I am sorry not to able to attend your wedding this weekend.
I know you will have, among the assembled dignitaries, my colleagues Rabbis Lord Sacks and Bayfield and I know also that they have given you a pair of Sabbath candlesticks – to bring light into your married life together, and a donation to your Charitable Fund – to allow you to begin your married life by bettering the lot of others.
Both wonderful gifts.
I’m sure there will be many others.
Let me offer a different kind of gift, one costing nothing and simultaneously of a value beyond pearls; some words of Torah.
A Jewish wedding comes in two parts; ‘Kiddushin’ and ‘Nisuin.’ They suggest very different approaches to the value and nature of a marriage.
‘Kiddushin,’ usually translated as ‘betrothal’ shares an etymology with the Hebrew word for Holy (as in the angels’ cry from Isaiah, made even more famous by Handel’s setting, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts’). But as much as you might worship the ground each other walk on, holiness, in matters divine or matrimonial, is not about being impressed with the other. It is about setting the other apart. God, we believe, is wholly other to any other force or power in the Universe and allowing any other force or power to occupy any of the absolute sanctity that is owed only to God is considered to break one of the Ten Commandments – the prohibition against idolatry.
So too a marital partner, through this act of Kiddushin, becomes set apart, unique demanding an exclusivity of emotion and action. Allowing any other possible partner to intrude on the absolute fidelity owed to a betrothed spouse is considered to break another of the Ten Commandments – the prohibition against adultery.
The temptations are many and it may well be that we humans struggle with monogamy, but this is the insistence of Bible both Jews and Christians hold dear. This commitment to Kiddushin, a unique, separated relationship made to the exclusion of all others is the essential sine qua non without which marriage has no meaning.
‘Nisuin’ – the second part of a Jewish wedding shares an etymological root with the word for bearing a burden. During our most special days of prayer, Jews pray to God, ‘nosei avon avot’ – who bore away the sins of our ancestors, and us. Marriage is about the sharing of a burden or, more personally, shouldering the burdens carried by the other. The story is told of one of the great Rabbinic leaders of the last century, Aryeh Levine, who arrived one day in the doctor’s surgery next to his wife, ‘Doctor,’ he said, ‘my wife’s foot is hurting us.’ Married life should bring wonderful rewards and glorious opportunities for celebration, both this weekend and in the years to come, but the test of the strength of a marriage is not measured by the length of a wedding train, the fragrance of blooms or even the sweet words you will share stood at the altar. It is measured by your willingness and success in shouldering the burdens of the other over years and decades to come.
I wish you a lifetime of love and happiness together, may you live up to the mighty expectations incumbent upon those who, one day, will come to the throne of this great country. But may you never forget that a wedding is better judged by the exclusivity of one great relationship and the sharing of intimate burdens, than any of the wonders that await you this coming weekend. Remembering this will make you a better husband and wife, Prince and Princess and man and woman.
Rabbi Jeremy Gordon