We are taught that the souls of the departed attend the weddings of their children and grandchildren.1 Accordingly, there is a custom for brides or grooms who have lost one or both of their parents to go to their graves before the wedding to invite them to the wedding.2 In some cases, the invitation is made orally, and in others, a copy of the invitation is left upon the grave. Many also do so with grandparents and even great-grandparents.3 Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, however, counseled against going to the cemetery to invite grandparents.4
It also might just be that the custom of inviting one’s departed relatives to the wedding is a manner in which one can “force” them to attend. This idea is based on the Talmud which teaches that one who does not attend a seudat mitzvah to which one was invited, such as a brit, deserves to be excommunicated.5 Since the souls of one’s departed relatives no doubt do not want to be excommunicated in heaven, they will surely attend. There is some discussion, however, whether the penalty of excommunication for not attending a seudat mitzvah when invited applies to a wedding, or only to a brit.6
The custom of inviting the departed to one’s wedding is very much a part of Chabad thought. For example, there is a custom among Chabad Chassidim for the groom to recite a Chassidic discourse just before the wedding ceremony, known as the “Lecha Dodi ma’amar,” which discusses the significance of marriage. It expounds on the spiritual elevation that the bride and groom attain through their bond in marriage. The discourse was originally delivered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and is based on the discourse delivered by the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, at the marriage of his daughter to Rabbi Menachem Mendel. As an introduction to the discourse, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak said the following:
It is well known that the ancestors of the newlywed couple descend from the world of truth and attend the marriage celebration. The souls of ancestors from three generations back attend all Jewish weddings, and there are some weddings at which those of even further removed generations are present. In the way of an invitation to the souls of the Tzaddikim, our holy fathers and Rebbeim who will come to the wedding and bless the couple, we now say a Chassidic discourse, parts of which are from each of the respective Chabad Rebbes.7
In a similar vein, the Rebbe once explained why this discourse is recited:
It is well known that at a wedding the souls of the fathers come from the World of Truth, going back three generations – and this [applies to all Jews] – however there are occasions (at [the weddings of] Rebbeim) when even more than three generations of past souls are present. And as an invitation to the souls of these Tzaddikim to participate in the wedding, a ma’amar chassidus will now be said of which a portion of it is from the Alter Rebbe, a part from the Mittler Rebbe, a part from the Tzemach Tzedek, and a part from the son of the Tzemach Tzedek, the great grandfather of the kallah; a part from the son of the Tzemach Tzedek (Reb Baruch Sholom), the great-grandfather of the chosson, and a part from the Rebbe Rashab, the grandfather of the kallah.
Certainly, in the ma’amar, there was something from the Previous Rebbe himself although he did not state this explicitly.… And since we walk in the ways of the Previous Rebbe, it is correct that at every wedding of [those] (who are connected to the Rebbe) that before the chuppah, the chosson or another person should say the ma’amar Lecha Dodi, which, as aforementioned, has a part from all the Rebbeim, and this will serve as an invitation to the souls of all the Rebbeim to participate in the wedding.8
We see that the very revered Chabad custom of reciting this discourse is very much connected to the belief that departed relatives attend their descendants’ weddings.
- Zohar, Pinchas; Maharash Engel, vol. 7, p. 119; Yesod V’shoresh Ha’avoda, Sha’ar Hakolel 15; Sefer Haminhagim Chabad 75.
- Shulchan Ha’ezer, vol. 2, p. 137; Mishne Halachot 5:247; Minhag Yisrael Torah, Nisuin.
- See Derech Sicha, p. 152; Shulchan Ha’ezer, vol. 2, p. 137.
- Yivakshu Mipihu, p. 478.
- Pesachim 113b; Rashbam, ibid.; Rema, YD 265:15; Minhag Yisrael Torah, EH, p. 73.
- See Igrot Moshe, OC 2:95, and Chupat Chatanim, Seudat Nisuin.
- Cited in Teshura: The Jewish Wedding Guide; A Guide to a Traditional Chassidic Wedding, http://www.teshura.com/teshurapdf/Sufrin-Lerner%20-%20Sivan%2011,%205763.pdf.
- Cited in Rabbi N. D. Dubov, Mazal Tov: A Chabad Wedding Guide, https://www.chabadmatch.com/images/MazalTov.pdf