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9 Iyar 5761 - May 2, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
On Sheva Brochos Speeches

By Rabbi Yisroel Nulman

"A Man has Joy in the Answer of his Mouth; and a Word in Due Season, how good is it!" (Mishlei 15:23). Perhaps now when there are no weddings is a good time to reflect on the speeches we make at such simchas.

Chazal say that whoever reads one posuk at the appropriate time brings Torah to the world, and they cite the above posuk from Mishlei in support of this: "a word in due season, how good it is!" Rabbeinu Yonah in the fifth perek of Brochos connects the first and second parts of the posuk:

"When a person likes certain statements, he enjoys mentioning them, and because he finds them agreeable, he does not wait for a suitable occasion to use them, sometimes even citing them at inappropriate occasions, so that the effect of their special quality is lost. This is a mistake. We should rather find an appropriate opportunity to quote a statement, because when a thought is expressed in the correct context, it is a good thing, since people can then understand and appreciate its appeal. Similarly, although it is beneficial for anyone to read out any posuk at any time, it is better when each posuk is read out at the right time, this being useful for those who are listening, because since it is an appropriate opportunity, the reader is thereby benefiting the world."

It occurred to me that these words of Rabbeinu Yonah, which were pointed out to me, apply with especial force to speakers during sheva brochos, and I felt that I should put some of my thoughts, which I have been having for a while on this topic, to paper.

Rav Ashi says, "The reward of attending a wedding lies in the words" (Brochos<D> 6b). Rashi explains that the main wages of attending a wedding are to make the chosson and kallah happy by making a speech. Rav Tovolsky in Olom Chesed Yiboneh cites the following: "Therefore, whoever wants to be a chossid and behave in the manner of earlier generations, let him act kindly towards chassonim for the sake of heaven. Let him honor and praise them and he will be fully rewarded by Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Let him use every possible method to bring joy to the chosson, and to praise the kallah in front of him. If he delights them for the sake of heaven without expecting anything in return, the mitzvah of being mesamei'ach chosson vekalloh is preferable to other kindnesses" (Shlo p.144, Mate Moshe 109, 2).

This forms the background for our tradition of saying divrei Torah on every Sheva Brochos night. Speakers from both the chosson's and the kallah's side are asked to address words of blessings, praise and mussar to the chosson and kallah and their families.

We have to ensure that our speeches will please all the participants: the chosson and kallah, the mechutonim and the guests. To do this properly can be quite a challenge. We do not intend in this article to criticize chas vesholom the contents of droshos made during sheva brochos. Our purpose is only to offer several suggestions to help keep the focus on bringing joy to the chosson and kallah.

It is a general principle applying to all mitzvos that we have to appreciate the central purpose of the mitzvah. Let us take as an example the mitzvah of visiting the sick, as explained by Rav Nochum Partzovich zt'l, the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva.

It is related that Rav Nochum once saw a bochur looking after a sick person in an inappropriate manner, and he told him, "so-and-so looks after this sick person much better, because he has the sick person in mind, whereas you have the mitzvah in mind" -- "Di mitzvah fun bikur cholim mus men derfillen ohn dem `lesheim yichud'" -- the mitzvah of visiting the sick requires an inner feeling of what to do, without an introductory lesheim yichud.

A certain young man added his own commentary to this incident using the terminology of lomdus: "Der bochur darf gedenken as der choleh is nit kein cheftza fun a mitzvah" -- the bochur has to remember that the sick person is not the "object" of a mitzvah. The emphasis when visiting the sick is on the sick person, and not on performing the mitzvah.

Once, when we were together at a Sheva Brochos, I said to my grandson: "Why, in your speech, did you make so many chiddushim and cite so many sources, and only then bless the chosson and kallah? It seems that, as far as you are concerned, the dvar Torah is the main thing, and not the praise and brochos for the young couple. What is the point of such a drosho at a sheva brochos?"

My grandson answered me as follows: "Zeidi, maybe you don't understand what it's all about. We do have to say divrei Torah, even profound ones, during sheva brochos. After all, the two families don't know each other so well yet. All the speakers have to say profound divrei Torah to make an impression on the mechutonim and the families on both sides, to let everybody know that the chosson and kallah come from families of talmidei chachomim."

My response to this was simple: "Today we are sitting at a sheva brochos, several days after the wedding. Both sides know that the other family has bnei Torah in it. Already before the vort each family checked out the other's background. What need, then, is there for such long, "pilpulistic" speeches in order to make an impression?"

How do we ensure that we do not get sidetracked form the main purpose of the sheva brochos speech of being mesamei'ach chosson vekalloh? We shall give a few practical examples of short and pertinent speeches which fulfill this aim. Let us begin with a drosho in which the main stress is on praising a certain quality of the kallah.

I once heard someone at a sheva brochos making a speech about the kallah, his sister. He started off like this, "My sister and I grew up together in the same house. We played together, fought with each other, shouted at each other, told each other off, and so on. Still, I was always amazed about one central feature of her personality: her speech and behavior were always full of happiness. Her consistent smile would always serve to improve everybody's mood."

These were his introductory comments. He then went on to elaborate on this topic, by citing sources from Chazal about the importance of being in a state of happiness. For example, he quoted the Pele Yoetz (in the entry on simcha) who says: "A person is rewarded for being happy in this world, the greatest reward being the attainment of perfect wisdom, for the Ari z'l revealed that his attainment of high levels of wisdom and ruach hakodesh was all due to his having been imbued with happiness when learning Torah or performing any mitzvah."

