Question: Why isn’t the Shehechyanu blessing recited at weddings?
Rabbi: I believe you mean to ask, “Why do we recite Shehechyanu upon other celebrations like holidays and new purchases, but not on one of the greatest celebrations, like our wedding?” The answer will lie in the text of the blessing’s formulation.
We praise God for keeping us alive (shehechyanu: root is chai), for sustaining us (v’kiyamanu: root is kayam), and for reaching this time (v’higyanu lazman hazeh). Reaching a milestone is the cause to reflect…
God gave us life, “chai.” But that’s not all…He also sustains us, “kayam.” Had He merely given us life, we would die a second later, since nothing can endure, even once it was created. The proof: nothing existed until God created the universe. This means that God alone possesses the quality of existing. All else cannot exist, unless God “continues” to will it to endure over time. This is a primary concept. We typically view things as possessing their ‘own existence,’ as if God is no longer in the picture, and He is not needed for the thing to remain. But this is false. Nothing continues to exist and retain its properties without God’s will. Even though God made it, it needs God if it will endure subsequent to its creation.
So we praise God for giving us life and for sustaining us. But why not offer God this praise, as we commence our wedding?
Think about the text of the blessing. We are praising God for something in the past; our receipt of life and our endurance. Holidays are yearly, and reflect a lapsed time interval through which we have successfully traveled: we are alive at yet another Passover. We recall the past year between this Passover and the last. New significant purchases too, reflect prior successes that enabled these purchases. Thus, we recite the Shehechyanu blessing when we are thankful to God for keeping us alive, and sustaining us to a point in time.
Now we have our answer: it’s not a blessing about the future, such as marriage. And, as marriage is anticipatory, Shehechyanu is inappropriate. But why is this blessing necessary? What element in human nature is it addressing?
I believe this to be the answer to our second question: we must not fall into the trap of losing appreciation for God’s past kindnesses. Human beings tend to look at the present and future, as “more real” than the past. We are concerned more about our successes and our future fate, than what has expired into the unchangeable past, soon to become an intangible memory. But this is a danger. Forgetting the past will actually have negative impact on our understanding of God and His treatment of man. In the Torah life, the past directly impacts and molds our future. We are commanded on numerous mitzvos in order to “remember the Egyptian Exodus.” We must vividly recall God’s goodness, so we might appreciate Him and follow His commands, for our own good. So we must recall national history.
Shehechyanu is a subjective expression of thanks to God for our completed year, depending on where each one of us lives and celebrates the holidays. It is also subjective, since we recite the blessing when we make a significant purchase. New significant purchases reflect prior successes that enabled this purchase. Yes, weddings are glorious and significant. But they are about the future, while Shehechyanu focuses on a passed time lapse, for which we must care equally as we do for our future. Not allowing God’s past kindness to escape our thoughts, we embrace the truth about His past treatment of each one of us as we recite the Shehechyanu blessing.
We asked for life last Yom Kippur, and we will soon ask for it again. Recall how you lived through this year and be thankful for all the years of your life. When we recite Shehechyanu this Rosh Hashanah, I hope this gives us all new meaning and appreciation for God in creating us, and sustaining us.