Friday, June 06, 2008

Kimsos chatan al kalah

There is a custom at Jewish weddings that the bride walks in a circle around the groom several times before taking her place under the chuppah. I have never seen a good explanation for this, but skimming through Tanach this afternoon I came across an idea which HAS to be the correct explanation.

Yirmiyahu 31:20-21 says:
שובי בתולת ישראל, שבי אל עריך אלה. עד מתי תתחמקין, הבת השובבה? כי ברא יהוה חדשה בארץ, נקבה תסובב גבר

I would roughly translate this as "Return, O virgin of Israel, return to these your cities. How long will you turn away, you elusive girl? For Hashem has created a new thing in the earth: a woman shall circle a man."

The metaphor, of course, is that God and Israel are the man and woman courting each other. Historically men took the active role in courting women; similarly, God courted us by performing miracles and giving us land and the Torah. But in the messianic era, the equation will be reversed as Israel, the "woman", will "circle" and thereby court God by reaching out for Him with unprecedented spiritual enthusiasm. "I will let loose hunger in the land - not hunger for bread or thirst for water, but to hear the words of Hashem."

The wedding custom seems to be a direct acting out of the verse in Yirmiyahu: literally, the woman circles the man.

If you know the verse's context, it is clear that the custom alludes to the Jewish people's collective destiny and our continued hope for redemption. In this respect, it is like the smashing of the glass done a few minutes later. Both customs indicate our longing for the rebuilding of the Temple and for the messianic era, at which point our rejoicing will finally be complete.

1 comment:

Ari said...

Many point to this passuk as the sources, as you point out.