Q. What is the significance of the Sheva B’rachot, the seven wedding blessings?
These seven blessings are recited under the chuppah, at the wedding feast and during the following seven days when the celebrations continue in the presence of family and friends.
The term sheva b’rachot is normally taken to mean seven benedictions pronounced on the marriage, but as the following indicates it may also be understood as the seven blessings which the couple hope for from their marriage.
Under the chuppah the blessing over wine comes first; at the meal table it comes last.
We are not certain who composed the benedictions; the text is recorded in the Talmud (K’tubot 7b/8a) but its origin is probably several centuries earlier.
Though the sheva b’rachot are a stylistically harmonious whole, they are a mosaic of skilfully interwoven Biblical words, phrases and ideas.
Taking the b’rachot in the order in which they come at the chuppah, the sources on which they are based include the following:
* 1st blessing – b’rachah for wine: Psalm 104:1.
* 2nd blessing – the creation of everything: Isa. 43:7.
* 3rd blessing – the creation of Adam: Gen. 2:8, 9:6.
* 4th blessing – the creation of Eve out of Adam’s rib: Gen. 1:27, 2:22, 5:1. “An everlasting structure of life” refers to Adam and Eve together founding the human race (Gen. 3:20).
* 5th blessing – Zion joyful to see her children gathered within her: Isa. 54:1, 61:10, 62:4-5.
* 6th blessing – the Eden-like joy of “loving companions” (the bride and groom, or according to some, their family and friends): Gen. 2:8.
* 7th blessing – the joy in messianic Jerusalem: Jer. 7:34, 33:10; Psalm 19:6; Joel 2:16.
The 3rd and 4th blessings both end “Yotzer ha’adam”, “Creator of man”, as there were two stages in man’s creation – the creation of Adam (Gen. 1:27) and of Eve (Gen. 5:2).
All the b’rachot except the 5th and 6th begin “Baruch attah HaShem…” (“Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe”).
These b’rachot acknowledge what God has actually done; the 6th and 7th pray that He may bring about certain events in the future. Both these b’rachot begin with a verb doubled for the sake of emphasis – “sos tasis” and “samme’ach t’sammach”.
The 6th and 7th b’rachot end with phrases that are similar but different – “m’samme’ach chatan v’kallah”, “He makes bridegroom and bride to rejoice” (5th b’rachah); “m’sammeach chatan im hakallah”, “He makes the bridegroom rejoice with the bride” (6th b’rachah).
This may suggest that it is only after the chuppah that the couple rejoice as “basar echad”, “one person” (Gen. 3:24).
Though the rabbi or cantor customarily recites the sheva b’rachot, the blessings are in fact not so much benedictions we invoke for the couple as their own blessings for each other. This is why they must be careful to say Amen, and why it is they who drink the wine.
The rabbi or cantor recites the blessings in order not to cause embarrassment to anyone who is not literate in Hebrew.
Whilst there is poetry in the blessings, there is also philosophy. They represent the two poles of history – creation and redemption. They begin with Adam and Eve and conclude with the messianic fulfilment.
The link between past and future, between creation and redemption, is the bridal couple. The marriage and home they create can help to bring about the messianic era.
During the seven days of celebration the sheva b’rachot require a “new face” (“panim chadashot”) to be present. Though marriage is a private experience it is celebrated in the midst of the community.
PRAYING THREE TIMES A DAY.
Q. Why do Jews pray three times a day?
A. In the late Biblical period, prayer three times a day was an established practice (Daniel 6:11).
The Talmud (B’rachot 26b-27b) presents two theories as to the origin of the three daily services:
1. The first attributes the three services to the Patriarchs.
Abraham who “rose early… to the place where he had stood before the Lord” (Gen. 19:27), instituted morning prayers.
Isaac, who “went out to meditate in the field towards evening” (Gen. 24:63), introduced afternoon prayers.
Jacob, who “happened upon a place” (or “entreated God who is in every place”) when the sun set (Gen. 28:11), created the evening prayers.
2. The second theory is that Shacharit and Minchah replace the daily offerings in the Temple.
As there was no evening offering, Ma’ariv was originally not obligatory, though the evening Sh’ma was always required (Deut. 6:4-9; Mishnah B’rachot 1:1).
The equation of prayer with sacrifices is suggested by Hosea 14:3, “We shall replace bullocks with the offering of our lips”, and the rabbinic comment, “Just as the service is called ‘Avodah’ (Divine service), so is prayer ‘Avodah’” (Sifre to Deut. 2:13).