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What Is a Groom’s Meal?

Article No. 12, Tav-Shin-Mem-Tet, 1988-89

Our sages said (Berachot 6), “Anyone who enjoys the meal of a groom and does not delight him breaches in five voices.” We should understand why this meal is called “the groom’s meal” and not “the bride’s meal.” In the Torah we find in regard to Jacob, that Lavan [Laban] made the meal and not Jacob, as it is written (Genesis 29:22), “And Lavan gathered all the men of the place and made a feast.”

Concerning the dances at the wedding, we see the opposite: Our sages did not say, “How does one dance before the groom?” but “How does one dance before the bride?” (Ketubot 16b). These are their words: “How does one dance before the bride? Beit Shammai say, ‘The bride as she is.’ And Beit Hillel say, ‘Beautiful and graceful bride’! Beit Shammai said to Beit Hillel: ‘If she were lame or blind, does one say of her, ‘Beautiful and graceful bride’? But the Torah said, ‘Keep far from a false matter.’’ Said Beit Hillel to Beit Shammai: ‘According to your words, if one has made a bad purchase in the market, should one praise it in his eyes or criticize it? Surely, one should praise it in his eyes. Therefore, the Sages said, ‘Always should the disposition of man be pleasant with people.’’”

To understand these two phrases, we should interpret this in the work. The bride means the time of the exile, a time of working in concealment of the face, when the love of the Creator and the glory of the greatness of the Creator do not shine for him and are ever before him, and he will not fall from his degree but always ascend ever higher. Instead, the person is in concealment of the face, called “the time of exile.” This means that he is still under the control of the “nations of the world,” which is the will to receive for himself.

This means that as long as he did not emerge from the authority of the will to receive, the Tzimtzum[restriction] and concealment are still over him. Each time he must overcome the concealment, see the Creator’s guidance, say that He is really good and does good, and everything he receives from the Creator is only good. Naturally, he should be thankful and praise the Creator from the bottom of the heart for giving him abundance.

In this respect, sometimes he has the power to overcome what he sees and say as it is written, “They have eyes and see not.” But this is only during the ascent.

But afterward, thoughts of the will to receive come to him and demand to see and agree above reason that this is really so, that all that he is receiving from the Creator is good. The body does not let him believe this and he falls from his degree.

Although he knows that the way to emerge from a state of descent is through prayer, at that time he does not have the strength to pray. Although there is a rule that for anything that a person needs he should pray to the Creator, so he should also pray for his inability to pray. But sometimes, he does not have the strength to pray even for this. Hence, in that state, a person is in utter decline.

However, sometimes a person deteriorates to the point where he forgets and does not feel that he is in decline. As we have said several times, a person falls so low that he remains unconscious. That is, at that time he is unaware that he is at the “netherworld.” Only once he recovers, he sees that he is at the lowest point and does not even have the power to pray.

At that time, a person must brace himself and say, “Now I can say wholeheartedly, ‘The song of ascents; from the depths I have called upon You, Lord,’ since it is impossible to be lower in the ground than I am.” Certainly, if he asks from a state of truth, and at that time sees that unless the Creator helps him, he is lost, he will see that he cannot do anything by himself. Therefore, then he should tell the Creator, “I cannot even pray for You to save me. Therefore, only You can save me.” Then he says, “From the narrow place, I have called on the Lord; answer me in the wide expanse, Lord.” Through the descents and ascents, a need and lack for the Creator’s help form in a person. Then, each time, Kelim [vessels] manifest in man for the Creator to fill.

It is written in the Sulam [commentary on The Zohar] (“Introduction of The Book of Zohar,” Item 125): “The days of the exile are called ‘night,’ since this is the time of the concealment of His face from the children of Israel. At that time, all the powers of separation control the servants of the Creator. Yet, precisely at that time, the bride bonds with her husband—through Torah and Mitzvot[commandments/good deeds] of the righteous, who at that time are regarded as the ‘supporters of the Torah.’ All the sublime degrees called, ‘secrets of the Torah,’ are revealed by them, since this is why they are called those who make them, for they seemingly make the Torah.”

