Shterny, these are my last words to you as a single woman as you stand under the Chupa about to join your life to Yossi as you become a married couple.
More than anything in life I have wanted my children to love me and be close to me. I have wanted you and your siblings to enjoy my company, share your dilemmas with me, and seek my counsel. I have wanted to be primary in your lives.
Yet here I am presiding over a ceremony in which all of that will be undermined. Someone will take my place. It will now, G-d willing, be Yossi, your husband, with whom you share emotional intimacy, with whom you will make life’s decisions, and who will, G-d willing, become the priority in your life.
A wedding involves the strange contradiction of parents organizing a party and celebrating their growing irrelevance to their own kids.
It’s a humbling acknowledgment on the part of a parent that what their child most seeks, and what their offspring most needs, is something they cannot provide.
Because while a parent can love their child, they can never choose their child.
And what we all seek in life is not to loved but to be chosen.
Love makes us feel protected. But chosenness make us feel special. To be loved is to be cherished. To be chosen is to be rendered irreplaceable. Love is warm. But chosenness is electrifying.
When it comes to love there can be many. But when it comes to being chosen there can only be one.
At the beginning of creation God created Adam and Eve. They had a perfect existence and lived in Paradise. Yet Eve was still unhappy, which explains why she was susceptible to the wiles and charms of the serpent. How can you live in Eden and still be miserable? Because Adam could love Eve but he could not choose her. She was the only woman in the world. So no matter how much Adam adored her, she still questioned her uniqueness.
Even in an age where most of the traditional institutions have fallen by the wayside, marriage continues to soldier on. Because even in a secular age it caters to our most deep-seated desire, namely the need to be chosen by another.
And that’s why, although marriage is the most intimate of all human commitments, it’s still performed in public, at a ceremony attended by the masses. The act of chosenness only has meaning when it is done to the exclusion of all others. Marriage is where a man and a woman publicly select one another while deselecting everyone else. The marriage ceremony at the chupa establishes the primacy and exclusivity of the married couple. They will hence and forever be bone of one bone and flesh of one flesh.
And it’s done, like tonight, under the stars to signify that, though there be billions, our lives will henceforth be illuminated by one.
And that’s what makes a wedding day the single most important event of our lives. Because it’s the day that establishes our human uniqueness where we become a celebrity to one.
This message of uniqueness through chosenness is one that is lost on so much of the modern world, which makes the critical mistake of believing that uniqueness comes from something you do rather than something you are. The more money you make, the more important you become. The more power you accumulate, the more relevant you are.
But this a zero sum game which only magnifies insecurity as it places us in a competitive environment where we never feel quite adequate. And a gnawing feeling of inadequacy, leading to lives of instability and insatiability, is what most plagues modern relationships.
It’s a message that the Torah cautions against, in one of its most powerful and beautiful verses, Shterny, found in the weekly reading of your wedding week, Eikev. Moses instructs the Jewish people, “It is not through bread alone that man lives, but rather through the word of God that man shall live.” Holiness rather than money, commitment rather than possessions, the celestial rather than the terrestrial, is what undergirds human uniqueness.
And the Torah reading goes further in cautioning us against the demoralizing emptiness of material dependence: “And you will say that my own strength and my own exertion created all this wealth.”
The cardinal human error is conceit, a failure to depend on, and acknowledge, the contribution of, others. The beginning of human corruption is the inability to choose another. It is where we place ourselves at the epicenter of our own existence. Our world calls it narcissism. Judaism calls it arrogance.
We made your engagement party, Shterny, at our home, where several people gave speeches. But the most impressive of all was Yossi, who in a few moments will become your husband. His words were simple yet profound. He said in a few sentences what it has taken me many books to communicate. “Tonight has various themes,” he said. “It’s about family, friends, and a celebration. But in truth, it’s all about one thing: Shterny. Tonight is all about her.” A man placing a woman at the center of his universe is the very essence of the marital commitment.
That was the night that I felt that my daughter was chosen. And that’s what makes it possible for a father to let go.
But I cannot let go, I will not let go, until I have given you my blessing.
And here it is:
I bless you tonight, Shterny, to be like the matriarchs of the Jewish people. May you have the fortitude of Sara, who drew a line and protected the exclusivity of her relationship with Abraham. May you have the wisdom of Rebecca who saw aspects of character in her children to which even her husband remained blind. May you have the industriousness of Rachel to whom we are first introduced as a shepherd and entrepreneur. And may you have the perseverance of Leah who understood that relationships are built rather than created.
But above all else I repeat the blessing I gave you at your Bat Mitzvah when you became a young woman. May you grow to be like your mother. May you embody your mother’s beauty, selflessness, righteousness, and loving-kindness. May you be all she is and more.
Tonight Shterny you are the bride and queen, the star of the show. May it be that way in Yossi’s life from now and evermore.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s delivered this speech to his daughter at her wedding in Jerusalem. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.