The importance of the day of the wedding and its everlasting effect
(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 30 3rd Sicha)
In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Vayishlach, the names of the wives of Esav are mentioned. In total, he had three wives one of which one was the daughter of Ishmael and whose name was Basmas. However, in a previous Parsha we find that she was actually named Machlas. Rashi addresses this contradiction and explains that the reason why she was nicknamed Machlas is because on the day of the wedding all of one’s sins are forgiven. This most strange and cryptic teaching is the centerfold of this talk of the Rebbe. For what reason does one merit to have all of one’s sins forgiven simply because he decided to get married? The Rebbe connects this teaching to the custom of fasting on the day of the wedding. Several reasons are recorded behind the fast, which carry a number of ramifications. Practically, the Rebbe concludes that the day of the wedding is similar to the day of Yom Kippur, and that just as there is a general Yom Kippur for all the Jewish people, there is likewise a personal Yom Kippur that one experiences on the day of his wedding, and it is this experience that merits him to have all of his sins forgiven on this day. This forgiveness of sins is not just a mere chance to start a new page in life together with one’s spouse, but represents something much deeper that is drawn down on the day of the wedding which has ability to affect ones entire married life. The lesson derived from this talk is not just relevant for those who are getting married, but extends to every individual in his efforts in educating others in Torah and Mitzvos, as will be explained.
Explorations of the Sicha:
1. Why was Esav’s wife called Machlas if her real name was Basmas?
2. What is so special about the day of the wedding and how does it affect one’s entire married life?
3. Why does Hashem forgive the sins of a groom on the day of his wedding?
4. Why do we fast on the day of the wedding?
1. Esav’s wife Basmas is also called Machlas being that as a result of this marriage all of his sins were forgiven:
One of the wives of Eisav that are mentioned in the Parsha, is Basmas, the daughter of Ishmael. Strangely, in Parshas Toldos, she is mentioned by the name Machlas. Rashi addresses this seeming contradiction and brings from the Jerusalem Talmud that her real name was Basmas, as mentioned in our Parsha, although she was also called Machlas by Scripture in order to hint to us of a certain matter that occurred when she got married to Esav. The Talmud states as follows: The reason that she was called Machlas is because when Esav married her, all of his sins were forgiven, and from here we learn that when a man marries a wife all of his [and her] sins are forgiven and erased.
The queries on the above: We will now delve into an analyzation of this most cryptic and strange statement. Why should a person’s sins be forgiven just because he got married? What does marriage have to do with repentance or forgiveness? Getting married is the fulfillment of a dream, and why should one’s pursuance of his goals and dreams erase his responsibility for previous bad behaviors that he must rectify? Also, why would the Torah teach us such an important and revolutionary concept from the marriage of Eisav, who was a renegade Jew, and not teach it to us by a regular marriage of a groom and bride? This especially applies in light of the fact that we are taught that in truth Esav’s marriage to Basmas the daughter of Ishmael was a mere façade to trick his father Yitzchak to believe that he’s marrying a righteous woman from his family [as opposed to the daughters of Canan], and thus be on par with his brother Jacob who was instructed by Isaac to marry a righteous woman from Isaac’s family.
2. The reason why a groom’s sins are forgiven on the day of the wedding:
After thorough analysis of the texts, there are two explanations as to why a person’s sins are forgiven on the day of the wedding:
- Yerushalmi and Midrash-Elevation to a new position helps to start a fresh page in life: The Jerusalem Talmud as well as the Sefer Midrash Shmuel record that there are three people who have their sins forgiven when they get elevated to their new position, and these are: 1) A Torah scholar who was appointed to a new position. This is learned from the fact that the Torah lists the command of honoring a sage near the instructions regarding converts, and from here we learn that just as a convert has all of his sins forgiven when he converts, so too a Torah scholar has all his sins forgiven when he is appointed to a new rabbinical position. 2) A groom [on the day he gets married] as learned from the exposition regarding Machlas. 3) A president when he gets elected and appointed to the presidency. This is learned from the fact that in Scripture it says that King Saul was one years old when he ascended to the monarchy, which is a metaphor to the fact that he was as clear of sin as a one-year-old, being that G-d forgave all of his sins. Thus, according to the Jerusalem Talmud and Midrash Shmuel, the mere ascending to a new position is the catalyst for why G-d forgives one sins on such occasions, seemingly giving the person a chance to begin a new page in his very critical new path in life. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, there is no need for the person to repent or do anything different spiritually in order to merit this forgiveness, and it is something that is automatically given with his ascending to power and new mission in life, as we will elaborate on below.