We see that “bride” is the name of the work during the exile, when there is concealment of His face. At that time, all the powers of separation control a person, meaning that thoughts come to him that cause him to feel separated from the Creator. At that time, he faces a dilemma: 1) Either he runs from the work and becomes completely separated from the Kedusha [holiness/sanctity], or 2) He does all that he can in order for the Creator to help him be saved from these thoughts. That is, the Creator will illuminate His face, and then there will be no place for the control of the powers of separation.

This means that he need not pray that these thoughts will depart from him. Instead, he should ask the Creator will shine His face to him, that He will not hide His face from him. That is, if he prays to the Creator that these thoughts will depart from him, then he has gained nothing from the powers of separation, and he will return to the state he was in before the thoughts of the powers of separation came to him. Thus, he has not gained a thing. This is regarded as suffering in vain. But if he asks the Creator to shine His face to him so that the powers of separation will surrender, then he has risen in degree by being rewarded with the nearness of the Creator.

It follows that “bride” is the work of “accepting the burden of the kingdom of heaven,” regarded as “faith in the Creator.” Opposite this are forces of separation, which do not let a person believe in the Creator above reason. Rather, according to how the external mind mandates, so the forces of separation separate a person from the Creator. Hence, there are ascents and descents in these states, since the whole basis of the faith is above reason. In consequence, the powers of separation have room, meaning they do not allow a person to go against reason.

By this we should interpret what we asked, why concerning a bride our sages said, “How does one dance before the bride?” Concerning dancing, we see that when we dance, a person goes up and down, and sometimes falls to the east, to the west, to the north, and to the south. That is, the falls during the dance are to all six directions. The falls come so that the person will feel the need for the Creator’s help. That is, it was done on purpose, so that the person will not be able to emerge from the control of the nations of the world within him by himself, without the Creator’s help.

But why does the Creator want a person to ask for His help? It is as Baal HaSulam said, since a person does not have the need and urgency to obtain Nefesh-Ruach-Neshama (NRN), which the Creator wants to give to a person, and since man is content with little, by asking for help, the help that the Creator gives him is NRN, as it is written in The Zohar, “He who comes to purify is aided. And it says, ‘With what is he aided? With a holy soul.’”

This means that each time he wants to be more cleansed, he is given help through a higher soul. It follows that according to the request for help from above, this is the cause that he will receive a higher degree each time, and by this he will receive his NRN. For this reason, the Creator wanting that we ask for His help causes us to have to extend a higher degree each time.

Now we can understand why they asked about the bride, “How does one dance before the bride?” and not before the groom. This is because dancing means ascents and descents that apply during the exile, called “concealment of His face,” when the powers of separation govern. However, the question is, What causes the existence of ascents and descents? In this there is a dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel.

Beit Shammai say “the bride as she is.” That is, to the extent of the flavor that he feels in the work, he should overcome and say, “Even if I do not feel its importance, I still take upon myself the kingdom of heaven with faith above reason.” And to say, “Since I want to work and serve the King, it does not matter to me what flavor I feel in this work.” Rather, it should all be above reason. That is, a person should say that he agrees to do the holy work “Even if I remain with this flavor my entire life.” This is called “the bride as she is.”

As Baal HaSulam said (in the essay, “Order of the Work”), we should believe only with faith that the Creator is the guide. That is, although faith has lower importance than his understanding within reason, he chooses to walk in this path.

Moreover, he is not going above reason because he has no choice. Rather, even if he is given knowledge, he chooses to go above reason. This is called “the bride as she is.” In other words, he takes upon himself the kingdom of heaven even though he has no feeling of importance, as one should feel when serving a great and important King. Yet, he does not mind what he is feeling, but takes upon himself everything with great joy.

Yet, since everything is above reason, there are ascents and descents in this work. Therefore, during the work in a state of a bride, there are ascents and descents, which are called “dances.”

Beit Hillel say that the dance is not necessarily as is the view of Beit Shammai, who say that we must say, “the bride as she is,” meaning that he takes it upon himself although she is of little importance to him, and that only in this way are there ascents and descents, called “dances.” Rather, in our view, we need not be so strict about those workers who want to take upon themselves faith in a way that it is of such little importance.

Instead, we should accept the faith in a way that he will not regard what he is feeling, but he should say that the bride is indeed beautiful and graceful (“graceful” means that a thread of Hesed [grace, but also mercy] is extended on her). What he does not feel is because he is still unworthy of feeling, but afterward he will really see her beauty, how beautiful and graceful she is. And yet, since now he does not have this feeling, there is the matter of ascents and descents, which is called “dances” in the work.

