The Mishna (Ketubot 5:2) in today’s daf (Ketubot 57a) records the practice of a bride having a year of preparation between formally agreeing to marry her husband and beginning their married life together.
Significantly, this lesson is derived by the Gemara (57b) from the story of Rivkah’s marriage to Yitzchak where her family requested that she remain with them – seemingly for a year – to prepare for her marriage (see Bereishit 24:55). However, the very fact that the Gemara has to tease this lesson from this verse demonstrates how this bibilical proof is far more vague than the verse in Megillat Esther which informs us that the prospective brides of Achashverosh prepared themselves ‘according to the practice prescribed for the women for twelve months’ (Esther 2:12) – leading us to wonder why the verse from Esther was not cited by our Gemara?
Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein addresses this question (in his Torah Temimah commentary to Bereishit 24:55) and he sugggests that since the verse in Megillat Esther may have only been referring to the necessary preparations to marry royalty it was not considered to be relevant to our discussion, whereas the verse involving Rivkah spoke of a more universal practice which is why it was quoted. Either way, what we learn from all this is that marriage requires physical, emotional and psychological preparation, and that this is even more the case when marrying into royalty.
But why? Why is marrying royalty so different? Surely marriage is marriage?! I think that among the answers to this question is that while we think we understand royals because they are in the public eye, their private life is often far more hidden. As such, while marrying someone you have met involves getting to know the person you have already started to get to know, marrying a royal requires getting to know the person who you might think you know – but you may not.
I mention this because yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana. Of course, I vividly remember watching her wedding to Charles. Yet, in addition to Diana’s exceptional humanitarian efforts, it was the challenges that she faced during her marriage, and the dignity that she maintained during this period, which endeared her so much to the public and made her tragic death such a turning point for so many. Ultimately, no matter how much time she spent preparing for her marriage, there was always the feeling that she didn’t truly know what she was getting into – until it was too late.
Overall, what I draw from today’s daf is that marriage demands preparation yet time alone isn’t the best gague in terms of how to prepare for marriage. Instead, it is an understanding of who you are marrying and what you are marrying into. For some people they need less time because they know who they are marrying. While for others, time may not always be enough – especially in situations when the only true understanding of their partner and their marriage comes once they are married.