The Marriage Ceremony
The prophets metaphorically describe the Jewish people entering the Land of Israel–ascending in it from level to level, until reaching the Holy of Holies–as the marital union of the people (the groom) to the land (the bride). In every marriage ceremony, we may identify six levels of ascent:
1. The engagement of the groom and bride (tena’im or vort) is like entering the Land of Israel in general. One stops thinking of others (i.e., stops considering other possibilities), concentrating solely on his fiancée (bershert).
2. Before the wedding ceremony, the guests greet the bride and groom (kabalat panim). Great care is taken that the couple be shielded from seeing each other (this is the culmination of the week prior to the marriage, in which the couple refrains from seeing one another). Their separate “domains” at this point are similar to the separate, walled cities of Israel. At this point, one’s concentrated intention is not on one’s groom/bride but rather on God, the third partner of marriage, “inviting” Him together with the righteous of past generations to attend the wedding ceremony and bless the bride and groom.
3. Next, the groom goes to place the veil on the bride’s face (badeken), at once uplifting her toward him while simultaneously, by hiding her face from him, producing in both an aura of awe (“the fear of shame,” the highest level of awe). This is like entering the city of Jerusalem.
4. Then, under the canopy, the bride circles the groom seven times (hakafot). This resembles the custom of circling the Temple mount, walking around the Temple site. Here, the bride arouses great, infinite love for her groom, which in turn arouses–“as [when looking in] water, face reflects face, so does one’s heart find reflection in another’s”–the great love of the groom for his bride.
5. The actual sanctification of the bride by the groom (kidushin) is entering the Temple itself. Spiritually, the couple has become one.
6. Then, the couple proceeds to the seclusion room (yichud). This is entering the Holy of Holies. Here, God, the third partner of marriage, and the couple consummately unite; here is revealed the absolute “I am that I am.”