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The Seventh Blessing Re-examined

“God, our Lord, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the grooms’ jubilance from their canopies.”
Dedicated to the memory of
Hana Bat Haim
In the last of the seven marital blessings recited under the canopy at Jewish weddings we request: "God, our Lord, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the grooms’ jubilance from their canopies and of youths from their song-filled feasts."

This prayer is no doubt based on the words of Jeremiah the Prophet: "Thus saith the Lord: Yet again there shall be heard in this place, whereof ye say: It is waste, without man and without beast, even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that say: ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His mercy endureth for ever,’ even them that bring offerings of thanksgiving into the house of the Lord, For I will cause the captivity of the land to return as at the first, saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 33:10-11).

This prophetic message follows an earlier one (7:34): "Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land shall be desolate."

Therefore, in the nuptial blessing we ask that "there soon be heard the sound of joy and the sound of gladness" - that the Almighty precipitate the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s consoling prophecy.

Yet, a question arises. Why does the prophet only address the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, ignoring the rest of the cities of Israel that are not within the boundaries of Judah? We similarly find in the laws of Tisha B’Av (Orach Chaim 561) that one who sees the cities of Judah in desolation, or Jerusalem or the site of the Temple in desolation, must rend his garment. The "Bach" explains that one does not rend upon seeing other cities in Israel because they are less important (see the "Mishna Berurah" ad loc.). This explains why one need not rend one’s garment over the desolation of the cities, but it does not explain why we do not pray for their reestablishment, that they be filled with the "sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride." Indeed, we must understand why the cities of Israel are less important than those of Judah.

We indeed find that the years of the Jewish calendar are intercalated only in the Judah region. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 11b) informs us that Chananiya Ish Ono says that if they were to intercalate in the Galilee, the year is not intercalated; and Rabbi Yehuda the son of Shimon ben Pasi explains that when the Torah states, "It is there that you shall go to seek His presence" (Deuteronomy 12:5), it is teaching us that "all of your seeking (I.e., intercalating) must be done in the presence of God." We also find (in Menachot 83b) that the Omer and Twin Loaves offerings were brought specifically from with the Land of Israel, and the Talmud informs us that, ideally, the Omer should come from the region of Judah for we have a rule that it is forbidden to skip over the fulfillment of one commandment in favor of another.

It appears, therefore, that they cities of Israel outside of the Judah region receive their blessing on account of Judah, and when Jeremiah the Prophet announces that the cities of Judah shall be lacking "the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride" it naturally follows that the rest of the cities of Israel will also share this fate.

This holds true regarding the consolation, when joy returns to the cities of Judah, and, naturally, to Israel. And this explains the words of the Jeremiah: "Yet again there shall be heard in this place, whereof ye say: It is waste, without man and without beast, even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast."

Initially the prophet says that "ye say: It is waste," insinuating that it actually is not waste. Then, finally, in the conclusion of the same verse, he says, "in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast." Here he adds "without inhabitant" which was not mentioned earlier under the heading "ye say."

Also, initially, he refers to the place as "waste," while later he calls the cities "desolate." The reason for all this is that the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem have two sides to them. One side reflects their inner essence which constitutes the channel through which the Divine bounty flows to the people of Israel. This unique gift results from the fact that this place is the place of God’s presence. "You say it is waste": not only of man and beast - the external, second aspect of Judah - but even as far as its very essence is concerned.

With regard to this the prophet says that indeed the place is desolate, without inhabitant - neither man nor animal. But outwardly the cities exist and the streets of Jerusalem are intact, for the destruction which befell this place only affected the surface level; it did not reach the inner, divine chambers. This is in keeping with the words of the sages (see Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Beit HaBechira 6:16): "‘I will make desolate your Temples’ - though they are desolate, they retain their sanctity." And this very sanctity spreads out to the desolate neighboring cities.

Yet, why does the expression "the cities of Judah" not apply to the streets of the cities of Judah? After all, the verse, in mentioning the streets of Jerusalem, does not mention the city of Jerusalem.

The reason for this is that the prestige of Jerusalem stems from its components, while the importance of the cities of Judah derives from each city’s territorial integrity and not from their various components. Jerusalem brings joy to each and every part; the strength of the cities of Judah, on the other hand, lies in their capacity to provide for the community as a whole. Hence, Jeremiah says, "the voice of joy and the voice of gladness." a separate voice for each as opposed to one voice for all. This also explains why the cities of Judah precede the streets of Jerusalem: it comes to teach us that not only the whole shall be restored, but even every single and separate component therein. May it be God’s will that we speedily merit the fulfillment of this prophecy of consolation and the privilege of experiencing the joy of such a world.

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The translation of the marital blessing was taken from The Complete Artscroll Siddur. Torah verses were taken from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s The Living Torah (Moznayim) and from the The Holy Scriptures (JPS).

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