The Oy in My Joy!

Wedding canopyA WEDDING IS a joyous celebration and yet, two key symbols of the ceremony remind us of the Jewish duty to address the pain of the stranger. The couple stands under a huppah, representing the model Jewish home. The rabbis teach that this is the tent of Abraham and Sarah, who exemplified hospitality. The Torah describes Abraham sitting at the entrance to his desert tent when he spots travelers at a distance [Genesis 18:1]. He rushes to greet them, invites them to wash their feet, sip water and rest in shade. Sarah and Abraham hurriedly prepare a lavish feast for these strangers. The rabbis imagine our ancestor’s tent as open on all four sides so that passerby’s would always see a welcome opening. The huppah, open on all four sides, is a reminder to seek opportunities to help those in need.  Punctuating the end of the ceremony, the groom shatters a glass. This ritual originates with the Talmud’s description of the wedding of the son of Mar son of Ravina [Berachot 30b]. Attendees danced with abandon when the revered fourth-century, Babylonia sage emerged from his home with a fine crystal. He strode into the revelry and smashed the expensive glass conveying, “Even in our greatest joy we much remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.” The image took hold and the rabbis taught that in this world celebration is bittersweet: celebrating joy while retaining awareness of the duty to help repair a broken world. I recently traveled to the Dominican Republic as a rabbinic fellow of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS). Ruth Messinger, who led the organization for the past eighteen years, introduced us to local grantees, grassroots’ human-right’s organizations. I witnessed much pain and progress. For instance, I see before me Junior, who shows me his birth certificate. In order to gain acceptance to the university he needs the document authenticated, but he has no parents to do so. He has waited for over four years as the national bureaucracy has put him off. He is as if stateless. “Have you seen a lawyer?” I ask. “No, I cannot afford to do so.”  The grantee that morning provides attorneys for those in need. An attorney nearby writes down his contact information explaining that there is a path to validating his birth certificate by producing school transcripts. Tears well up as if finally finding hope. A Hillel rabbi on our group says to Ruth, “So many of my students do not want to hear about the needs of the stranger. They just want to relax at Hillel and socialize. What should I tell them about this work?” Ruth replies, “Just say, ‘This is Judaism.’” May we find much to celebrate in our lives and may we do so as Jews, aware that even in our greatest joy we are to remember our duty to tend to G-d’s other children who are in need.

Rabbi Spitz is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine. 

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