A momentous life cycle event rapidly approaches for my extended family. Sam’s sister, my sister-in-law, is getting married in a couple of days. With great joy, Sam and I will stand together under the chuppah and officiate the ceremony in upstate New York.
The man that my sister-in-law, Allie, is marrying comes from a very traditional Orthodox Jewish family. They have asked that we lead the ”tenaim” ceremony prior to the chuppah. In this ritual, the parents of the bride and groom break a ceramic plate as a symbol of the union and its unbreakable status. An unknown and somewhat archaic ritual in progressive Jewish circles, this will be the first one of these that I ever lead.
It is strange and striking that a broken plate (or glass) should symbolize the permanence of a wedding. Speaking about this analogy has caused both Sam and I to wax nostalgic on our relationships with our siblings. For Sam, especially, as she is about to preside over the wedding of her sister, she remembers the many years they barely spoke, although now they find themselves the best of friends. She tells the story of the turning point in their relationship: Allie needed emergency root canal surgery in college, and Sam picked her up in a red convertible to take her to the oral surgeon.
Of course, this has made me think about my relationship with my twin brother, how we drifted apart for many years until family ties brought us back together. Recently, as both my brother on I have embarked on the journey of fatherhood at nearly the same time, we marvel at the beauty of it (as well as share some of the frustrations.)
We all know how easy it is for a relationship to rupture. In this truth lies our tradition’s insistence on using a plate or a glass to symbolize the wedding. Moreover, this lesson of life’s fragility runs throughout the words of our tradition. This week in our Torah portion we see a certain word often repeated: eydah, translated as tribe or family group. We learn a cautionary tale of how an eydah can be used for a curse as Korach and his followers rise up against Moses. We learn a timeless and tremendous lesson from this story: It is up to us to use our eydah for a blessing, to build bridges and create unions.
As members of a tiny family, both Sam and I know that the future of our family depends on our relationships with our siblings. And, though we will never have the same friends or the same interests as them, we will always have each other, and no one will ”get it” quite like our sibling does.
We both stand in gratitude as we officiate the marriage to their beshert and as they build this sacred bridge for our small family and our larger Jewish family.
On this holiday weekend of July 4th, I stand in wonder at the sacred rituals of our tradition, passed down gently for thousands of years. May this new union be one of blessing and bounty for the Jewish People. May families and friends come together in gratitude to celebrate our independence and the immense beauty of our country. May it be one of health and happiness for us all.