While there is much that occurs prior to the wedding ceremony, the time under the Chupah (canopy) is rich with tradition.
A Chupah is a wedding canopy under which the marriage ceremony takes place. It is symbolic of the home that the couple is about to build together. Open on all sides, the Chupah is a reminder of Abraham’s house, which was always open to guests.
In a traditional ceremony, the bride circles the groom seven times. The seven circuits represent the seven revolutions of the Earth during the seven days of Creation. Just as Shabbat, the seventh day, completed the Creation of the world, the seven circuits of the bride around the groom completes their search for each other. During this time, the bride can seize an opportunity to daven (pray) for all that the couple wants and for people in her life who are in need of prayer.
The Kiddushin consists of two blessings, one over the wine and one over the marriage. The bride and groom each drink from the cup of wine. Next, a solid unbroken ring is placed on the bride’s forefinger. The ring is another circle symbolizing the wholeness found within marriage and the never-ending bond the couple is about to enter.
The reading of the Ketubah separates Kiddushin from the second part of the wedding ceremony, Nissuin.
This part of the wedding ceremony consists of seven blessings (sheva brachot) that are said over a cup of wine. These blessings praise G-d for the creation of the world, the creation of man, the happiness of the bride and groom, and the renewal of the Jewish people as represented by the marriage. After all seven blessings are recited, the couple – again – drinks from the cup of wine.
At the conclusion of the wedding ceremony, the groom breaks a glass. This simple destruction in a couple’s highest moment, reminds us that even in our greatest joy, we must not forget the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people.
The fragility of the glass also suggests the frailty of human relationships. While the glass may shatter, we certainly do not want our marriages to break (look how hard it would be to put back together). After the sound of breaking glass, the crowd shouts “Mazal Tov” and the celebration continues with a festive meal.
Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav says that when people come to a wedding, they walk away with different experiences. One might say, “It was a beautiful wedding. I liked the food.” Another person says, “I met a lot of good friends there.”
Those two people were not really at the wedding. It is the third person who walks out saying, “Thank G-d those two got together!” – it is this person who was at the wedding!
A Jewish wedding is a joyous occasion filled with deep tradition and ritual. It is an opportunity for the entire community to celebrate the joining of two souls who were meant to be together.