It follows that this applies only when the work is in a state of “bride.” This is why our sages said “How does one dance before the bride?” and did not say “How does one dance before the groom?” But when speaking of a meal, it is called “a groom’s meal” and not “a bride’s meal” because a meal is as our sages said (Avoda Zarah, p3), “He who labors on the eve of Shabbat [Sabbath], eats on Shabbat. But he who did not labor on the eve of Shabbat, from where will he eat on Shabbat?” since the Shabbat is “the conclusion of the making of heaven and earth.”

Shabbat is a time of reception of delight and pleasure, which is the final purpose of creation. For this reason, Shabbat is called “the conclusion of the making of heaven and earth.” The giving of delight and pleasure pertains to the groom, which refers to the Creator, who gives delight and pleasure to the creatures. The Creator is called “groom” after what our sages said (Yevamot 63), “descend in degree and choose a wife.” A “groom” means he must descend to a lower degree and receive a wife, as it is written in the book Matan Torah [The Giving of the Torah], “And the Lord descended to the top of the mountain.” With respect to the descent, the Creator was a groom, from the word, “descending in degree.”

We should interpret the meaning of descent with regard to the Creator. As is explained in the words of the ARI, in order for the created beings to be able to receive His light, there were many restrictions and diminutions of the light until it was suitable for the attainment of the lower ones. If the light is too big, the lower ones will not be able to receive His abundance because “they annul before the light as a candle before a torch.”

For the Creator, this is called “descended,” as in descending from His greatness. In other words, the lower ones are unfit to see His greatness. Rather, each according to his ability, to that extent the Tzimtzum [restriction] is lifted from him and the light appears. In this respect, the Creator is called “groom,” when He takes the people of Israel as a bride, to give her everything she needs, as it is written in the Ketubah [a formal letter outlining the groom’s responsibilities to the bride] that the groom gives to the bride: “I will labor and respect and feed and provide and sustain and clothe you.”

In other words, when the Creator takes the people of Israel as a bride, He will give her everything she needs. This is called “a groom’s meal,” when the Creator, who is the groom, from the words, “of inferior degree,” nourishes and provides for the created beings. That is, He must lower Himself so as to give each one according to his attainment, as because of this, all the restrictions took place, and from this comes the whole matter of multiplicity of names.

Clearly, when a person receives delight and pleasure from the Creator, it cannot be said that in that state, during the reception of the abundance, there will be ascents and descents. This is only when a person is in a state of concealment of the face, when he must overcome what he feels and say that the Creator is good and does good, and one cannot always do so.

But during the reception of the delight and pleasure, it is impossible to have states of descent, which are called “dances.” This is why they did not say, “How does one dance before the groom?” since the Creator is called a “groom” when He takes the “bride,” when there is union between the groom and the bride, and union means “equivalence of form.”

That is, when the people of Israel as a whole, or a single individual, achieves equivalence of form, this is called “union.” At that time, the concealment of the face departs and each one receives the revelation of the face of the Creator. This is called “a groom’s meal.” This is why they said that there, with the groom, the work is received in a different way at that time, meaning that we must delight the groom.

However, we should understand what our sages said (Berachot 7), “Anyone who enjoys the meal of a groom and does not delight him breaches in five voices. But if he delights him, what is his reward? Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said, ‘He is rewarded with the Torah, which was given in five voices.’” We should understand what the groom’s meal symbolizes in the work, that anyone who enjoys a groom’s meal must delight him. In corporeality, it is difficult to understand why we need to delight the groom. Is he not already happy? Who forced him to be a groom? Of course he is happy, as it is written, “As the joy of a groom with a bride.” In corporeality, there are certainly answers to this, but what does this imply to us in the work?

The thing is that it is known that all of our work is to achieve equivalence of form through observing Torah and Mitzvot. That is, we must come to a state where all of our work should be in order to bring contentment to the Maker, and not to ourselves. The state of this work is called “bride,” meaning that there are ascents and descents there, called “dances.”

