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Jewish World Review April 4, 2000 /28 Adar II, 5760

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Creator's presence at Chassidic wedding is a sacred gift -- I'VE BEEN to a lot of lovely weddings that joined lovely people into lovely marriages with lovely families. I know we all have. But have you ever been to a wedding where you actually felt a divine presence?

Although I fear sounding like Rod Serling (creator of the TV show "The Twilight Zone," for those of you too young to recognize his name), I was at a wedding last week where I actually felt the presence of G-d.

Now, I'm on record endorsing marriage as a three-way covenant among a man, a woman and G-d. Since my conversion to Judaism, I have talked about this often on my radio show and written about it with passion, hope and sincerity. But I had never before actually experienced that reality until this amazing Chassidic ceremony.

The wedding celebrated the union of a young rabbi friend and a young lady who, according to the Orthodox Jewish tradition, were suggested to each other as good mates. They are not forced into anything, of course, but they see each other, talk for a million hours, see each other some more, talk another million hours. Then they make a decision. These two people made the right decision. As another rabbi in attendance said, "They are two souls, designed by G-d to come together."

I had never been to a Chassidic wedding before, so I was curious to learn everything about it. Before the service, I walked to a large room where Dov, the groom, was with a group of men, who were singing and praying together -- preparing him for this momentous occasion. This was about as far away from a bachelor party as you can get. The groom spends the day in fasting and prayer, and the entire focus is totally spiritual. I learned that throughout history, Orthodox Jewish thought holds that a man is not a complete human being until he's married, because women are more spiritually attuned to G-d. Through the bride, the groom's soul becomes complete.

Another point that was fascinating to me was the reading of a 2,300-year-old document, a pre-nuptial agreement in which the groom gives the bride everything -- his soul, his life and his possessions. In return, she shows up for the wedding. (I love putting it that way: She shows up.)

While the men are praying together, the bride is in a separate room, surrounded by her friends, who are also praying and blessing her. They told me that at this moment in a woman's life she is closest to G-d, and it was not at all hard for me to believe.

The actual wedding ceremony begins when the groom and his attendants come into the bride's room. He puts a heavy veil over her face, which she cannot see through. The veil is a symbolic acknowledgement of the fact that human beings don't know the depth of each other. So much of a person's true being is hidden from others, and it takes a very long time in the course of a relationship for the depths of each person to be revealed to his or her beloved. Thus, part of the veiling ritual is that the groom is not just committing to his pretty bride, but to the totality of their lifetime together -- things seen and unseen. And she's making the same commitment.

Now they move outside, under the stars. The groom stands under the chuppah -- a special canopy -- and the bride walks around him seven times to signify that she is building a spiritual fortress of love and commitment. She is the "builder" because, as a woman, she is closer to G-d. Then, she joins him under the chuppah. When the readings, blessings and prayers are over, they walk into a room alone where they break their fast, hold hands and share a kiss -- the first time they have ever physically touched.

I was so profoundly conscious of the thousands of years of tradition represented in these stirring moments under the stars. I knew for a fact that this man and this woman were joined in marriage in the sight of G-d. Without a doubt, we were all in G-d's sight that night.

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© 2000, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. This feature may not be reproduced or distributed electronically, in print or otherwise without the written permission of Universal New Media and Universal Press Syndicate.