by R. Daniel Mann
Question: If one does not have enough time to take part in a whole wedding, is it better to come for the chupa or for the meal?
Answer: Although they are sometimes discussed interchangeably, there are two distinct, albeit closely related, mitzvot in which non-principals at a wedding should try to take part.
The gemara (Ketubot 17a) discusses the mitzva of hachnasat kalla – joyously escorting the kalla from her father’s house to the place of the “chupa.” A large part of the townspeople were expected to join in, and this is important enough to warrant suspending Torah study and gaining right of way over a funeral procession (ibid.). It is a sign of kavod (see Tosafot ad loc.) for the participants in the important institution of marriage (there is a machloket whether marriage is a formal mitzva). While we no longer escort the kalla through the streets, poskim identify parallel events in today’s wedding ceremony in which one can fulfills this (see Taz, Even Haezer 65:2).
Presumably, one who is a full participant in a wedding ceremony fulfills this element of showing respect. There is not much precedent for a formal mitzva to watch the performance of mitzvot (while appreciation of mitzvot is generally a nice thing). However, if the chupa is not well attended or people are not attentive or are talkative (I have seen both), it is a zilzul to the institution of marriage, the chatan/kalla, and the families, who rightfully expect interest in the momentous moments.
Chazal held the celebratory seuda after the chupa in very hard regard. Regarding the provisions, significant time should be used to prepare for it (Ketubot 2a) and a burial of a parent can be pushed off so that the provisions are not wasted (ibid. 4a). The music is seen as deserving of far-reaching leniencies (see Rama, Orach Chayim 338:2; Igrot Moshe, OC II:95). Regarding participants’ mandate to be mesame’ach (bring joy), we find great rabbis praised for compromising their honor (Ketubot 17a) and relaxing the standard level of tzniut in dancing before the kalla and praising her (ibid.), including the controversial Chassidic minhag (with earlier sources – see Beit Shmuel 21:11) of the mitzva tantz. The gemara (Berachot 6b) warns of Hashem’s disapproval of one who “benefits from the feast of a chatan and is not mesame’ach him” and praises those who are mesame’ach. The Perisha (Even Haezer 65:2) limits this obligation to one who benefits from the meal. The Beit Shmuel (65:1) says that one should go to the wedding in order to be mesame’ach. The Tiv Kiddushin (EH 65:1) suggests that all can agree on a middle position – there is a mitzva to go, but only one who benefits and is not mesame’ach is criticized.
How each individual is mesame’ach is subjective (Ezer Mikodesh to EH 65:1), but it can include appropriate words, presents, dancing, or the very presence of an important person (ibid.). If one has a relationship only with the couple’s parents, one can presumably be mesame’ach the couple vicariously.
Let us return to the question of preferences. Regarding a brit mila, the famous idea of not inviting actually refers to the seuda, not the brit itself (Tosafot, Pesachim 114a; Rama, Yoreh Deah 265:12). The Rama cites this idea of angering Hashem by failing to take part only regarding a brit, as we generally assume, but Tosafot also applies it to the seuda of a wedding of a talmid chacham. This points to the prominence of participation in the seuda. On the other hand, the Tiv Kiddushim (ibid. 3) says that the idea of suspending Torah study is for the escort, not the meal. Perhaps, though, that is because escorting when the procession passes one’s place was likely not very time-consuming.
We have thus seen the importance of various elements of participation at a wedding. No element seems to have a clear advantage over others, so subjective factors can be decisive. The factors can relate to the guest (e.g., convenience, whether he is better at dancing or verbal encouragement) or the couple/families (e.g., ask what they prefer; their budget).