At the end of every Jewish wedding, a glass is broken.
The groom steps hard on a the glass (sometimes a light bulb), which is wrapped in a cloth to retain the shards.
A loud “pop” is heard, and everyone shouts “Mazl Tov” or “Congratulations.”
Why is the glass broken?
The usual explanation (not the only one) is that the breaking glass symbolizes the destruction of the Second Temple, without which our joy can’t be complete.
Some rabbis, however, question this interpretation:
If the breaking glass represents the destroyed Temple, is it appropriate to shout “Mazl Tov?” Isn’t that disrespectful to the memory of the Temple?
I’ve preferred equating the breaking glass with the breaking of the shell of a seed, so that a flower or tree can emerge. Likewise, I’ve said, the “shell” of the individuality of each member of the marrying couple must split, to that they can emerge with a unified identity as a couple.
Their individuality doesn’t disappear. It’s merged unlost into a wider identity — much like an atom of oxygen remains oxygen, but becomes still more than that when joined with two hydrogen atoms.
The individual characteristics of the groom and bride join to form the character, the identity, of the unified couple.
In breaking, the shell or husk of a seed allows the essence, the full potential, of the seed to emerge. The tree or the flower is what the seed was always meant to be.
Likewise, the individuality of each member of a couple is enhanced, not lost, by taking on responsibility not only for themselves, but for the other as well, and, in the future, for the children that are likely to be. Who would compare the maturity that a dating relationship demands of us, with that required by a long-term, stable relationship? Who among us, having had children, can look at who we were before and after being parents, and not see that we became even more of who we always potentially were?
The joy of the breaking glass, then, is not joy for something that has ended.
Far from it.
It is the joy of a glorious beginning.