by Rabbi Garry Wayland, Student Chaplain, Scotland
The celebrations of the wedding begin in earnest the week before the actual ceremony, and with this come many beautiful customs. Some couples try not to see each other during this week, save for any urgent issues that may arise. Although this is rooted in laws relating to marital purity (taharat hamishpacha), it creates a sense of excitement and anticipation of the ‘big day’. Others have the custom to ensure that the chatan (groom) and kallah (bride) are chaperoned. The Midrash (Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 16) famously compares a chatan to a king; just as a king is always escorted by his entourage, so too is a chatan.
The highlight of the week preceding the wedding is the auf ruf. The words ‘auf ruf’ literally mean ‘call up’, a reference to the chatan being called up to the Torah, the central celebration of this Shabbat. Different reasons are given for this custom. On a simple level, giving an aliyah is a way of honouring an important guest in shul; the chatan being like a king, is obviously befitting this honour.
Moreover, the king has a special relationship with the Torah: in addition to the one Torah scroll that each individual is commanded to write (see Devarim 31:19), the king, due to his prestige, is commanded to have an additional scroll, to be carried with him wherever he goes (see Devarim 17:18). The Midrash Talpiyot (written by R Eliyahu HaKohen Izmir, Turkey, d.1729) says that a chatan has a similar relationship with the Torah, and this is celebrated by receiving a special aliyah.
The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) offers another reason for the chatan receiving this ‘call up’, that the extra responsibilities of marriage bring an expanded connection to Torah. Torah is not merely theoretical knowledge. Rather it must be implemented throughout our lives. Marriage offers further opportunities for doing so. This aliyah symbolises this new, expanded commitment to the Torah.
The custom of throwing sweets at the chatan symbolises our hopes that the couple will be blessed with a sweet life together. Many families have a festive meal after the service, and share their joy with the community by sponsoring a kiddush.