Afterward, when he completes this work on the part of the lower one, it is regarded as “Everything that is in your hand and in your strength to do, do.” At that time it is called “the conclusion of the work.” This is the meaning of “bride,” as it is written, “When Moses concluded,” which is the conclusion of the work from the perspective of the lower one. At that time a person is rewarded with permanent faith. That is, he has come to a degree where “All your work is for the sake of the Creator.” For this reason, the abundance he receives at that time from above, which is called “the King’s meal,” he must receive the abundance in order to bestow and not for his own sake.

In other words, at that time he must be willing to say that this pleasure he receives is not because he wants to delight himself, but because he wants to delight the Creator, because the Creator created the world in order to do good to His creations. If he does not receive the delight and pleasure, His intention will not be carried out. By his enjoyment now, the Creator is enjoying from His purpose being revealed in practice. It follows that by this he observes what our sages said, “Anyone who enjoys the meal of a groom and does not delight him,” but he does delight Him.

Indeed, we should understand the following: 1) How can we delight the groom? 2) Why do we need to delight the groom?

In the work, how can it be said that the people of Israel should delight the Creator? Can such a thing be said about the Creator, that He needs our joy, that we will delight Him?

3) Why does he breach in five voices if he does not delight him? Why specifically the five voices? 4) Anyone who delights him is rewarded. What is his reward? Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said, “He is rewarded with the Torah, which was given in five voices.” We should understand this, too. Every person knows that the reward is in the next world. Why does he say that the Torah is the reward? It appears to mean the opposite, as it is written in Tanna Devei Eliyahu: “Anyone who recites rules each day is guaranteed to have the next world.” It follows that the reward we receive for the Torah is the next world. But here, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi says that the reward is the Torah.

As was said, all of our work is that through observing Torah and Mitzvot, a person should aim that by this, he will achieve equivalence of form, as it is written, “As He is merciful, so you are merciful.” That state is called a “bride.”

Everything we receive from the Creator, whether corporeality or spirituality, but rather any pleasure we receive from the Creator, is called “a groom’s meal.” That is, everything that a person enjoys is called “a meal.” For this reason, all the pleasures that a person receives from the Creator are called “a groom’s meal.”

By receiving, a person comes into disparity of form, which causes separation, and on this discernment there were Tzimtzum and concealment so the light of His face is not revealed in a place of separation. The Creator gives him something to enjoy, and by the Creator giving him something, he should receive from this an ascent in degree. That is, he should be closer to Kedusha, since now he is better qualified to believe that the Creator is good and does good. Because of it, he had to take upon himself to love the Creator, since He nourishes and provides.

The evidence to this is that now he received nourishment. The body exists and leads a happy life not necessarily from eating and drinking. Rather, a person also needs nourishments that pertain to man’s spirit, meaning respect, knowledge, and service of the Creator. Each one, according to his own spirit, needs things that will lift his spirit. All this is called “nourishments.” For this reason, any pleasure that a person receives from the Creator will reasonably bring a person nearer to Kedusha. But in fact, by this one grows farther due to the disparity of form resulting from the reception of the pleasure.

For this reason, if a person, while receiving the pleasure from the Creator, tries to delight the King by receiving in order to bestow upon the Creator, and his joy is from trying to aim to bestow contentment upon his Maker, by this he obtains a Kli [vessel] of bestowal with which he delights the Creator because the purpose of creation is to do good.

This delights the Creator, since now the Creator can give delight and pleasure to man, since man is now able to receive in order to bestow. Then the verse “The Lord delights in His works” comes true, meaning with the work of creation, for His will is to do good to His creations.

Because of the Tzimtzum, the Creator had to hide Himself from His creations. But when a person aims while receiving the pleasure to receive it for the sake of the Creator, this gives pleasure to the Creator from giving to the creatures.

It follows that from every pleasure he receives with the aim to benefit the Creator, it creates within him a Kli called “receiving in order to bestow.” When that Kli grows in him, after each giving, what will be his reward from the growth of the Kelim [vessels]? That they will be in order to bestow. His reward will be that he will later be rewarded with the Torah, called “the names of the Creator,” since now what he receives will be in order to bestow.

It follows that the reward will be the Torah, as Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said. That is, what will happen once a person has been rewarded with a degree where he can delight the King? When he wants only to bring contentment to his Maker? And what is his reward? It does not mean that the person should receive reward for delighting the Creator. Rather, he says that his reward is that he can please the King.

