Honorable Mentchen: Wedding Joy

13 12 2011
Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hanoch Teller  

One of the prime expressions of chesed (kindness) is the mitzva of attending a wedding. A wedding is not about having a good time but rather about bringing happiness to the bride and groom by your presence. This is accomplished by speaking and endearing the bride and groom to each other.

If the bride and groom are orphans or impoverished the mitzva is compounded. The Mishna says that there is no limit to the reward for someone who provides assistance to a needy bride. In fact, in Jewish law it is only permitted to sell a Torah scroll for two reasons: to support Torah study and to help an impoverished bride marry.

Rabbi Sacks relates a story that highlights the phenomenal power of chesed. In 1956, an eleven year old black boy moved to a white neighborhood in Washington with his family. He sat on the stoop outside and passersby neither smiled nor glanced at him. He felt very unwanted.

And all of a sudden a white woman walked up to him and said, “Welcome.” She returned shortly again with a tray of drinks and sandwiches. That moment changed his life. It gave him a sense of belonging and a warm feeling that someone cared. That young boy was Stephen Carter, who grew up to become a professor of law at Yale University.

He wrote a book called Civility which begins with this story. He writes, “She was a religious Jew and in Jewish tradition such civility is called chesed, acts of kindness, which derives from the teaching that humans are created in the Divine image.”

Chesed requires giving to others in hard times as well as in good times. It’s a love which grows stronger over time. Rabbi Sacks writes “Chesed is the poetry of everyday life written in the language of simple deeds.” It is love that begets love, a gift of self to self. Chesed humanizes the world. Avraham and Sarah brought Hashem into the world without any arguments or theological proofs. It was their acts of kindness which spoke volumes. Avraham didn’t know his guests were angels, yet he welcomed them hospitably. This is how a person becomes angelic, by treating people as if they were angels.

Avraham’s essence was chesed. Therefore, when he sought a wife for Yitzchak, he looked for chesed too. Chesed creates a relationship, a conjoined we. Material things diminish as they are distributed, but chesed keeps growing and growing and is never given in vain.

We cannot see Hashem face to face but we can see Him in the face of other people. The holiest vessel in the Temple was the ark which had two keruvim (cherubs) at the top. The Torah emphatically admonishes us not to fashion images. In addition the commandment to create the vessels of the Tabernacle came in the aftermath of the debacle of the golden calf. Yet Hashem took a risk by commanding us to fashion the cherubs to teach us that He would only appear when the keruvim were facing each other. When there is unity, the Divine Presence can rest among us.

A chasid once asked his Rebbe, “Why is Mashiach not here yet? “The Rebbe answered, “I will tell you a great secret. We are not waiting for Mashiach. He is waiting for us.” Then the Rebbe asked, “What would you do if Mashiach did arrive. Would you not greet him as a long lost friend?” “Of course,” replied the chassid. The Rebbe then said, “I will tell you what you must do and teach others too. Regard every person as if he might be the Mashiach. If we could do this, we will find that without our realizing it, Mashiach has already come.”

 

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