The Meaning of the Seven Blessings
The sheva berachot contain several themes, ranging from the creation of the world to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to the bride and groom. They end with a description of the joy of bride and groom that will be heard in the streets of Jerusalem at the time of messianic redemption. This links the couple under the chuppah to all of history — to the past and to the ultimate future.
The first of the seven blessings blesses God, “who creates the fruit of the vine.” This blessing, the hagafen, is the same blessing that is recited anytime wine is drunk. Since it is a well-known blessing, you may want to give the honor of reading it to someone who is less familiar with the Hebrew language but may know this blessing from hearing it recited each Sabbath.
The hagafen blessing is the first of the seven blessings recited under the chuppah, but it is the last blessing recited during the seven blessings that are part of the grace after meals following the reception. Take care to assign the hagafen to the first person reciting a blessing under the chuppah and not the last.
The second of the seven blessings is, “Blessed are you God, Sovereign of the universe, Who created everything for your glory.” This second blessing tells of God's creation of the universe and focuses us on its purpose. By extension, it focuses our attention on what our own intentions should be in everything we do, including marriage.
We begin the seven blessings by stating that God created everything for the divine glory because this moment of marriage is not just a spiritual or legal process by which to link two people forever, but also is a part of the bigger Godly purpose of the universe. Everything was created to reveal and bring glory to God, and this wedding, too, must serve that purpose by invoking God's name and the Jewish spiritual rituals we perform within the wedding. Indeed, a Jewish wedding, which enables the building of a Jewish family, is considered one of the highest ways of bringing glory to God.
The third of the sheva berachot is “Blessed are You God, Sovereign of the universe, Who formed the human being.” Here we move from God creating the world to the creation of humans, since humans are the purpose of the creation, the bridge between the physical created world and the infinite divine.
Why are the first and second blessings often recited by the same person?
The blessing of the wine is said every time wine is consumed. It is not part of the seven blessings in the way that the next six are, so the second blessing is often combined with it.
The fourth blessing is related to the third but takes it one step further; it states that we are created in God's image. “Blessed are You God Who created the human being in your image, and in your likeness, and prepared for him, from himself, a structure for eternity. Blessed are You God who forms the human being.”
This blessing declares that we are made in the image of God and are also God's partners in the creation. Humans are most Godlike, according to this, in marrying and creating a family, thus bringing new people into the world as God did. The gift of having such deep, unifying relationships that can result in the creation of new people makes us not only higher than animals but higher than angels also. The gift of marriage is part of the eternal purpose of the creation.
The fifth blessing introduces a new theme, that of Zion, the Land of Israel. “May the barren one rejoice when her children are gathered to her in joy. Blessed are You God, Who makes Zion rejoice with her children.” The Land of Israel is barren since the people have been exiled, but we hope, just as marriage unites two disparate individuals in a lasting bond, so too the people of Israel will be united with the land once again.
The sixth blessing refocuses on the couple under the chuppah and relates them to Adam and Eve at their wedding in the Garden of Eden: “Bring abundant joy to these friends who are lovers, as You brought joy to the ones you created in ancient Eden. Blessed are You God Who brings joy to the groom and bride.” We have gone from the creation of the world to the creation of humans to the people of Israel, and now we have refocused on the couple themselves, to see them as the culmination of it all.
Just as Adam and Eve were the only people in the universe, the true purpose and focus on the universe, so, too, the couple that stands under the chuppah together today is the purpose of it all. They should feel that great honor and responsibility.
Each entire blessing should be heard by the audience as said by the honoree who is holding the wine cup. If many people join in to sing parts of the seventh blessing, the one reciting the blessing should repeat those words so that everyone hears the whole blessing as recited.
The seventh blessing is the longest and usually has sections that are sung. You may want to have this blessing recited by whomever you wish to honor that is most familiar with the Hebrew language and the tunes of wedding blessings. There are recordings and websites that are easily accessed to help with learning the words and tune. You could also ask your wedding officiant to make a recording of the blessing to give to whomever you wish to read it.
This seventh blessing links the bride and groom not only to the past but also to the future: “Blessed are You God, Sovereign of the universe, Who created gladness and joy, groom and bride, rejoicing and song, delight and cheer, love and harmony, peace and friendship. Quickly, God, may there be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of gladness and the voice of joy, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the voice of bridegrooms rejoicing at their weddings, and young people from their feasts of song. Blessed are You God Who gives joy to the groom with the bride.”
Since their exile from the land of Israel in the year 70 c.e., the Jewish people have looked forward to retuning and prayed about the return to Zion three times a day. It is the greatest, most central hope of our people. Here we imagine the joy of this bride and groom spreading and becoming part of the messianic joy, love, and peace that will ultimately be heard in the streets of Jerusalem.