There was one part of our wedding that was extraordinary. It’s called the bedekin. The bedekin is an ancient ceremony performed at some Jewish weddings moments before the marriage ceremony. The bedekin symbolizes one of the keys to creating a lasting core connection and deep love. Allow me to explain.
When it was time for our bedekin, I was escorted by the rabbi and some of my friends to a room where most of the guests waited huddled around my wife. When we entered the room, everyone turned toward us. As I was escorted toward my wife, the guests parted one by one just before we converged. I couldn’t see my wife, but as the people stepped aside, I knew I was getting closer and being escorted to where she was seated. Eventually, the last row of people surrounding my wife moved aside, and I saw her sitting in an ornate high-backed white chair fit for a queen, holding hands with my mother and my mother-in-law who sat on either side of her. I approached my wife and performed the ceremonial part of the bedekin—I took the veil that was over her head and lowered it so that it covered her face. I left the room and waited for my wife to join me under the marriage canopy.
The traditional explanation for the bedekin is that the groom is checking to make sure he is marrying the right woman and that he doesn’t fall victim to a last minute switch as Jacob did in biblical times when he was tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel.
In the Bible, Jacob waited seven years to marry Rachel whom he loved. But on his wedding night he was duped into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah. It wasn’t until after his marriage to Leah that he married his true love, Rachel (in biblical times, polygamy was acceptable and common).
The problem with the traditional explanation of the bedekin is that it doesn’t make sense or hold-up to scrutiny.
If the bedekin was my opportunity to ensure I was marrying the right woman, I wouldn’t cover my bride’s face; I would uncover it. Symbolically and practically, it makes more sense to lift the veil and reveal her identity than it does to cover her face and conceal it. But, in fact, tradition says to lower the veil and conceal her identity.
Furthermore, if the bedekin was my opportunity to confirm I was marrying the right woman and protect myself against being tricked, then after I lifted the veil and revealed her identify, I should immediately escort her to the marriage canopy—never letting her out of my sight. But that’s not the tradition of the bedekin. I didn’t escort her to the marriage canopy; I met her there. I separated from my bride for a few minutes after the bedekin, leaving myself completely vulnerable to a fate that I am supposedly protecting myself against. In the time that it took my bride to join me under the marriage canopy, another woman could have taken her place and her identity would have been concealed by the veil.
In spite of the traditional explanation, the bedekin does not protect a man from marrying the wrong woman, nor does it symbolically represent that message.
The traditional explanation seems implausible for another reason too. Is it possible that Jacob could be tricked into marrying the wrong woman? It’s not as if Rachel and Leah were identical twins. Rachel was known to be a shapely and beautiful woman. Leah is described as having weak eyes. Did Jacob really not know who he was marrying? Is it possible that he couldn’t tell the difference until the next morning as the verses indicate?
A careful reading of the story reveals a more reasonable and insightful understanding of Jacob and the true meaning of the bedekin.
On the day after his wedding, Jacob asked why he was not given Rachel to marry. He doesn’t ask why he was given Leah. In other words, Jacob didn’t complain that he married Leah. He complained that he didn’t marry Rachel. Why didn’t he complain about marrying Leah? Would you accept a marriage to someone you had no intention of marrying without putting up a fuss?
Jacob was told two things when he asked why he wasn’t given Rachel to marry. He was told that the custom in his community was for the older sister to marry first (Leah was the older sister). And he was told that he would marry Rachel too. Jacob accepted this response without argument, and, in fact, he married Rachel too.
But why did this response satisfy Jacob? If you discovered that you married the wrong woman, would you accept your fate because of a local custom?
The response satisfied Jacob, but not because he learned that the local custom mandated he marry Leah. The response satisfied Jacob because he learned that he was going to marry Rachel. Let me explain.
Jacob lived in the community as a single man for seven years. He knew the custom was that the older sister marries first. That’s why he didn’t complain about marrying Leah. Can you imagine being a single man living in a community with such a custom and not knowing it? Jacob knew he had to marry Leah—that wasn’t a problem for him. He wanted to marry Rachel, and the fact that he did not—that was a problem for him. So when he was told that he would marry Rachel, he was satisfied. That’s all he wanted. He didn’t need an explanation for why he married Leah. He knew he had to marry Leah in order to marry Rachel. He knew that to marry the woman of his choice, he had to marry the woman of his fate too. And that’s why the story of Jacob serves as a paragon for a successful marriage. Because the truth is when you marry, you marry Rachel and Leah. You choose your spouse, but that choice includes the future of your spouse which you don’t yet know—your fate. And to succeed in love, you have to commit to both—Rachel and Leah, your choice and your fate, the revealed and the unrevealed.
So what’s the meaning of the bedekin?
The bedekin is a vow of unconditional love. I lowered the veil to hide my wife’s face, signifying our unqualified commitment to each other—a commitment that included everything we knew and chose about each other and everything hidden from each other that we would only discover in the future.
Most people don’t enter a marriage with this attitude. Most people, when they wake up to find Leah lying next to them, complain that Leah was not their choice. Most people become frustrated with their spouse and their marriage when they discover character flaws, problems, and differences. Most people feel so duped into marrying Leah that they divorce Rachel. But it’s not possible to marry one without the other. Leah always appears. The key to success in love and marriage is to know what to do when “she” does.
Soul mates are not perfect for each other. Soul mates love each other with all their imperfections. Soul mates love each other no matter what. Step three of the MarriageMax™ 4-Step Plan for connecting your cores and building love is to embrace your spouse’s shortcomings, uniqueness, and challenges. Step three is to move from me to we.