- Rashi-A person naturally repents before his wedding: In Rashi’s commentary on the above verse regarding Esav marrying Basmas, in which he records the above teaching, which is sourced in the Jerusalem Talmud and Midrash Shmuel, we find several nuances. Rashi brings that there are three individuals who are forgiven for their sins, as written in the sources above. However, when he comes to list the three individuals who merit forgiveness he lists them as, 1) a convert when he converts, 2) one who is appointed to a new position [i.e. a king or a sage] and 3) one who marries a woman. Why does Rashi enter a new category into the list of those who merit to receive forgiveness, which is the fact that a convert gets forgiven for sins when he converts, if this category is not written in the source of his teaching? At the same time, one can question why the Jerusalem Talmud doesn’t list a convert who converts as a 4th individual who gets forgiven. The explanation in defense of the Jerusalem Talmud’s omission is seemingly due to the fact that a convert who converts to Judaism is considered a completely new being, and thus is incomparably different than the other listed individuals who merit to have their sins forgiven, and hence the Jerusalem Talmud omits a convert from the list. However, the question then remains as to why Rashi felt necessary to list the convert as one of the three categories and include the sage and president in one category. The explanation in defense of Rashi is as follows: According to Rashi’s understanding, the reason that any of these listed people are forgiven is due to the fact that they repent on the occasion of their event. Certainly, a convert who converts to Judaism is doing an act of repentance which is worthy of forgiveness. Likewise, one who ascends to a new position of power, or gets married, is likewise assumed to repent for the solemn occasion of their new office of power and mission in life. Hence, Rashi lists all those who repent on the occasion of their new positions, beginning with the convert. Thus, in conclusion it comes out that according to Rashi, the reason for the forgiveness on these occasions is due to repentance. However, according to the Jerusalem Talmud who omits listing the convert, repentance is completely unrelated to the forgiveness, as the forgiveness on these occasions is given simply in credit to one’s new rise in power, or new start of married life, irrelevant of repentance. Rashi’s interpretation which depends the forgiveness on repentance is in fact rooted in the Bereishis Raba who states that Esav was forgiven for his sins by marrying Machlas being that he intended to convert, and change his ways for the better.
3. The difficulty with Rashi’s presentation:
One of the difficulties in Rashi’s presentation and understanding is the fact that according to Rashi’s own interpretation in earlier verses, in truth Esav had no feelings of remorse or intents of repentance, in his marriage to Basmas, as it was simply done to fool his father. Thus, how can Rashi here state that from here we learn that a groom’s sins are forgiven, if according to Rashi this forgiveness is dependent on repentance, which Esav never performed. According to the understanding of the Jerusalem Talmud, it makes perfect sense why we learn a groom’s forgiveness of sins from Esav, as it is coming to teach us that repentance is not a prerequisite for this forgiveness. However, according to Rashi this is not the case, and hence we should not have been taught this teaching regarding Esav.
To understand this subject, we must first introduce another custom relating to the day of the wedding, which is the custom for the bride and groom to fast.
4. The custom of fasting in the day of the wedding and the reasons behind it:
It is customary of Ashkenazi Jewry for the bride and groom to fast on the day of the wedding. Several reasons have been offered as to the reason behind this custom:
- One’s personal Yom Kippur: Being that one’s sins are forgiven on the day of his wedding, as stated above, therefore the day the wedding is considered like his personal Yom Kippur.
- Prevent drunkenness: As if they were allowed to eat and drink, we suspect that they may get drunk and will not accept the bond of marriage in full consciousness.
- A rare mitzvah: As it is customary to fast on the day that one has the occasion to fulfill a rare mitzvah, such as shaking Lulav, and the like, and the same applies for getting married. This is done in order to show one’s belovedness to the mitzvah.
5. The practical ramifications between the reasons:
There are a number of practical Halachic ramifications between the first, and second and third reason:
- Must one fast until nightfall or until the wedding: According to the first reason which compares the day the wedding to Yom Kippur, one is to fast until nightfall and continue fasting even after the Chuppah concludes. However, according to the second and third reason, there is no longer a reason to fast after the conclusion of the Chuppah, even if it concludes prior to nightfall. Likewise, in the case that the wedding is taking place after nightfall, according to the first reason he no longer needs to fast once nightfall arrives, while according to the second and third reason he must continue fasting even past nightfall, until the Chuppah takes place.
