Chazal teach us that two of the gates in the Beis HaMikdash that Shlomo HaMelech built were the Shaar Chassan and the Shaar Avel. The purpose of these gates was to afford Klal Yisrael the opportunity either to commiserate with the pain of another Jew who had lost a loved one, or to share in the joy of chassan as he prepared for his great day of jubilation. By erecting those gates in a public place, Shlomo HaMelech taught us an important lesson: A Jew should feel for others, sharing in their moments of joy and moments of pain, even if they are not related to him — and even if he doesn’t know them at all.
Since the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, this opportunity continues to manifest itself through a mikdash me’at, a beis haknesses, where we console a mourner on Friday evening on one hand, and, l’havdil, share in the simchah of an aufruf prior to a chassan’s marriage.
With sefiras haOmer now behind us, we have officially entered the chasunah season. For the next few weeks, we might find every night on the calendar filled with at least one — if not two or three — wedding invitations.
Of course, when inundated with simchahs, it is extremely difficult to participate in every one. Nevertheless, those of us who have made chasunahs all understand how difficult the task of planning a simchah can be, and it is only fair that when invited as guests, we take the burden off of the baalei simchah by making their task as easy as possible to complete.
And so, in the spirit of Shavuos that we have just celebrated, I would like to present what I consider the Ten Commandments of Invited Guests.
1) Respond in a timely fashion
One of the most difficult tasks for a baal simchah is arranging the seating plan. This problem is exacerbated when people do not RSVP soon after receiving the invitations. I have heard of cases in which sixty percent of invited guests had not responded, with only a day or two remaining before the chasunah. This means that the baal simchah, who has plenty of other things to deal with during the week of the chasunah, is wasting a tremendous amount of time tracking down guests to find out if they are attending.
Perhaps people delay responding because they think the baal simchah will feel bad if they find out they the guest is not going to attend. That might be true, but it still better to get a definitive “no” than no response at all. Simply write that you unfortunately cannot attend; you don’t even have to write a reason. We are all aware of our own hectic lives, and we can respect each other’s schedules and prior commitments. But we need to know whether you won’t be able to attend.
2) Don’t give a false response
This might sound obvious, but there are people who will say they are coming when they have no intention of doing so, just to avoid hurting the baal simchah’s feelings. The halachos of lying and stealing apply to a simchah as they do to all other areas of interacting with people. We all know that caterers charge per portion. What a shame it is to see thirty or more cards of no shows left on the table outside the hall.
Even if you were planning to attend and an unexpected situation arises a day or two before the simchah that prevents you from attending, take the time to call and let the baal simchah know, when he can still give the caterer a lower head count. Just as we are careful about bal tashchis at home, not allowing our children to waste food, so should we be equally vigilant with food paid for by the baal simchah.
3) Respond in writing
Response cards are meant to be returned (e-mail is also fine if the baal simchah posts an e-mail address). Don’t respond in shul on Shabbos, or even in the store or on the street during the week, saying, “Oh, we received your beautiful invitation and we look forward to coming.” Imagine if twenty people all respond verbally to a baal simchah, who is extremely busy with all the details. Responding in writing allows for keeping clear lists of who is attending the simchah.
4) Add a brachah
In addition to your “yes” or “no,” take some time to comment on the invitation, and add a few lines of brachos to the baal simchah. I received such a response card to one of my children’s weddings, and I’ve kept it and will treasure it for years to come. In a matter of minutes, you can touch somebody’s heart with just a few thoughtful words.
5) Don't come unannounced
If you didn’t respond and there is no reservation for you, don’t just show up and expect to be seated and served. If your night was freed at the last minute, call the baal simchah and let them know, or just pop in to extend your mazel tov without eating.
6) Judge others favorably
If you expected to be invited to a simchah and did not receive an invitation, don’t bear a grudge or assume malicious neglect on the part of the baal simchah. Find an intermediary who can clarify and correct the unintentional error. Perhaps the family was forced to make a small chasunah and had to limit their guest list to relatives and their closest circle of friends. And, believe it or not, mail occasionally gets lost.
Similarly, if you get to the simchah hall and you can’t find your card, don’t leave in a huff. Perhaps your RSVP got lost, or maybe someone misplaced your card while setting up the card table. Find a nice way to ask either the baal simchah — or even better, an adult child in their family who is not so busy during the chasunah — to find out where you are supposed to sit. Or just find an empty seat and join the simchah.
8) Maintain Decorum
It is both basic derech eretz and proper etiquette to maintain dignity and respect for the holiness of this momentous event. It should not be necessary to announce that the chassan and kallah request that everyone turn off their cell phones and keep quite throughout the chuppah. There is also a dignified and decent fashion of rejoicing with the chassan and kallah, which also mandates that proper halachos of tzniyus be adhered to throughout the chasunah
9) Be mesamei’ach
The Gemara teaches that one who participates in a wedding seudah and brings joy to the chassan and kallah is blessed with five blessings. On the flip side, however, the same Gemara states that a person who does not rejoice with the chassan and kallah receives five curses. Attending the wedding and giving a check is not enough. Each and every one of us, to whatever extent possible, should join in the dancing and truly be mesamei’ach the chassan and kallah, as exemplified by many stories in the Gemara describing how our Sages would take part in the merrymaking in an active way.
10) Earn your keep
The Gemara states, “Igra debei hillula mili — The main reward of simchas chassan v’kallah is [for the] words.” Chazal are imparting to us that ultimately, the lively music is not what makes the simchah — it’s the words spoken to the kallah about the chassan, or to the chassan regarding the kallah that will bring them joy. If you know the chassan, tell the kallah something personal about his learning, his middos tovos, or his yiras Shamayim. If you know the kallah, extol her chesed or her other outstanding attributes to the chassan.
Before Chavah was created, Hashem said, “It is not good for man (Adam) to be alone.” The commentators wonder what was so bad about his situation. Being in the presence of angels is far from being alone, especially when those angels are broiling meat pouring wine for you. What was “lo tov” about Adam’s situation?
The baalei mussar answer that since angels have no hearts, living with angels it is like living alone. When it is impossible to join with another and feel his joy, even Gan Eden is lo tov.
Unfortunately, as people’s simchah schedules have become more and more crammed, a certain disinterest towards other people’s simchahs has developed. It is understandable that we can’t attend every simchah. But when there is a “special simchah” — when it’s an older girl or an orphan getting married, for instance — we often find a way to attend due to the special circumstances. Truth be told, every simchah is special to the parents and grandparents, and we will never know the difficulties and hardships they may have endured in order to reach this special milestone. If you absolutely can’t be there, fine. But if it’s just inconvenient, remember that the more difficult it is for us, the greater the reward. And you don’t have to be bound to the simchah from beginning to end. Showing up for even a brief period of time conveys to the baal simchah that you feel close to him or her and that you want to join on a personal level, and it’s always appreciated.
May we merit to make many simchahs and be able to share in each other’s simchahs on a constant basis.
Rabbi Dovid Weinberger is the rav of Congregation Shaaray Tefila in Lawrence, New York. A graduate of Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, he received smichah from Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l. Rabbi Weinberger is the halachic advisor for Hatzolah in the Five Towns, and for Shalom Task Force, a national organization dealing with spousal abuse in the Jewish community. He has authored many works, including Ohel Rochel, ArtScroll’s siddur for women, and he lectures on many halachic and hashkafah topics, with particular emphasis on chinuch, Hilchos Shabbos, and medical halachah.