He proceeded to bring more material on the topic of simcha, and concluded by blessing the chosson and kallah that their lives should be filled with happiness and good things. We may be sure that not only the chosson and kallah, but everybody else too, enjoyed this speech.

Here is another example: "We have already heard several family members praising the kallah for her middas hachesed. Listening to them, I started to wonder exactly what they meant. Does she perform one specific act of chesed or many different ones? Does she do acts of chesed immediately after being asked to, or does she volunteer to do them even before being asked. I was curious to know exactly what they meant when describing the kallah as a great ba'alas chesed.

"After looking into the matter, I began to understand that there are several levels of people who do acts of kindness, and our kallah excels in each level.

"1. Some people never miss the chance of doing chesed. Our kallah always uses every opportunity, to do both major and minor acts of kindness. For her, helping someone else is a type of kindness. We learn this point from the following story:

"Rav Yitzchok Eizek Sher zt"l, the Slobodke rosh yeshiva, once noticed a student carrying something hidden in his hands up the stairs to the dormitory of the yeshiva. The Rosh Yeshiva realized that he was taking a breakfast tray to his friend who was sick in bed. The Rosh Yeshiva told the talmid, `It looks like you are taking some food to a sick bochur. Why are you hiding the tray? Why are you embarrassed of what you are doing? There is no problem in carrying such a thing in public, `Du trogst doch a lulav und esrog in hant' (you must realize that you are carrying a lulav and esrog in your hand). All these are of equal importance when doing a mitzvah.

"2. Most people will do acts of chesed if they are asked to. Our kallah identifies the need for chesed even before she is told about it. She is following in the footsteps of Mordechai Hayehudi who "sought the good of his people" (Esther 10:3), on which the Ibn Ezra comments, `It would be enough for him to do good for his people when being asked to, but he goes out of his way to seek to do good.'

"3. Generally speaking, people feel a sense of satisfaction after doing acts of kindness, but with our kallah, the emphasis is on the performance of a mitzvah, and not on selfish considerations of this nature."

Then he went on to analyze the difference between someone who is ose chesed as opposed to gomel chesed. The first type still feels a sense of self, a sense that he is doing the other person a favor, and that he is at the receiving end of his kindness. The second type of person is superior to the first, because he is gomel (paying back). He considers the beneficiary of his kindness to be entitled to it, and takes no credit and received no benefit for his actions, nullifying himself totally before him.

After this drush, it was superfluous to add anything. The speech was a source of joy to the chosson and kallah and all those present alike.

Sometimes it is possible to start off with a short idea which provides the chosson and kallah with an important message. The idea may be a well-known Chazal.

For example, "grapes of a vine with grapes of a vine is a pleasant and acceptable thing" (Pesochim 49b). HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l asks why Chazal mention the vine as opposed to other fruit such as dates and pomegranates. He answers that the vine is the only tree whose fruit goes up a level in brochos from borei pri ho'eitz to pri hagofen, because of its importance. The juice of other fruit and vegetables goes down a level to shehakol.

I asked some family members which message of relevance to the chosson and kallah could be derived from this interesting idea. Everybody suggested the concept that the young couple was obliged to improve their standard of limud Torah and avodas Hashem.

I told them that both the chosson and the kallah are already on a high level of Torah and yiras Shomayim, and that there must be another lesson we can learn from this important idea.

After thinking about it, I told them that was certainly not the only explanation. Until a person gets married, he obeys his parents sometimes totally, and sometimes not sufficiently. Sometimes a child tells his mother, "Thank you for all this food, it's delicious," and sometimes he says nothing. After marriage, however, the husband and wife have to raise themselves to a new level in the mitzvos applying to interpersonal relationships. Each of them has to listen totally to their spouse, and the husband has to thank his wife for her delicious meals and so on. This idea, which we derive from invei hagefen be'invey hagefen is a central aspect of the husband-wife relationship.

Let us bring one more example of a question regarding the mitzvah of simchas chosson vekalloh. The answer to the question sheds light on the essence of the mitzvah itself.

Without a doubt, the day of the wedding and the seven days of sheva brochos are like yomim tovim for the newly married couple, and so these days are characterized by joy at the highest level. Their union is a blessing from heaven and every moment is filled with joy and happiness.

Rav Elya Lopian zt"l asked why Chazal taught that it was such an important obligation to be mesamei'ach chosson vekalloh, when they are anyway full of happiness? In what way can anyone add to their natural state of happiness?

He answered that there might be a touch of worry intermingled with their happiness. They might be wondering how it is possible that Hakodosh Boruch Hu in His wisdom puts two people together from families so far removed from each other? How does it all work? The chosson and kallah know that they have to build a bayis ne'eman beYisroel, but they have no experience of any similar undertaking, and they may have all sorts of doubts about this and related matters. That is why, despite their great joy, the family, friends and guests are obliged to be mesamei'ach them.

The chosson and kallah are really on the same level as the Jewish people who, in their generosity, took it upon themselves to build the Mishkan and its keilim in the wilderness. They had just left Egypt as slaves, and without any instruction or experience as artists, they managed with Hashem's providence, to build the mishkan and all its keilim (see Ramban, Shemos 35,21).

Sometimes there is no time for a complete drosho, but only for a short brocho. There was a certain Yerushalmi Yid who, not wanting to burden those participating in the Sheva Brochos, would give a short, succinct "speech" as follows:

"Ir solt sein gut -- You should be good"

"Ir solr nor toen gut -- You should only do good"

"Un eich sol sein gut -- And you should only experience good."

(Readers wishing to add their thoughts on the topic of this article may contact the author at Rechov Bait Vegan 35, Jerusalem. 02-6433032).

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