For the week ending 12 November 2005 / 10 Heshvan 5766

A Smash of a Smash

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Susan in London

Dear Rabbi,

I was at a religious wedding where I noticed the groom break a glass with his foot, then everyone said "mazal tov!" I asked someone whats the meaning behind breaking the glass. She said its in commemoration of the Holy Temple that was destroyed. It seems strange to me that an act symbolizing destruction should be followed by such an enthusiastic cheer of "mazal tov!" Would you please explain?

Dear Susan,

The custom of breaking a glass at the chupah is based on an event mentioned in the Talmud (Berachot 30b) where Mar, the son of Ravina, was making a wedding for his son. When he saw that the guests were becoming overly joyful, he took an expensive glass and broke it in front of them, thereby tempering their joy.

The question is, whats wrong with being happy at a wedding? Furthermore, the Talmud describes the guests as being rabbis. Presumably they were not acting in a way that would generally be inappropriate. Why did Mar the son of Ravina break the glass?

There are two basic reasons given for his desire to damper their joy. One is based on the verse "rejoice in trembling" which reveals that a Jew, even at a time of joy, should not be carried away to the extreme, which might cause him to forget "himself" and come to sin (Ran, Berachot). Another reason is as you were informed, to recall the destruction of the Temple. This is based on the verse, "I shall elevate Jerusalem above my greatest of joys" (Kol Bo, Rema Ev. HaEz. 65).

Your question applies to both of these reasons. If the breaking of the glass is intended to temper the joy and recall the destruction, why is it followed by such an outbreak of joy? Very great rabbis have also asked this question, and have concluded that people have become confused, thinking that the breaking of the glass is itself a joyous custom (Chupat Chatanim 6:3). Some have even written that the custom of saying mazal tov at the breaking is a mistake in the first place (Siddur Beit Oved). One great rabbi harshly criticized the custom and wrote that he would nullify it if he could (Sdei Chemed "zayn", 12).

If so, why does the custom continue? On a simple level, the preceding objections can be answered with the explanation that once the glass has been broken, the joy has been reduced a bit and the Temple has been recalled, and at that point the "simcha" must go on (after all, people get married, and it is a joyous occasion). The assembled then initiate this joy with the heartfelt blessing of "mazal tov!"

However, there are mystical reasons for the breaking of the glass that are more directly related to the ensuing outbreak of "mazal tov!" When a person becomes spiritually elevated (in this case the chatan and kallah), a certain negative force of judgment may be aroused against him. This judgment is deflected away from the couple and directed against the breaking glass. Emerging "unscathed" from this spiritually elevating experience, the couple is blessed "mazal tov!" (Shelah in the name of Rekanati). Some relate this to the harmful effect of "the evil eye", which may result from peoples jealousy or other negative thoughts or feelings against the chatan or kallah (Ohr Chama, derush lAdar).

Another deeper meaning to the custom is recorded in the name of the Rozhiner Rebbe. The Talmud (Sota 17b) states that if a man and woman merit it, the Divine Presence dwells between them. Rashi explains that this is based on the letters yod and hey in the Hebrew words for man and woman. However, these are only two of the four-lettered name. Where are the vav and hey? The canopy under which man and woman are betrothed becoming one is called "chupah", spelled chet-vav-pey-heh. The letters chet and pey spell "pach" which means vessel. When the glass ("pach") is broken, chet and pey are separated, enabling the remaining vav and hey of "chupah" to be united with the yod and hey of the couple, resulting in the unification of G-ds name.

Thats something to be jubilant about!

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