Under the Chuppah, both chassan and kallah wear white. The kallah wears her gown and the chassan dons a kittel over his suit. Contained in these clothes is a dual symbolism, signifying, on the one hand, purity and majesty in honor of the occasion, and, at the same time, serving as a reminder of the simple white clothes the kohein gadol wore as he performed the Yom Kippur service, begging G-d’s forgiveness for the entire Jewish people. The young couple, too, ask G-d for forgiveness on this day, their personal Yom Kippur, their white clothing providing an atmosphere of solemnity and reflection during these precious moments.
These two notions, majesty and solemnity, are captured in a pair of markedly different words that are often coupled together: chessed and emes. Chessed – literally “breaking the bounds,” transcending that which is normal — is found at a wedding, which uplifts its participants from the standard routine of life. Emes — a more rigid concept, the cold, logical truth — is also found on the wedding day, as chassan and kallah confess their past sins to the Creator.
The two terms, chessed and emes, are voiced by Yaakov as he is about to die. In Parshas Vayechi he calls for his son, Yosef, and asks him to “act toward me with kindness and truth; do not bury me in Egypt” (Bereishis 47:29). Kindness, chessed, is a cornerstone of Jewish living, yet more elusive than one might think. Only once someone has died, our Sages say, can kindness truly be dealt. Why? Because when doing a favor, it is within human nature to expect something in return. Even if no explicit request is made, there always remains an implicit contract. It is hard to refuse someone who once helped you; you always “owe him one.”
But when someone is dead, he can offer no recompense. For this reason only members of a Jewish community’s ritual burial society are considered capable of performing chessed shel emes, kindness in its truest form, as they prepare the deceased for burial and escort him to the grave. This was Yaakov’s request.
The Sages acknowledge that these examples demonstrate the possibility of acting with both kindness and truth even during one’s lifetime. How does one achieve this? By dismissing any possibility of reciprocation. Then, even the living can perform acts of kindness in their truest, purest form.
This is the challenge every couple faces entering marriage: To create the oneness that is a marriage, true kindness must be enacted. All acts of kindness between spouses must be done selflessly with no thought of return. Done in this manner, every act of kindness strengths the union.
The ability to give freely and regularly is a fundamental ingredient in every marriage. Both of you will come into a union having been reared in homes suffused with kindness and the values of our Torah. It is now your turn to insure that your home is built upon the same elementary qualities. First, kindness must flow from each of you without regard for return from the other. Then you must expand that attitude to include your community and your people, opening your home to guests, your wallet to the poor, and your schedule to meaningful causes. In this manner you will fashion for yourselves a faithful home in Israel and establish yourselves as invaluable members of G-d’s chosen nation.