They say that rain at a wedding is a sign of blessing. Tell that to a drenched bride. Or rabbi. I’ve had to abbreviate a few weddings due to a cloudburst. None has been as dramatic — or insightful — as the downpour at this week’s wedding.
African rabbis dream of conducting a safari chupah. The pristine stillness of Nature is the perfect backdrop for a wedding. When you bless a couple with the joy of Eden during sheva brachot in the middle of the savannah, it’s transformed from liturgy to reliving Creation.
I’ve always wanted to conduct a wedding in one of South Africa’s majestic game reserves. The couple I married this week dreamed for years of their bush wedding. Our shared aspirations came together on this past Wednesday — in an exquisite private game lodge overlooking a dam ringed with impalas and wildebeest. Pre-wedding prep included thrilling encounters with the Big Five and lechaims in the bush.
We startled a reedbuck as we sang the groom towards the badekken. Waxbills and swallows flitted overhead as he veiled his bride’s face. Our intimate wedding party then trundled along in Landrovers to the chupah.
We soon saw the pearl canopy up ahead, a symbol of promise, new beginnings and unbridled blessings. Touching the horizon was a different symbol of blessing and new life- dark rain clouds. I had flashbacks to two previous wedding flash floods. A cloudburst out of nowhere had once forced me to run a dear friend’s chupah at warp speed. Another wedding had ended with almost all of the guests huddled under the chupah for protection during a surprise storm.
And I knew that the bride’s single greatest concern for the day was the “R” word.
Bride and groom soon stood under the chupah, surrounded by their families. Parents proudly walked them down the aisle, and I then filled a glass of wine to begin the ceremony. The young man placed the ring on his bride’s finger and pronounced the ancient marriage formula. Then, the heavens opened.
Within minutes, we were drenched. Mom held an umbrella over her daughter’s head. A mini waterfall splashed off the brim of my fedora. Someone chimed in, “It’s a blessing! It’s a blessing!” I looked to the bride, expecting her smile to have melted, and hoped that I could think of something comforting to say. She was beaming, as was her groom at her side. They twinkled through the soggy ceremony and giggled at my attempts at humour. The beauty of their joy despite the conditions outstripped the allure of the landscape.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. A couple who chooses an intimate wedding in G-d’s backyard over a glitzy affair with a Michelin caterer understands that controlling the environment isn’t what makes a Simcha special. It’s in our urban setting that we crave control. That might explain our high levels of anxiety. When in Nature, humbled by the scenic expanse and the delicately balanced ecosystems, you appreciate how little we control. You realise that we are part of an elaborate tapestry that is constantly modified by a Master Weaver. On the African plains, you learn that even a lion doesn’t imagine that it can control its destiny. It is supremely designed to react efficiently to whatever will manifest in its territory. There, we learn what the city doesn’t teach us — that the system is immense, and we only get to choose how we react to what happens within it. When we choose a healthy focus, a soiled white dress can’t steal the happiness of a meaningful union.