How does he please the King? By receiving the Torah. Doing good to His creations is the benefit that the Creator wants to give to the created beings; it is the revelation of His Godliness to the creatures. This is called “Torah,” meaning “Torah, as in the names of the Creator.” It follows that his reward is that the Creator can give him the Torah, as the Creator enjoys this giving and it pleases Him.

It follows that “Anyone who enjoys the meal of a groom and does not delight him” means that he is still immersed in self-love and cannot say that everything he does is only for the sake of the Creator. Then, the Creator cannot give the Torah, as it will all go to the Sitra Achra [other side]. This is why they said that he “breaches in five voices.” It is known that five Behinot [discernments] contain all the worlds and all the degrees, which appear as the names of the Creator. These are the tip of the Yod, and the four letters, Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey. In the worlds, they are called AK and ABYA, and in the souls they are called NefeshRuachNeshamaHaya, and Yechida.

Thus, the meaning of “breaches in five voices” is that he causes the five abovementioned Behinot not to manifest because they are not trying to achieve the intention that all the actions are only for the sake of the Creator and not for self-benefit. This is considered that where he should work to delight the Creator, he is concerned only with delighting himself. By this, he prevents the upper abundance from manifesting.

It follows that man causes the prevention of abundance below. This is considered that where man should have exerted to make the glory of heaven revealed—which is called “the revelation of His Godliness to His creations,” which is the purpose of creation—man is doing things that cause the glory of the Creator not to be revealed. Instead, the glory of the Sitra Achra is revealed and the Shechina[Divinity] is in the dust.

This is called “the Shechina in exile under the nations of the world” within each person. That is, instead of trying to make The Good Who Does Good be revealed, and the concealment to be removed by aiming to bestow, he causes the nations of the world in him to rise ever higher.

The nations of the world is the will to receive for oneself. When we work for it, it gains strength and its quality manifests. Then, Israel in man descends below it, and this is called “breaching in five voices.”

But if we work in order to bestow, Kedusha gains power and controls. “One who enjoys the meals of a groom and his intention is to delight him, it means that his reward is that he was given the privilege of delighting the Creator. The sign of the reward, meaning the way to know that his aim is truly to delight the Creator, is as Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said, that “his reward is the Torah.” If he is rewarded with the Torah, meaning if his aim is really only to please the King, and this is his only reward, the Tzimtzum and concealment are naturally removed from him, and he must be rewarded with the revelation of the light of His face. This is called “the Torah of His names,” called “the revelation of His Godliness to His creatures.”

It follows that “bride” means work of faith, meaning acceptance of the burden of the kingdom of heaven. But here there is a matter of ascents and descents, meaning what a person should give to the Creator, which is unconditional surrender. In other words, a person should accept faith above reason even though he has no feeling and no excitement over taking upon himself the burden of the kingdom of heaven. Nevertheless, he should agree with that state and say that this must be the will of the Creator that he will work and serve Him in this lowliness, so he does not mind what elation he feels about this faith because about himself, meaning his own benefit, he has no concern, but only about the benefit of the Creator. If He wants him to remain in that state, he accepts this unconditionally. This is called “unconditional surrender.”

In that regard, faith is called “below,” meaning that it is of inferior importance for man. It is as it is written in the book A Sage’s Fruit: “Faith means below, since it is of low importance. For this reason, when faith is thrown to the ground, meaning when the greatness of faith is not valued, it becomes a serpent. In other words, in that state, a person becomes worse than when he began the work on faith. Prior to this, he was regarded as sacred still and did not lack faith. But now that he has begun to take upon himself faith above reason, his faith is unimportant because his reason does not let him believe without reason. Therefore, he falls into the Klipa [shells/peels] of the serpent. Hence, when he wishes to enter Kedusha, he grabs it by the tail, where “tail” is the last discernment in everything. In other words, he accepts faith with all its lowliness, meaning above reason. At that time it becomes a scepter. He interprets there that in the hands of the redeemer was a scepter. This is the meaning of the “faithful shepherd,” who has a scepter in his hand to direct the hearts of Israel to their father in heaven.

Conversely, the groom is the giver. Considering what the Creator does, His quality is to do good to His creations. This is why it is called “the groom’s meal,” as they said, “Anyone who enjoys the meal of a groom.”

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