The drama and majesty of the Yom Kippur service in the Tabernacle and in the Temple is the leitmotif of Parshas Acharei Mos. The similarities between the service of Yom Kippur and the marriage ceremony have been noted by our Sages: Simple white garments, worn by the kohein gadol on Yom Kippur in Temple times, are today worn by both chassan and kallah under the chuppah. Customarily, chassan and kallah do not see each other for the seven days leading up to their wedding, just as the kohein gadol was sequestered for the week prior to Yom Kippur. And one’s wedding day, like Yom Kippur, is a day of atonement for past misdeeds. These similarities demonstrate a pattern inviting speculation as to the role of marriage in Jewish tradition and the nature of a Jewish celebration.
There is a mitzvah to be mesamei’ach the chassan, to make him happy, and one accomplishes this, says the Gemara, by praising the qualities of the kallah (Kesubos 16b). Curiously though, there is no corresponding mitzvah that specifically requires one to be mesamei’ach the kallah, nor is there any mention of singing the chassan’s praises. In order to understand this discrepancy one must understand the nature of simcha.
Our Rabbis explain that the word simcha means more than just happiness. Fulfillment is more accurate. “Who is a rich man?” Asks the mishnah in Avos (4:1), “Hasamei’ach bechelko – one who is fulfilled with his share.” When Eisav told Yaakov, “I have much,” Yaakov responded to his more affluent brother “I have everything.” Wealth is relative to our expectations; only if one is satisfied with what he has can he be happy.
Jewish men, particularly those blessed with the opportunity to be involved in Torah study and communal affairs, feel satisfaction in their work even while they are still single. But with such an outlook, a man is also liable to forget that no matter how talented, how accomplished, how respected he is, fulfillment will not come until after he is married, united with the woman who will join together with him for the rest of his life to make a maximum contribution to this world. He can easily forget about marriage in his race for personal accomplishment.
So the chassan needs a gentle reminder. That is the mitzvah of being mesamei’ach him – to impress upon him that as a married man he can now expect fulfillment. By extolling his kallah, by noting how suited she is to helping him meet his goals, this is realized. All of his previous accomplishments pale; his real achievements come with her by his side, building a Torah home and family.
By contrast, women are less likely to confuse individual accomplishments with the boundless potential that partnership offers. Women intuitively sense the greater riches of a couple whose talents and love are dedicated to the pursuit of shared goals. As such, the kallah needs no one else to impress these values upon her.
The wedding day shares with Yom Kippur this theme of fulfillment. The forgiveness granted on Yom Kippur provides everyone with an annual second chance to reclaim their potential in Torah and spiritual growth. This is undoubtedly true as well for a chassan and kallah. Together, on the day of their personal Yom Kippur, they embark on a fresh start, their previous failures and imperfections discarded, ready for the fulfillment of mutual accomplishment.
My dear chassan and kallah, we rejoice in your new potential. You are uniquely suited to each other, complementing each other’s strength and compensating for each other’s weaknesses. May G-d help you reach your potential for accomplishment both personal and communal. May your devotion to each other and to G-d’s commands bring the day that will fill our mouths with the song of redemption, when we will all share in the promised simcha of Messianic fulfillment.