To My Daughter the Bride: A Lesson in Chosenness
Yesterday morning, as I reviewed the news over breakfast, something unusual caught my eye. It wasn’t actually a news item, but it did appear in one of my usual news sources. There on the sidebar of The Times of Israel web page was this article with the title, “To My Daughter Under the Chupa”. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “Hey! In about a month I’ll have a daughter standing under a chupa. Maybe I should read this.”
I did read it, and I was greatly blessed. It is the speech Rabbi Shmuley Boteach presented recently at the wedding of his daughter. What I found in his remarks was something I have come to expect in Jewish biblical exposition: a profound depth of truth and wisdom that not only supports, but to a great extent completes what I learned in my Christian upbringing.
Perhaps it would be good to explain what a chupa is. It can also be spelled chuppa. The Hebrew pronunciation is difficult for an English speaker, but saying “hoopa” is close enough. One reputable Jewish source explains the chuppa this way:
The chuppah is a tapestry attached to the tops of four poles. The word chuppah means covering or protection, and is intended as a roof or covering for the bride and groom at their wedding.
The chuppah is not merely a charming folk custom, a ceremonial object carried over from a primitive past. It serves a definite, though complicated, legal purpose: It is the decisive act that formally permits the couple’s new status of marriage to be actualized, and it is the legal conclusion of the marriage process that began with betrothal. . . .
Chuppah symbolizes the groom’s home, and the bride’s new domain. More specifically, the chuppah symbolizes the bridal chamber, where the marital act was consummated in ancient times.
This helps explain what I mean when I say that Jewish learning complements my Christian learning. What I mean in this case is that the pastors and teachers I have been blessed to know have consistently taught me that I am part of the Bride of Christ. What they did not teach me was what that means. To understand this requires a Hebraic perspective that takes into account the entire record of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. That is where the Jewish learning comes in. The rabbis know that Israel is the chosen of God, and that He will betroth her as His bride. What the rabbis and the pastors together could not have known until now is that this blessed betrothed one, the Israel of the rabbis and the Church of the pastors, is the same corporate body of believers joined together in the covenant sealed with the blood of YHVH’s Anointed.
This is where we find the sublime revelation in Rabbi Boteach’s message to his daughter. Read it and you will find an explanation of what it means to be a bride: to be chosen rather than merely loved.
I know what it means to be chosen. It means being the one selected for the football team, or given the lead in the school play, or picked above one’s colleagues to receive an award, or blessed with a long-awaited promotion.
I know also what it means to not be chosen. It is the heartache, the anguish of knowing that my best was not good enough; that someone else was more special than I; that I was somehow counted unworthy. To be chosen brings an exhilaration beyond description; to be rejected brings despair beyond consolation.
If this is the case for something as mundane as a sports team or a theatrical performance, how much more profound is it in the question of the eternal covenant of YHVH? Is it any wonder that our Jewish brethren cling tightly to the designation of the Chosen People? They are right to do so.
And so also are our Christian brethren right to claim the designation of Chosen. What they do not realize, and what our Jewish brethren likewise do not see, is that Chosen refers to All Israel, both the Jewish and non-Jewish portions. The Jews are the natural-born heirs to that title, having never lost their identity. The rest of us can claim it only by the grace of the Almighty. In some ways our claim is more profound; we were not born into the nation, regardless what our genealogies may say. We were adopted into it – grafted in, as the apostle says.
To be adopted means to be chosen. That is why adopted sons and daughters, or naturalized citizens of a country, often value their identity far more than those born into it. That is why we who have come into the commonwealth of Israel from the Gentile side so highly value Yeshua our Messiah, the one we first came to know as Jesus Christ. Our Jewish brethren cannot understand or appreciate the veneration we hold for Yeshua because they have never known a time when they were cut off from the nation. We who are embracing our Hebrew identity are coming to value Messiah even more, knowing that He has made it possible for us to be reconciled with our long-lost brethren of Judah and with the Israelite identity we share.
None of us fully understand this yet, but when the Old Testament and the New Testament present to us the Bride of Almighty God, they are presenting to us the same person. It is not Israel and the Church; it is only Israel, consisting of the Jewish portion which is blessed with the oracles of God, and the non-Jewish portion drawn from every nation and blessed with the grace of God. Together we present humanity with a greater revelation of the kindness and severity of YHVH than has ever been known before.
And it all comes together in the lesson of the bride.
One month from now, I will stand next to my daughter Rachael as she enters the chuppa. I will watch as she becomes the bride of a man appropriately named Jordan. And I will learn from the two of them something more about being chosen by our Creator to enter into His eternal covenant with mankind.
