A Wedding In Two Movements: Kiddushin and Nisuin

wedding rings

So said G-d: I remember the kindness of your youth, your bridal love; your following Me in the desert, in an unsown land

Jeremiah 2:2

In this world, [G-d’s bond with His people] was a betrothal—as it is written, “I shall betroth you to Me forever”[1]—and G-d gave them the moon only, as it is written, “This new month shall be to you…”[2] But in the days of Moshiach there shall be the marriage—as it is written, “Your husband, your maker”[3]—and then G-d shall give them everything, as it is written: “And the wise shall shine like the brightness of the heavens, and they who bring righteousness to the many as the stars forever.”[4]

Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 15:30

We inhabit a reality defined by two basic states: being and naught. A thing either is or is not, is either manifest or repressed, in motion or at rest, positive (charged with energy) or negative (not charged with energy). Even the most complex phenomena are the sum of many gradations of presence and absence. After all is said and done, everything boils down to the confluence of so many times “yes” and so many times “no.” The “nos” delineate the parameters of a thing, establishing what it is not, while the “yesses” are the essence of what it is. (A three-foot red piece of wood is not three feet and one inch long, not green, blue or yellow, not stone or iron, etc. The “nots” form the boundaries of the piece of wood, marking the limits of its being and its distinction from other objects, while the “yesses” relate to what lies within these boundaries—the nature and qualities of the piece of wood itself).

“G-d looked into the Torah and created the world.”[5] Thus, the binary nature of creation reflects the division of Torah into positive and negative realms. “I am the L-rd your G-d,”[6] the most fundamental of the positive commandments (mitzvot assei), is complemented by “You shall have no other gods before Me”[7]—the essence of all divine prohibitions (mitzvot lo ta’aseh); “Love your fellow as yourself”[8] is the positive counterpart to “You shall not hate your brother in your heart,”[9] and “Remember the Shabbat day”[10] mirrors “Do not do any work… on the seventh day.”[11] The Torah commands to create life[12] and forbids destroying it[13]; it commands to aid the needy[14] and forbids pressing them for their debts[15]; it instructs to eat unleavened bread on Passover,[16] and forbids all leavened foods for the duration of the festival[17]; and so on.[18]

The Torah institution of marriage also includes both an “affirmative” and a “negative” component. According to Torah law, a marriage consists of two distinct steps. First comes the kiddushin (“consecration,” also called eirusin, “betrothal”[19]): the groom gives the bride something of value (by common practice, a ring), in return for which the bride consecrates herself to him, with the effect that “she becomes forbidden to the rest of the world.”[20] From this point on, for another man to have relations with her constitutes adultery, and to dissolve the kiddushin requires a get (writ of divorce), as for a full-fledged marriage. Yet the purpose of marriage is not to preclude “the rest of world” from living with her, but to effect a union between two people. This is the function of the nissu’in (“marriage”)—achieved by the chupah (wedding canopy), yichud (private seclusion) and sheva berachot (seven marriage benedictions)—which renders man and wife “one flesh.”[21] Otherwise stated, the kiddushin defines the parameters of the relationship, clearing a “space” in which it might exist, while the nissu’in fills this space with the essence of the relationship itself.

Manning the Borders

As we said, kiddushin and nisuin are two distinct phases in the marriage process. Indeed, originally, the kiddushin would be held at an earlier date, after which the bride continued to live with her parents as the couple prepared for the nissu’in, which was usually held one year later. (It was only in recent centuries, when the tribulations of exile undermined the stability of Jewish life and often caused the sudden dispersion of communities that it was deemed unwise to create a marriage-bond between a man and woman who would not actually be living together. Hence the present-day practice of conducting the nissu’in immediately following the kiddushin, combining the two stages of marriage in a single ceremony.)

Our sages tell us that at Mount Sinai, where G-d revealed Himself to us and gave us the Torah, we consecrated ourselves to Him as His bride. This, however, was only the kiddushin stage of our marriage. Our bond with Him shall be complete only in the era of Moshiach, at which time G-d and Israel shall unite in nissu’in.

This is not to say that our relationship with G-d today is a wholly “negative” one—as noted above, our commitment to Him includes both “positive commandments” and “prohibitions.” But today we are only capable of establishing the “parameters” of the relationship, not of realizing its quintessential content. Today, our relationship with G-d is defined by our commitment to Him and by our striving to unite with Him, but without the tactual experience of the union itself. We yearn for Him as a bride yearns for her betrothed, but whose most rapturous feelings are but a faint intimation of post-marriage love.

For thirty-three centuries, we have been creating the “space” of our marriage with G-d and zealously defending its borders. We have remained faithful to Him in the face of all the cultures and “isms” that have sought to seduce us. We have established our identity as His people, consecrated to Him alone. Now we are ready for the real thing—for an actual experience of the divine as the most intimate truth of our lives.

Based on the Rebbe’s talks[22].

[1]. Hoshea 2:21.

[2]. Exodus 12:2—the first mitzvah given to the people of Israel.

[3]. Isaiah 54:5.

[4]. Daniel 12:3.

[5]. Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 1:2.

[6]. The first of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:2.

[7]. The second of the Ten Commandments, ibid., verse 3.

[8]. Leviticus 19:18

[9]. Ibid., verse 17.

[10]. Exodus 20:8.

[11]. Ibid., verse 10.

[12]. “Be fruitful and multiply”—Genesis 1:28.

[13]. “Do not kill”—Exodus 20:13.

[14]. Deuteronomy 15:8.

[15]. Exodus 22:24.

[16]. Ibid., 12:18.

[17]. Ibid., 13:3.

[18]. See Yes and No, WIR vol. VII, no. 8.

[19]. The term eirusin is often erroneously applied to an “engagement,” which is merely the pledging of the two parties to marry at some future date. On one occasion, the Rebbe urged that this error—which can also be halachically problematic—be corrected, and that engagements should be referred to only by their correct Hebrew term, shidduchin.

[20]. Talmud, Kiddushin 2b.

[21]. Genesis 2:24.

[22]. Hitvaaduyot 5711, vol. II, p. 142; Likkutei Sichot, vol. XIX, 215-220; Sefer Hamaamarim Melukat, vol. IV, pp. 237-241.


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Ytzchak Dasniere-Ini
8 years ago

Could you please confirm the Word ´parameter’ is correct? I think ´perimeter’ should be used
Thanks on advance for your answer.

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