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Parshas Lech Lecha (5777)

Of Dogs and "Aufruf"

One of the lesser-known, but very fascinating, rituals associated with traditional Jewish weddings is ... the Aufruf.

An Aufruf sounds scarier than it is. In fact, my niece was afraid to come to my Aufruf because she thought there were dogs there (you know … Auf! Ruf! Auf! Ruf!) and she is scared of dogs. The reality is that this ritual thankfully does not involve scary dogs, and the only time you might ever see a dog in the sanctuary is for a “Bark Mitzvah”, where the proud dog chants his “Arf-torah” and everybody shouts “Muzzle Tov”!

On the Shabbos before the wedding, it is the custom for the chassan (groom) to be called to the reading of the Torah in the synagogue. This is called an Aufruf, which literally means “calling up” (or aliyah in Hebrew).

In most synagogues, an Aufruf is a major affair, almost like a Bar Mitzvah. The cantor calls the groom to the Torah with a special chant. After the Torah is read and the groom finishes the after-blessing, everybody shouts “Mazel Tov” and sings in his honor. While the congregation is singing, it is customary for the friends and family of the chassan and kallah (bride) to throw bags filled with nuts, raisins, and candy at the groom. In general, this symbolizes that the new couple should have a sweet, fruitful life. (On a more practical level, it helps to prepare the poor groom for all the dishes and other objects his wife will be throwing at him during their married life together …).

The nuts that are thrown are alluded to in the verse, “I went down to the nut garden…” (Song of Songs 6:11). Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, in his wonderful book Made in Heaven: A Jewish Wedding Guide, quotes the Divrei Tzadikim who explains this ‘nutty’ idea as follows: Before one can enjoy the kernel of a nut, one must first break away the shell. Similarly, before two people can know one another intimately, they must gradually break the shells and barriers that come between them. True, lasting love involves time and effort – but is well worth it. (Of course, these days, nobody throws nuts anymore – especially with all the nut allergies that people have – so the candy of choice for the majority of Aufrufs has become Sunkist Fruit Gems. Who knew?)

We find in Midrash Talpios an interesting source for the Aufruf. He quotes a Midrash which teaches that chassan domeh l’melech - a groom is like a king. And just as a Jewish king is commanded by the Torah to write two Torah scrolls (see Deuteronomy 17:18) – one that he keeps with him at all times and one that is safely stored away in his treasury – so, too, is the bridegroom called up to the Torah twice – once on the Shabbos before his wedding and once on the Shabbos after his wedding. (Unbeknownst to many, it is customary to call up the groom to the Torah for an aliyah on the Shabbos after his wedding as well.)

I once heard a beautiful explanation of this Midrash: We can ask why it is necessary for the Jewish monarch to keep a Torah scroll safely tucked away in his private treasury when he already carries one with him wherever he goes?

The answer is that the Torah scroll that the king carries around with him all day can get worn out and tattered, and some of the words might even get rubbed out. So every so often, the king needs to check back to the pure, untouched Torah scroll he keeps safely stored away in his treasury, just to make sure he remembers how an ideal Torah is supposed to look and read.

Taken metaphorically, this can mean that in real life, the king sometimes needs to “cut corners” of the Torah and rely on minority opinions in Jewish law – although never compromising on core principles of the Jewish faith – in order to deal with the various situations with which he is confronted on a daily basis. For this reason it is extremely crucial that, on occasion, the king pull out the perfect, unadulterated Torah in his treasury to remind himself of the ideal and optimal level of Torah observance and service of G-d to which he truly aspires.

The chassan is called to the Torah for his Aufruf – representing himself and his soon-to-be wife - the weekend before the wedding to denote the new couples’ commitment to building a beautiful Jewish home together, based on a foundation of Torah with all its wisdom and insights. This is the pure, ideal Torah scroll representing the highest commitment and lofty dreams to which the chassan and kallah aspire as they begin their newly-married life together. (“Honey, I promise to buy you a dozen red roses every single Friday afternoon for Shabbos”. “Dear, for the rest of our married life together, I will never, ever yell at you or make you feel bad in any way!” “We are going to send our kids to good Jewish schools to make sure that they grow up to be proud, knowledgeable Jews”.)

But then, after the wedding, real life hits – the seven days of Sheva Berachos (special blessings honoring the new couple recited at festive meals that continue for a week after the wedding) correspond to the seventy years (or more) of a person’s life – and in the real world, the couple will often forget about all those dreams and hopes that they once shared when they stood together under the chuppah (wedding canopy). They might “cut corners” of their commitment and set up their Jewish home and marriage in a way that is less than ideal.

So we bring the groom back to the synagogue for an aliyah the weekend after the wedding so that he (and his now wife) can check back to the pure, unadulterated Torah safely tucked away in the sanctuary, to remind him and her about all the commitments they once made and dreams they once shared about life together as a Jewish couple building a Jewish home based on the highest Torah ideals.

[Sources: Made in Heaven: A Jewish Wedding Guide by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing]

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