete unless such guests are present and seated. The groom himself must take special care to personally attend to these guests and show them honor and appreciation. He must do his utmost to make them feel welcome.
In reward for such behavior the bride and groom are assured a life of happiness and blessing. Which they most certainly deserve.
So the next time you attend a simcha, look for the Jewish wedding crashers. These are the departed souls, the Creator, and the poor and needy.
And if you, like I, initially have difficulty finding them, rest assured that when you witness the hungry and homeless leaving the wedding hall, their handbags filled with rolls and overflowing with food… you’ll know for certain that the first two “crashers” are also present.
And you will understand why the Creator, who takes particular pleasure seeing His needy children fed and cared for (especially by the bride and groom, on this, their wedding night)personally escorts the souls of the proud, departed parents, to witness their precious children’s wedding.