This part of the ceremony consists of the recitation of the sheva brakhot, or seven blessings. The following translation is by Rabbi Burt Jacobson.
The Seven Blessings (Sheva Brakhot, or Nuptial Blessings)
Be Blessed, O Infinite God, the Power and Majesty of all, creating the fruit of the vine.
We bless You now, Havayah, O Sovereign Spirit of the world, for creating the universe to augment Your glory.
Be blessed, O Infinite God, the Power and Majesty of all, for creating the individual.
We bless You now, Havayah, O Sovereign Spirit of the world, for fashioning human beings who reflect the divine, one at their core, complementing each other in their differences. Be blessed, O infinite God, for fashioning woman and man.
May our land be happy and rejoice, as a mother whose children return to her in joy. We bless You now, Havayah, for letting Zion rejoice with her children.
Let these loving friends rejoice. May their joy be a paradise on earth. Be blessed, O Infinite God, for causing this groom and this bride to rejoice.
We bless You now, Havayah, O Sovereign Spirit of the world, for creating joy and happiness, bride and groom, mirth, song, gladness and rejoicing, love and harmony, peace and companionship. O Eternal One, our Boundless Power, may there soon be heard in the cities of the world and in the streets of Jerusalem, voices of joy and gladness, voices of bride and groom, the voices of lovers crying in joy beneath their huppahs, of soulmates shouting at their wedding feasts. Be blessed, O Infinite God, for letting this groom and bride rejoice together.
Used with permission of the author.
The Meaning of the Seven Blessings
At first blush, these blessings do not appear to relate directly to the wedding at hand. Instead, they speak of the creation of man and woman in the Garden of Eden, the return of Jerusalem's children to the holy city and finally the joy of the bride, groom and wedding guests. What does all this have to do with a wedding?
The wedding, like the huppah which frames it, is a window into a perfect past and a perfect future. We look back to the Garden of Eden and the joy the first couple experienced as they found one another; we look forward to a messianic future in which each person knows perfect love. Most of the time we are too distracted to see this vision of our true humanity. Since Eden, we live in an imperfect world: to quote Anita Diamant, "The Garden was lost, the Temple was destroyed, even God is not whole. Shechinah, God's feminine self, wanders the earth, cut off, bereaved." Just as God's gender is divided, men and women find themselves at odds, sometimes from different planets rather than of a single rib.
At a wedding, however, the bride and groom, in getting married, enable all the assembled guests to see this vision of perfect love, this vision of ourselves as we truly are. That is why everyone wishes one another Mazal Tov (congratulations) at wedding—he shared vision is not only the bride's and groom's but belongs to all of us. Perhaps this is also why we cry at weddings.
The sixth blessing refers to the wedding couple as friends. The rabbis thought that friendship was the best basis for a marriage. The same holds true today. Twenty-five years, a couple of kids and a mortgage down the road, it will not be the blush of young beauty nor the fire of early romance that will ground the relationship. The magic will be in sustaining a conversation: is it still interesting to talk to this person after lo, these many years?
Note also how the sixth blessing blesses the bride and groom independently (hattan v'kallah) while the seventh blesses the two together (hattan im ha'kallah). Although some commentators argue that the first blessing represents the bride and groom before they are married and the second, after, a better interpretation sees both blessings as for the new couple. The first speaks of them independently for they will need to maintain their independence, their separateness, even as they come together to build a new family. Marriage is a life-long dance between these poles, but neither extreme—total separateness nor total merger—will succeed.
A Feminist Lens
Many feel that the seven blessings, steeped as they are in history, are perfect just as they are. Others make minor changes, removing the language of adam for mankind or making the oblique reference to womankind in the fourth blessing direct.
A Same-Sex Wedding
The language of the seven blessings is distinctly heterosexual. However, with minor tweaks, they can be rewritten without reference to heterosexuality. The example which follows is from a lesbian wedding:
Blessed are You, our God, Spirit of the world, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
Blessed are You, our God, Spirit of the world, whose creation is glorious.
Blessed are You, our God, Spirit of the world, Creator of human beings.
