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Marriage – Defining the Term

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Dovid Lichtenstadter, Brooklyn, NY
MyLife Essay Contest 2018 

Introduction

‘Marriage is the legally recognized union of a man and a woman’. This definition is just one of many that were given by scholars over the generations. It is rather quite a vague one, but it embodies the view with which marriage was always portrayed. In truth these definitions give not a clue as to what marriage is essentially, other than telling of a technical union between the two parties involved. Today, more than ever, marriage is shrouded in controversy and mystery, causing many to drop all definitions. But, if the sanctity of marriage is to endure, we must define marriage, and understand the essence of it. So, what is marriage? As Jews, we are privileged to know the importance of marriage. In this essay we will discuss the essential meaning of marriage according to Chassidus and Kabbalah, and explore how these concepts can be helpful in our day to day marital life. It should be noted that this essay will focus exclusively on the meaning of marriage, and not on the relationship between husband and wife, which itself is a vast topic in Chassidus.

Shalom Bayis

When we look into the Torah, we find not only technical laws and regulations dealing with property and relationship matters of marriage, but also guidelines of what is expected of husband and wife in terms of behavior. We have the concept of Shalom Bayis – unity of the home. Our sages teach us the extreme importance of Shalom Bayis as is stated many times in Chazal[1] as well as in Chassidus[2]. All these concepts are common to marriage in many cultures.

Having Shalom Bayis to guide us doesn’t really explain much about the essence of marriage and why we should invest in making it happen. It is a negative concept, meaning that it teaches us to avoid getting into a quarrel, but does not explain what goes on in marriage itself. Here is where Kabbalah and Chassidus come along and introduce the concept of Yichud – Oneness[3]. Husband and wife come together to form a new entity that is ‘a married couple’. In marriage, mathematics takes on a new rule whereby one plus one equals one.

Man vs. Woman

You might think, after describing marriage as oneness, that Chassidus views men and woman to be similar to each other. After all, to expect two to mesh into one, logic dictates that they must have many things in common. But, no! According to Chassidus the differences between men and women go much deeper even than were they from different planets; their whole essential make up is from opposing forces. Men are likened to water whereas women are fire[4]. These inherent natures impact their emotions and their practical way of life, each gender playing by its own rules. How do we expect these opposing forces to merge into one?

This is why, in the Torah, marriage includes a higher force, One that is bigger and more important than both the man and the woman. This force overwhelms them, and thus, they merge. We might say that this is the force of marriage itself. When husband and wife recognize that marriage is Hashem’s idea for the continuance of the world, and that He has shared with them His unique power of Ein Soif[5], taking them as his partners in creation, they bow to this higher Force and surrender their differences. And with that, they create the most powerful union that can ever exist.

Marriage and Creation

This idea is not unique to marriage; it is the secret of creation itself. Hashem created the world after contracting his light, thereby creating room for opposing forces to take root. And his wish is that we put the pieces together in order for him to dwell in the world again. But if Hashem just wanted to dwell in the world, why did he leave in order to return? Chassidus explains that the Godliness that will be revealed in this world after it is ready to be His dwelling place will be much loftier and more illuminating than it was before creation. Because this light was extracted despite opposing forces. So too, in marriage: after uniting despite being in opposition of each other, the bond of the couple is stronger and more luminous than one unit in a soul[6].

In the cosmic level: Hashem encompassed everything together before creation, and that is the reason why everything can ultimately come together again. The same holds true in the micro level, for every marriage. The reason husband and wife can become one unit is because they were one; their souls originating from the same source. After being born to different parents and in different places at different times, they roam the planet in search of each other. In marriage they meet up in order to become one again, this explains great joy that is felt by the bride and groom at the time of engagement and wedding[7]. According to this, the accurate translation of Shalom Bayis would not be ‘the union of the home’ but rather ‘the reunion of the home’.

Ultimately, the obvious way of bringing G-dliness back into the world is by putting the soul pieces together by building the marital sanctuary which causes god’s sanctuary to be built. Marriage by marriage, brick by brick.

Conclusion

According to what we have developed above, we can conclude with a practical three step contemplation that puts marriage in perspective for young adults who are thinking of marriage, or couples who need guidance. These should be utilized by marriage counselors who are guiding others through their difficulties in marriage:

1. Understand that marriage is not just a personal affair bound by the here and now. It is an essential component for the world at large, and it is affecting everyone for eternity.

2. You and your spouse did not meet up by coincidence. You did not ‘just fall in love’. The two of you are partners in one soul (which is the real definition of Bashert).

3. Marriage is bigger than both of you, and therefore has the capacity for both of you to overcome your differences.

In our times we can find many books and programs that offer guidance for marriage. Marriage counseling and family counseling has become an industry onto itself, all promising good advice for how to stay together and happy. But all these, as good as they might be, is merely artificial glue that would hold together any two entities. We all feel that marriage is more than that. If we can dig deep and find the core essence, we will find something magical that would put marriage in a category of itself and would bond a husband and wife in an illuminated fashion for eternity.


[1] Mishna Peah 1:1, Talmud Shabbos 127a, Makos 11a, Sotah 17b, Nedarim 66b,et al.
[2] Lekutei Sichos Vol. 24 p. 467, Igros Kodesh Vol. 10 p. 80 (letter #3042)
[3] Likutei Torah Shir Hashirim D’’h Keitzad M’rakdin et al.
[4] Ibid. V’chol Bonayich 5745. Likutei Sichos Vol. 20 p. 100 note #8
[5] Likutei Torah Shir Hashirim p. 40a
[6] Zohar Vol. 1 p. 85b, 91b. Toras Menachem Vol. 12 p. 200. Hemshech 5666 p. 8
[7] Toras Menachem Vol. 11 p. 173

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JamesTum

However, in bringing up each topic, respondents are indicating that these factors affect their sense of meaning in some way. Mentions of specific topics should be interpreted as things that pertain to or affect a respondent’s sense of meaning or satisfaction in life, but it is also important to keep in mind that not all mentions of the topic are necessarily positive or refer to respondents’ current feelings (as opposed to the way they felt at some point in the past).