- Is it a true fast? According to the first reason, the abstaining from eating and drinking on the day of the wedding is defined as a true fast which is for the sake of repentance and mortifying one’s soul. However, according to second and third reason, one’s abstaining from eating and drinking is not considered a true fast, as its reason is simply so he doesn’t get drunk, or so he honors the rare mitzvah, and not for the sake of repentance or mortification.
6. Why doesn’t everyone agree to the first reason:
Whatever the accepted reason, one must conclude that all of the opinions and reasons agree to the concept that a groom is forgiven on the day of his wedding, as recorded in the classical sources, such as the Jerusalem Talmud and Midrash Shmuel. If so, why do they reject the first explanation and reason. Why doesn’t everyone agree that the reason behind the fast is due to the fact that it is his day of forgiveness similar to Yom Kippur? One must conclude then, that according to the other reasons the fact that one is forgiven for sins on the day of the wedding is not enough of a reason to explain why one should be fasting. To get a better understanding of this we must first introduce an interesting debate that we find regarding Yom Kippur itself, to which we compare the day of the wedding to.
7. The dispute regarding Yom Kippur if one must fast and repent in order to be forgiven:
Yom Kippur is the day set aside by G-d to give forgiveness and atonement for the sins of all the Jewish people. It is a day of fasting and repentance by the Jewish people. Nonetheless, regarding if there is a co-relation between the fasting and repentance and the forgiveness that we receive, we find an interesting debate. The Gemara in Shavuos brings an argument between Reb Yehuda and Chochamim. Rebbe Yehuda holds that the essence of the day of Yom Kippur atones for a person’s sins even without him doing Teshuvah. The Chochamim, however, hold one must do Teshuvah in order to merit receiving the day’s atonement. The Rambam’s final ruling is a compromise between the two opinions, as he states that the essence of the day of Yom Kippur atones for those who even slightly attempt to repent. Now that we are aware of this dispute regarding Yom Kippur, we can come to a better understanding of the different opinions regarding why a bride and groom fast on the day their wedding.
8. Must one repent on the day of the wedding in order to merit forgiveness of sins:
From the above debate regarding Yom Kippur, it can be explained that those opinions who do not hold that the reason for the fast of the day of the wedding is due to the groom being forgiven for his sins, hold that it is the wedding itself that gives atonement and forgiveness for one’s sins without any prerequisite of repentance, similar to the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda regarding Yom Kippur. Thus, they search for other reasons for why we fast on the day of the wedding, as the forgiveness would be attained regardless of the fast day. However, those opinions who hold that the reason for fasting on of the day of the wedding is due to the groom being forgiven for his sins, hold that the wedding only provides atonement and forgiveness for one’s sins if he fasts and repents, similar to the opinion of the sages regarding Yom Kippur. [In other words, those who hold that the atonement of Yom Kippur is only given for those who fast and repent, would likewise hold that on the day of the wedding the groom must fast to receive his atonement. This follows the first reason brought above regarding why we fast on the day of the wedding. However, those who hold that the forgiveness of sin is independent of the fasting and repentance, similarly hold that there is no need to fast on the day of the wedding to receive the atonement from G-d. This follows the second and third reason brought above for why we fast on the day of the wedding.]
9. Understanding the opinion of Rashi versus that of the Jerusalem Talmud as to why a groom and bride are forgiven:
Based on all the above, we can now return to our original question as to why Rashi holds that the forgiveness on the day of the wedding is a result of repentance while according to the Jerusalem Talmud it is simply due to the fact that he is starting a new page in life. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, the day of the wedding is so holy that it has power to atone for one’s sins, similar to the power of the day of Yom Kippur according to the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda. However, according to the understanding of Rashi, the day of the wedding can only atone if one also repents, similar to the opinion of the sages regarding Yom Kippur. Now, in this regard Rashi holds similar to that of the Rambam, that a full and true repentance is not required to merit this forgiveness of the day of the wedding and even a slight move to change merits one to receive G-d’s forgiveness.
