A few hours ago my wife and I stood beneath a wedding canopy gazing happily at one of our beautiful daughters, Miriam, and the young man she has chosen to accompany through life. The ancient phrases in the prayer book I clutched appeared a little blurred through my teary eyes. Actually, recalling the event now is making this computer screen a bit blurry too.
This wedding played my emotions like B.B. King played his famous guitar. Just as each of his string-bending vibratos I once heard on Beale Street in Memphis sounded unique, so this wedding felt unique. Which is strange because its format was virtually indistinguishable from 124 other weddings at which I have been privileged to officiate.
Obviously every couple was unique, but each ceremony closely resembled all the others. At every wedding I followed the same traditional script, exercising no creative originality. Furthermore, there was little of a personal and individualistic nature with which I could have embellished Miriam’s wedding. The structure of a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony is tightly proscribed.
It would have been easy had I asked Miriam to prepare some personal prose for her chosen who, in turn, could have recited a few moving lines about his feelings. That way we could have had a truly memorable ceremony.
But I am only the messenger of a Boss who issued clear directions that leave me little room for spontaneity or creativity. These instructions specify how we introduce a man and a woman into the holy covenant of marriage. Chiefly, the man formally accepts upon himself legally binding obligations.
You might consider this unsentimental process to be unduly legalistic; ignoring the rapture and romance of the occasion. Yet, the ceremony’s structure is precisely what promises stability. Ancient Jewish wisdom observes that legalities lead to love while love can sometimes end in legalities.
Business partners know that beginning with a firm contract is the surest way to a happy and durable partnership. Though men and women usually feel the emotional intensity of love and longing, marriage can still benefit from listing all major expectations. Love is a frighteningly unspecific sensation upon which to build a life.
Obviously love and attraction are a prerequisite for a man and woman considering marriage. However, what distinguishes the covenant of marriage from the coupling of lust, are precisely the legal commitments.
A few hours ago a young man stood alongside his beautiful bride. Before official witnesses, he pronounced his commitment to support our daughter. He undertook to provide for her every need; emotional, financial, and physical. My daughter then plighted her troth to him in affection and sincerity by allowing him to place his ring upon her finger.
Uttering personal vows alone on the beach in Acapulco or having barefoot ceremonies in a grassy meadow with guitar-playing poets is not sufficient for a Jewish marriage.
A legal ceremony binds together, not only my daughter and her husband, but also binds the two of them to the past, the present, and the future. Present at the wedding today were both the visible and the invisible generations that carried the couple to this day. Miriam and AJ looked out at all their family and friends knowing that their bond ties them also to the community. And gazing into one another’s eyes the two of them knew they are forming a magical and mysterious bond with the future.
My wife and I smiled knowingly at one another. This ancient legal ceremony precisely echoed our own wedding of a few years ago. We pray that theirs will bring the knight and his lady the same joy, creativity, spontaneity, and romance that ours brings us.
God lays out His blueprint for marriage in the early verses of the book of Genesis. Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals insights from the original Hebrew text and I present many of these permanent principles packaged in practical and useful ways in my audio CD set Madam I’m Adam—Decoding the Marriage Secrets of Eden. It makes a wonderful gift for both the newly-wed and the long-wed eager to enhance their partnerships. We’re offering $10 off online orders this week. Next week we’ll explore the peculiar examples of love in Scripture.