Blessed are You, our God, Spirit of the world, Who shapes humanity in Her image and likeness and enables us to renew creation by nurturing generations to come. Blessed are You, having created us in Your image.
May women rejoice when their daughters gather in joy. Blessed are You, who gladdens Zion with her children.
May these loving companions rejoice as did God's first creations in the Garden of Eden. Blessed are You Who enables lovers to rejoice with one another.
Blessed are You, our God, Spirit of the world, Creator of joy and gladness, soulmate and beloved, merriment, song, dance, and delight, love and harmony, peace and companionship. Our God, may all soon hear in the cities of Judah and in the courtyards of Jerusalem the voices of joy and rejoicing, the voices of the lover and her beloved, the sound of lovers' jubilation from their chuppah, the celebratory songs of peace. Blessed are You Who enables these beloveds to rejoice in one another.
Reprinted by permission of Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell and Nurit Levi Shein.
For some, the heterosexual context of these blessings remains problematic, even as the words are altered. Some couples choose to rewrite the blessings, taking the theme of each blessing, but giving it new language. Others create seven blessings based on an entirely different theme. The following example is from the commitment ceremony of JB Sacks and Mel Rosen:
Sheva Brakhot (based on the traditional blessing of the new month.)
Seven friends shared personal blessings for the couple based on the themes listed and then closed their blessing with the text written here. At the conclusion of their blessing, each friend poured wine from one of seven small cups into a large cup which was then given to the couple to drink.
1. Hayim shel Kedusha (Holiness)
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam ham'kadesh et chayeinu bikdusha.
We praise You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who renews our lives with holiness.
2. Hayim shel parnassah v'chayim shel chilutz atzamot (Physical Sustenance and Bodily Vigor)
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, ham'farn'seinu v'chavod um'chayeinu v'cho-ach.
We praise You Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, Whose Presence sustains us and whose strength animates us.
3. Hayim shel tovah v'chayyim shel b'rachah (Goodness and Blessing)
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, Hatov v'hameitiv, habaruch v'ham'vorach.
We praise You Adonai our God, The Good from whom goodness grows and the Blessing from whom blessing flows.
4. Hayim she'ein bahem bushah uchlima (Freedom from Shame and Embarassment)
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, Hamadricheinu bintivei michlul.
We Praise You Adonai our God Ruler of the Universe, who guides us on paths of integrity.
5. Hayim shel kavod (Honor and Respect)
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, Shenatan michvodo livnei adam.
We praise You Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, who imparts to us the Glory, the Honor.
6. Hayim shel sason v'simcha, ahavah v'achavah, shalom v'reut (For continued joy, love, passion and shalom)
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam, M'sameiach re-im im ahuvim.
We praise You Adonai our God Ruler of the universe, who causes lovers to rejoice.
7. Hayim shel Shalom (Peace)
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, Ham'varech et chayeinu b'shalom.
We praise You Adonai our God Ruler of the Universe, who blesses our lives with peace.
Others invite wedding guests to bless them accordingly, writing their own creative interpretations of the traditional blessings and personalizing them for the wedding couple. (A word of warning Ð if you do this, be sure to limit each speaker's time to one minute. Anything more, and you will be there all day.)
The recital of the seven blessings is often followed by the rabbi's talk, if there will be one. The rabbi can also speak after the reading of the ketubah or at the very beginning of the ceremony.
Spilling out Wine: A New Wedding Blessing
Deborah Eisenbach-Budner and her husband, in preparing for their wedding, were disturbed by the inherent heterosexism in the ceremony. They felt that they could not properly drink a full cup of wine until the union of all lovers is celebrated, until same-sex couples enjoy the legal, social and religious privileges extended to heterosexual couples on their wedding day. They chose to add an eighth blessing to the traditional seven and to spill some wine on the ground before drinking from the cup.
You are blessed, Adonai our God, Source of Life, who enables us to strive toward the devotion of Jonathan and David, the life-sharing of Ruth and Naomi,and the commitment of Jacob and Rachel. May the time come soon when the voices of all lovers,the music of all friendships, will rise up to be heard and celebrated in the gates of our cities. May the time come soon when we can all drink a full cup of joy. Blessed are You, Source of Love.