10. The forgiveness that is given is higher than that received due to regular repentance:
Even the sages, who require repentance in order to merit forgiveness on Yom Kippur, agree that the forgiveness that is achieved through this repentance is one much higher and greater than that which is achieved through repenting during the regular year. Hence, the Rambam ibid emphasizes in his arbitration of this debate that it is the essence of the day of Yom Kippur itself which gives atonement for those who repent, as the essence of the day of Yom Kippur can provide an atonement much greater and higher than regular repentance can achieve. The same can be said regarding the day of the wedding, that the atonement achieved through repentance and fasting on the day of the wedding, is one much greater than what regular repentance can achieve, and it is the essence of the day of the wedding that brings us atonement. [In other words, the debate regarding whether repentance is required on Yom Kippur, or the day of the wedding, in order to receive atonement is simply a debate regarding if repentance is a prerequisite. However, everyone agrees that it is the essence of the day that atones.] We will now explain why the day of the wedding is considered so holy and holds such power to bring atonement.
11. The reason that the day of the wedding has such power to bring atonement:
The day of one’s wedding is one of the most moving days in a person’s life, and he is instinctively drawn towards self-betterment and good resolve. There is also an esoteric aspect related to this; the wedding begins one’s marriage which is for the purpose of fulfilling the command of having children and raising a family. The prospect of fulfilling this great mitzvah subconsciously ignites one’s soul in repentance and motivates him to change. Now, this itself is due to a more mystical reason which relates to the ability of procreation. The ability to have children is one of the greatest miracles embedded within nature, experienced and felt by every father and mother especially by the birth of their first child. This physical ability to procreate, and create something so magnificent from practically nothing, is the result of G-d’s infinite light, known as the Or Ein Sof, which carries the sole ability to create ex-nihilo. This infinite light of G-d is drawn down on Yom Kippur and is responsible for the forgiveness and atonement of one’s sins, as sin cannot blemish this light of G-d, and hence from this perspective it is as if sin does not exist. This same infinite divine light is drawn down on the day of the wedding for the sake of giving the couple the ability to procreate and have children. It is this very infinite light which then also provides atonement and forgiveness for all of one’s sins on the day of the wedding.
12. The lesson:
[The first lesson that we must derive from the above teaching is the importance of the wedding day and its great power. The day of the wedding draws down an infinite light of G-d that one will make use of for the rest of his marriage, for the sake of procreation and raising a family. A bride and groom are therefore to be extremely careful to follow all of the laws and customs of the day of the wedding, and designate it as a day of repentance, viewing it as their own personal Yom Kippur. Likewise, they should make strong resolves regarding their character, and observance of Torah and Mitzvos, recognizing that G-d is now offering them a fresh start. In addition, the Rebbe brings another lesson that can be derived.]
The concept of physical procreation also has a spiritual counterpart, which is the establishing of Torah students, who are individuals that one influences in learning Torah and keeping mitzvos, as the sages state that whoever teaches his friend Torah is as if he bore him. From here we can learn that one who involves himself in spreading Torah to others and educating others in Mitzvos, likewise merits to have all of his sins forgiven similar to one who gets married. Accordingly, every single Jew, even one of as low a spiritual state as that of Esav, is to involve himself in educating others in Torah and mitzvah’s and is not to be dissuaded by saying that he himself is not yet spiritually complete enough to do so. If Hashem has granted one the skills and ability to be able to influence others in Torah mitzvah’s, he should grab the opportunity and pay no attention to his own personal spiritual failures. On the contrary, the mere resolve to be involved in such activity merits one to receive forgiveness from G-d, and assistance from Him so that he better his own character, and hence he too will reach a level of greater spiritual completion as a result of his efforts in education of others.
 Vayishlach 36:3
 Toldos 28:9
 Rashi on 36:3
 Yerushalmi Bikkurim 3:3
 Rashi 28:6
 Bikkurim 3:3
 chapter 17
 Kedoshim 19:32-33
 Shmuel 1 13:1
 Rashi 36:3
 Rashi 28:6
 See Rama E.H. 61:1; Sdei Chemed Asifas Dinim Chasan Vekalah 4; Encyclopedia Talmudit Erech Chasan
 1st reason in Maharam Mintz 109; Beis Shmuel 61:6; Beir Heiytiv 61:5; M”A 573:1
 2nd reason in Maharam Mintz 109; Beis Shmuel 61:6; Beir Heiytiv 61:5; M”A 573:1
 Rokeiach 353
 See Beis Shmuel 61:6; Beir Heiytiv 61:5; Kneses Hagedola 61;
 Shavuos 12b
 Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 1:2-3
 The second half of this paragraph is based on another one of the Rebbes talks printed in Toras Menachem 12:152, and Shulchan Menachem 1:158
 Sanhedrin 19b