Note to readers: This column is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Shlomo Eliezer ben Chaya Sarah Elka.
The Rambam writes in the 10th perek of Hilchos Ishus (halacha 13-14) that if a man marries a woman, he is obligated to have sheva berachos for seven days. If one marries several women at once, he must have separate sheva berachos for each one for seven days – consecutively. The reason for this is because we cannot mix one simcha with another simcha. For this reason one may not get married on Chol HaMoed, for we are obligated to have simcha on Chol HaMoed and we cannot mix that simcha with the simcha that one is obligated to have for seven days after one marries. The Rambam says that we derive this halacha from the pasuk in this week’s parshah: “Ma’le shevua zos… (Fill this week…).” Lavan told Yaakov Avinu that he should wait a week after marrying Leah before marrying Rachel.
The source for this Rambam is from the Yerushalmi. The Talmud Bavli, in Moed Kattan 8b, derives this halacha from a pasuk in Nevi’im.
There is a question on the Rambam that several Acharonim discuss (see Makneh Even Ha’ezer Kuntris Acharon 62:2). Why did Yaakov wait a week before marrying Rachel? The Rambam only said that one must observe the sheva berachos one week after another, but did not say that one may not marry another woman during his sheva berachos with the first woman. This question cannot be asked on the Yerushalmi, for we could answer that the Yerushalmi indeed prohibits marrying another woman during the sheva berachos of the first woman. The reason why the Yerushalmi derived the halacha from Yaakov Avinu and not from Nevi’im, like the Bavli, was in order to rule that one may not even marry another woman during the week of his sheva berachos with the first wife. But the Rambam rules that one can marry many women at once and we require each woman to have a separate week of sheva berachos. Why then could Yaakov not have married Rachel the very next day, and simply delay her sheva berachos?
The Keren Orah (Moed Kattan 8b) answers that the Rambam only permits one to marry other women if he marries them at the same time. If one marries one woman separately and only the following day wishes to marry another woman, he is not permitted to do so since the period of sheva berachos for the first woman has already begun. The Rambam was referring to a scenario whereby a man married several women at the same time; therefore the period of sheva berachos had not yet taken affect, which would have prohibited marrying other women. In Yaakov’s case, however, he did not realize that he had married Leah until the following morning. At that time, the period of sheva berachos for Leah had already begun and he was therefore unable to marry Rachel until after the sheva berachos of Leah were complete.
Other Acharonim suggest that even though one may marry another woman during the sheva berachos period of his first wife, the second sheva berachos will have different halachos attached to it if he waits to marry the second woman until after the sheva berachos period of the first wife is over. For example, during the regular sheva berachos period celebrated after one marries a virgin, the chassan is forbidden to go to work. Even if his wife allows him to go, he may not go to work because the prohibition is on him and she has no jurisdiction over it. Some Acharonim rule that when one marries more than one woman at a time, it is only the chassan’s prohibition against going to work for the first seven days. After the first seven days the prohibition of going to work stems from the wife, and therefore she could permit him to go to work. Even though Yaakov could have married Rachel the day after he married Leah, he feared that Lavan would force Rachel to permit Yaakov to go to work during her sheva berachos. Therefore Yaakov wished to marry Rachel after Leah’s sheva berachos period was complete in order to ensure that he would be able to be together with Rachel during the sheva berachos that was being celebrated for her.