by R. Moshe Kurtz
Lomdus on the Parsha: Chayei Sarah
Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon
But when food was set before him, he said, “I will not eat until I have told my tale.” He said, “Speak, then.” (Genesis 24:33)
Eliezer, servant of Avraham, is tasked with finding a wife for his master’s son, Yitzchak. Upon entering Besuel’s home, he refuses to accept any food. The Kedushas Levi infers from the verse that since Eliezer was appointed to betroth Rivkah, he was required to fast just like a groom would on his wedding day. This raises two questions: (1) Why would Eliezer, who merely served as an agent, be required to fast? (2) If Eliezer was indeed obligated to fast, why was it permissible for him to accept water, as indicated earlier in the narrative (Gen. 24:19)?
To answer these questions we need to first ascertain why many grooms and brides are accustomed to fast, as is recorded in the Rema (E.H. 61:1). The Pischei Teshuvah (E.H. 61:9) classically provides two rationales for the practice: (A) The wedding day is a time of atonement, similar to Yom Kippur. It therefore behooves the bride and groom to fast in order to ensure that their repentance is accepted. (B) On a more legalistic level, the purpose of fasting is to prevent the groom from potentially consuming alcoholic beverages that might sway their judgment and cast aspersions on the act of betrothal, which requires deliberate intent (gemiras da’as).
Several ramifications of this dichotomy can be observed in the following scenarios: The Magen Avraham (O.C 573) suggests that in the case in which a father betroths his daughter on her behalf, it would behoove him to fast to in order to prevent potential inebriation. Whereas, if the only rationale for fasting was to secure atonement from God, there would be no reason for the father to do so – after all, it is not the father’s wedding day but his daughter’s. Nonetheless, as we mentioned before, since the father is serving as his daughter’s agent, he would need to perform the deed with clarity of mind that is beyond reproach, which might require fasting.
Another litmus test is presented by the Pri Megadim (ad loc.) who posits that, theoretically, if a child were to get married upon becoming bar mitzvah, he should fast in order to avoid inebriation, but he would not be enjoined to do so on the basis of earning atonement, since he possess a virtually clean slate.
One of the most practical distinctions between these two schools of thought comes up when determining how long the bride and groom must fast. The Beis Shmuel (E.H. 61:6) writes that if the purpose of refraining from food and beverage is to emulate Yom Kippur, then they would need to fast until the end of the halachic day. Whereas, if our sole concern is to prevent alcohol consumption, in order to ensure that they enter into the marital agreement with absolute free-will and presence of mind, then there would be no reason not to break the fast as soon as the betrothal is completed!
Now, with our more sophisticated understanding of why many fast on their wedding day, we can return to the case of Eliezer. Why was Eliezer required to fast if he was not the groom? While it is true that it was not a day of atonement for Eliezer (just like it is not a day of atonement for a father betrothing his own daughter) he was nonetheless serving as the groom’s representative to effectuate the martial agreement.. Therefore, it was imperative that Eliezer refrain from alcohol or anything else that might tamper with his full presence of mind. For that very reason, there was no problem with Eliezer drinking water that day since it would not negatively affect his faculties- in fact, we might even suggest that staying hydrated ensured he remained in a balanced state of mind!
It should be noted that there are days that one does not fast, such as Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and the month of Nissan. Regarding the obligation to fast at one’s wedding nowadays, Rav Eliezer Melamed (Peninei Halacha, Taharas HaMishpachah 8:7) writes:
A groom or bride who is concerned that the fast will deplete their energy or cause headaches are not obligated to fast. While in the past, only a few people were lenient in this regard, nowadays, when we live more dainty lives, fasting has become emotionally difficult. Therefore, when the fast causes distress we are lenient. This is because the nature of this fast is that it is meant to arouse one to repentance as opposed to earning him penance through suffering.
Clearly, if one does not fast, at the very least they should refrain from any alcoholic beverages until after the wedding ceremony.
Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria, Chabad.org, Mechon Mamre, and my own. Contact: [email protected]