I have been asked to participate in the wedding ceremony of a close friend. They have graciously given me the honor of reciting the sixth of the seven blessings under the chuppah. I want to understand the blessing and its context, but I’m having a hard time. The text seems to be bestowing upon the couple the same kind of happiness that was experienced in the Garden of Eden by Adam and Eve. From my admittedly basic knowledge of the Creation story, Adam and Eve do not seem to be the paragon of happiness. Why are we blessing the couple like this? Furthermore, Adam and Eve were not even Jewish. Why not bless the couple to emulate a more suitable married twosome from the Torah, perhaps one of the sets of Patriarchs and Matriarchs?
Clearly there must be more going on here than meets the eye with regard to our first couple. Not the front-page first couple, who were spirited off on an Air Force One flight for date night, but the real first couple, Adam and Eve, whose first date tragically led to a notorious expulsion, long-standing consequences, and flaming swords barring the return to that paradise lost. Contentious fruit consumption notwithstanding, that first couple may not be as lacking in romance and idyllic happily-ever-after-ness as you think. That they are canonized in the nuptial blessings tells us that there is something in that Garden story that we are missing. It cannot merely a “he said/she said” blame game.
The Seven Blessings, or “Sheva Berachot” are seven pronouncements that with poetic starkness tell the grand story of our deepest notions of the interwoven nature of personal passion and national destiny. These six blessings — the first is simply the blessing over the wine — are terse and pristinely worded. They draw our attention to the two idyllic eras that bookend our history, transporting us at every Jewish wedding on a journey from the paradise of creation to the redemption of the future. Perhaps it is this young couple’s hopes and dreams that will bridge the space between the points.
But, back to Adam and Eve and the question of their employment as quintessential models of marital bliss. The sixth blessing you have been invited to enjoin is, “Grant perfect joy to these loving companions, as you did your creations in the Garden of Eden. Blessed are You, Lord, who grants the joy of groom and bride.”
What were the authors, these sages of old, thinking in evoking for posterity the gladness bestowed by the Almighty to the “creations in the Garden of Eden, a.k.a. Adam and Eve, as the gladness that we would want for the young couple about to embark on a lifetime of marriage?” We must have blinked and missed the gladness part in the Bereshit story. It is a struggle to recall much more than the accusatory breach-in-obedience tree scene and subsequent disappointment, shame and exile.
The well-known Sheva Berachot are found in the Talmudic tractate, Ketubot, which fittingly deals with marriage. They are presented without much background offered on pages 7b and 8a. There, Rabbi Yehudah, in response to the question concerning the wedding ceremony, says, “What are the blessings?” summarily lists the text of the blessings. These are the very same blessings still used today in most traditional ceremonies. It is left to later commentaries to interpret the meanings and intents of the choice of words and themes. You can be sure there is much by way of elucidation and explication of every nuance of each word.
To get a full flavor of all the meaningful subtleties in the words, here they are — again, the first one is over the wine, so it is not listed here;
“Blessed are You…who created everything for Your Glory.”
“Blessed are You…creator of humans.”
“Blessed are You…who creates humans in your image, fashioning perpetuated life. Blessed are You…creator of humans.”
“May Zion rejoice as her children are restored to her in joy. Blessed are You...who causes Zion to rejoice her children’s return.”
“Grant perfect joy to these loving companions, as you did your creations in the Garden of Eden. Blessed are You…who grants the joy of groom and bride.”
“Blessed are You…who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, mirth, song, delight and rejoicing, love and harmony and peace and companionship. Lord our God, may there ever be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem voices of joy and gladness, voices of groom and bride, the jubilant voices of those joined in marriage under the bridal canopy, the voices of young people feasting and singing. Blessed are You…who causes the groom to rejoice with his bride.”
Notice the progression, from the beginning of the creation of the world to the creation of humans, to the creation of woman (fashioning perpetuated life) and then the shift to the national concern, “May Zion rejoice,” then back to the couple and then a resounding conclusion linking the happiness of this young couple to the happiness of the entire People Israel. Each and every nascent couple presents a next new link in the chain of Jewish destiny, hence the weaving of the two together with expressions of delight.
Now on to your question of the choice of Adam and Eve as exemplars of happy married life. Though Adam and Eve are most often associated with the brazen and world-altering act of eating from the tree, followed by the blaming of others for their missteps, indications in the narrative elements suggest the relationship between Adam and Eve was indeed one that would behoove generations of Jewish couples to emulate.
First, consider their matchmaker: Yente is surely a distant second to God Almighty. Second, no one can beat the garden for exclusivity of devotion. The two first humans in a garden all to themselves is a symbol — a compelling model for the life of commitment and devotion to be embraced by every young couple as well as a challenge to create for each other that lofty paradise. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, take note that after the eating of the fruit, after the pronouncement of consequences, after the banishment from the Garden of Eden, the Torah tells of their love for one another and of their commitment to the future with the birth of their children. What better lesson to learn standing under the chuppah?