Originally published in The Times of Israel, August 22, 2016
Shterny, these are my last words to you as a single woman as you stand under the Chupa about to join your life to Yossi as you become a married couple. More than anything in life I have wanted my children to love me and be close to me. I have wanted you and your siblings to enjoy my company, share your dilemmas with me, and seek my counsel. I have wanted to be primary in your lives.
Yet here I am presiding over a ceremony in which all of that will be undermined. Someone will take my place. It will now G-d willing be, Yossi, your husband, with whom you share emotional intimacy, with whom you will make life’s decisions, and who will God willing become the priority in your life.
A wedding involves the strange contradiction of parents organizing a party and celebrating their growing irrelevance to their own kids.
It’s a humbling acknowledgment on the part of a parent what their child most seeks, and what their offspring most needs, is something they cannot provide.
Because while a parent can love their child, they can never choose their child.
And what we all seek in life is not to loved but to be chosen.
Love makes us feel protected. But chosenness make us feel special. To be loved is to be cherished. To be chosen is to be rendered irreplaceable. Love is warm. But chosenness is electrifying.
When it comes to love there can be many. But when it comes to being chosen there can only be one.
At the beginning of creation God created Adam and Eve. They had a perfect existence and lived in Paradise. Yet Eve was still unhappy, which explains why she was susceptible to the wiles and charms of the serpent. How can you live in Eden and still be miserable? Because Adam could love Eve but he could not choose her. She was the only woman in the world. So no matter how much Adam adored her, she still questioned her uniqueness.
Even in an age where most of the traditional institutions have fallen by the wayside marriage continues to soldier on. Because even in a secular age it caters to our most deep-seated desire, namely, the need to be chosen by another.
And that’s why, although marriage is the most intimate of all human commitments, it’s still performed in public, at a ceremony attended by the masses. The act of chosenness only has meaning when it is done to the exclusion of all others. Marriage is where a man and a woman publicly select one another while deselecting everyone else. The marriage ceremony at the chupa establishes the primacy and exclusivity of the married couple. They will hence and forever be bone of one bone and flesh of one flesh.
And it’s done, like tonight, under the stars to signify that, though there be billions, our lives will henceforth be illuminated by one.
And that’s what makes a wedding day the single most important event of our lives because it’s the day that establishes our human uniqueness where we become a celebrity to one.
This message of uniqueness through chosenness is one that is lost on so much of the modern world which makes the critical mistake of believing that uniqueness comes from something you do rather than something you are. The more money you make, the more important you become. The more power you accumulate the more relevant you are.
But this a zero sum game which only magnifies insecurity as it places us in a competitive environment where we never feel quite adequate. And a gnawing feeling of inadequacy, leading to lives of instability and insatiability, is what most plagues modern relationships.
It’s a message that the Torah cautions against, in one of its most powerful and beautiful verses, Shterny, found in the weekly reading of your wedding week, Eikev. Moses instructs the Jewish people, “It is not through bread alone that man lives, but rather through the word of God that man shall live.” Holiness rather than money, commitment rather than possessions, the celestial rather than the terrestrial, is what undergirds human uniqueness.
And the Torah reading goes further in cautioning us against the demoralizing emptiness of material dependence: “And you will say that my own strength and my own exertion created all this wealth.”
The cardinal human error is conceit, a failure to depend on, and acknowledge, the contribution of, others. The beginning of human corruption is the inability to choose another. It is where we place ourselves at the epicenter of our own existence. Our world calls it narcissism. Judaism calls it arrogance.
We made your engagement party, Shterny, at our home, where several people gave speeches. But the most impressive of all was Yossi, who in a few moments will become your husband. His words were simple yet profound. He said in a few sentences what it has taken me many books to communicate. “Tonight has various themes,” he said. “It’s about family, friends, and a celebration. But in truth, it’s all about one thing: Shterny. Tonight is all about her.” A man placing a woman at the center of his universe is the very essence of the marital commitment.
That was the night that I felt that my daughter was chosen. And that’s what makes it possible for a father to let go.
But I cannot let go, I will not let go, until I have given you my blessing.
And here it is:
I bless you tonight, Shterny, to be like the matriarchs of the Jewish people. May you have the fortitude of Sara, who drew a line and protected the exclusivity of her relationship with Abraham. May you have the wisdom of Rebecca who saw aspects of character in her children to which even her husband remained blind. May you have the industriousness of Rachel to whom we are first introduced as a shepherd and entrepreneur. And may you have the perseverance of Leah who understood that relationships are built rather than created.
But above all else I repeat the blessing I gave you at your Bat Mitzvah when you became a young woman. May you grow to be like your mother. May you embody your mother’s beauty, selflessness, righteousness, and loving-kindness. May you be all she is and more.
Tonight Shterny you are the bride and queen, the star of the show. May it be that way in Yossi’s life from now and evermore.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach delivered this speech to his daughter at her wedding in Jerusalem. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.