Eighteen Years, Six Blessings and One Wish

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Cheryl and I at our wedding, 18 years ago, May 30, 1999

On Tuesday, May 30th, Cheryl and I will celebrate our 18th anniversary. As many of you know, 18 is a powerful number in Judaism – the symbol of life. And, as Cheryl’s husband, I’ve been blessed with a lot of good life in these 18 years.

Numbers in Judaism – so many of them have significance. One/Echad is mentioned in our most important prayer – the Shema – and symbolizes the centrality of God in our tradition. Seven is the symbol of creation, a reminder that God created the worldin six days and rested on Shabbat – the seventh day. Ten reminds us of Charlton Heston (or Moses) and the 10 Commandments that, tradition teaches us, were given to the Jewish people on Shavuot – the holiday we will celebrate on the evening ofMay 30 and all day May 31. Since Passover, we’ve literally been counting the days leading up to Shavuot. This counting, known as Sefirat HaOmer (the counting of the Omer), was an agricultural tradition that evolved into a spiritual practice, one that connects our redemption from Egypt with the gift of Torah given to us at Mt. Sinai. These two important moments in Jewish time are separated by seven weeks and we count each day that makes up these seven weeks. Of course, most of us know that our ancestors had to wander in the desert for 40 years prior to entering the land of Israel. And just this week we marked the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. Interestingly enough, this Shabbat we read Parashat BaMidbar – the beginning of the Book of Numbers that details how our ancestors counted all of the Israelites. Numbers – they’re a big deal in our tradition.

As I get ready to mark my 18th year as Cheryl’s husband, I’ve been thinking a lot about numbers. Yes, the number 18 – but also the number seven, specifically the Shevah Brachot – the seven blessings – that were chanted by our Rabbis and Cantor at our wedding – the same seven blessings I get to chant for couples whose weddings I am fortunate enough to officiate at:

  1. Blessed are You,Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
  2. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has created everything for Your glory.
  3. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the Universe, Creator of human beings.
  4. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has fashioned human beings in Your image, according to Your likeness and has fashioned from it a lasting mold. Blessed are You Adonai, Creator of human beings.
  5. Bring intense joy and exultation to Jerusalem through the ingathering of her children amidst her in gladness. Blessed are You, Adonai, who gladdens Zion through her children.
  6. Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creatures in the garden of Eden. Blessed are You, Adonai, who gladdens these two soulmates.
  7. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who created joy and gladness, soulmates, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, companionship, peace, and harmony. Adonai, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of these married partners, the sound of their jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You who causes these partners to rejoice with each other.

I am fortunate to have blessed many couples with these ancient words and beyond fortunate to have had been blessed, alongside Cheryl, with these same words 18 years ago. I know them by heart and find them beautiful every time I get to say them.

But, it took me 18 years to realize that while the first six of the Shevah Brachot are blessings – expressions of gratitude to God – something changes when we get to number seven.

In the first six blessings we thank God for wine – the symbol of joy, for creating the world, for creating humanity, for filling us with a spark of holiness, for the blessing of the land of Israel and for making the couple happy on their wedding day.

But, when it comes to blessing number seven, we don’t just thank God. We express our hope that the joy of the wedding extends beyond the moment under the chuppah, beyond the moments that follow at the party. We ask that the couple’s joy outlives the wedding day and is passed on to others, spread throughout the city and picked up on by the youth – the children. This is our hope that we share with couples as they stand under the chuppah. This is the desire of every couple on their wedding day.

I am so blessed to be celebrating my 18th year of marriage to my soulmate. We both remember feeling so blessed on our wedding day. We both remember the desire to carry the joy of that incredible day with us and share it with others. Together, over these past 18 years, we’ve learned that the key to keeping that joy alive isn’t simply to give thanks for it. It’s not to assume that it will just be there day after day, year after year. After the wedding, the chuppah gets returned to the florist. The dress and tuxedo are dry cleaned and packed away. The guests go home, the flowers shrivel up and life goes on. And it can be hard. And that joy can fade – especially if you assume it will just be there, just like it was on the wedding day.

The seventh blessing of the Shevah Brachot asks God to give the couple the strength, determination and courage to nurture their love for each other every day. The seventh blessing urges the couple to act in ways that not only cultivates the joy of the wedding day, but turns that joy into something deeper – something that doesn’t need the fanfare and formality of a wedding ceremony, something that brings about serenity and contentment even in the messiness of life.

These past 18 years I have been so blessed to have a partner by my side who has dug deep with me as we worked hard not just to maintain the happiness of our wedding day, but as we found the courage to let this happiness evolve into the beautiful relationship we have today. We think we’ve shared our happiness with our kids. We hope we’ve shared it, not necessarily with our city, but with our family, friends, community.

On this my 18th anniversary, I give thanks to God who causes partners to rejoice with each other. And I give thanks to my wife, Cheryl, for being my partner, holding my hand for all these years and making it possible for us to find new and incredible ways to rejoice with each other. I love you Cheryl.

This is a popular time for Jewish weddings and, therefore, a popular time for anniversaries. If you are celebrating an anniversary at this time, Cheryl joins me in wishing you much joy and happiness now and always. And she also joins me in wishing each and every single one of you a Shabbat Shalom.

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