Means of Marriage


Many claim to intuitively know what is right in life. They reject the notion that one must transcend a subjective self to achieve harmony between body and soul. They argue that the body and the soul are complementary parts of an integral self, requiring no external laws and rituals to govern their relationship and define a particular path through life.

In essence, of course, they are right. The soul of man is “literally a part of G-d above”[1] and his body is an expression of the divine quintessence.[2] So the marriage of matter and spirit that is man is not a superimposed coalition of strangers, but the fusion of kindred beings and—on the deepest level—the reunion of the parted parts of a cloven singularity.

In practice, however, this intrinsic harmony is notoriously difficult to achieve. When a person looks only to himself and his instincts to guide him through life, the result is a marriage characterized by dissension and conflict, a life plagued by a perpetual dissonance between body and soul.

The Outlawed Method

Like everything else in creation, this phenomenon has a model in Torah law.[3] So if human life is the marriage of an active (“male”) spirit and its receptive (“female”) vessel, the clue to their relationship lies in the laws that legislate the inter-personal marriage between man and woman.

How do a man and woman become husband and wife according to Torah law? The Talmud[4] derives from Scripture three methods by which the consecration (kiddushin) of their union can be effected. The first is kessef (lit. “silver” or “money”), by which the man gives the woman an object of value and says to her: “You are hereby consecrated to me with this [….]”; by accepting the gift and his words, she becomes his wife. (This is the method commonly employed today, with a ring serving as the kessef that effects the marriage.) A second method is the shetar, or writ of marriage[5]: the husband gives the wife a document in which he (or his appointed agent) has written, “You are hereby consecrated to me with this writ.” The third method of kiddushin is bi’ah, or actual consummation of the marriage: if a man and woman live together as husband and wife, and do so with the express intention of marrying each other, the act of bi’ah sanctifies their union as a marriage.

The Talmud adds that while all three methods achieve kiddushin, only the first two may be used. The method of marriage by bi’ah might have been legitimate in earlier, purer times, but with the moral regression of later generations came the danger of its misuse and profanation. Thus, the Talmudic sage Rav outlawed marriage by bi’ah, decreeing severe penalties for those who do so.[6]

Man and woman, who originated as “a single being with two faces,”[7] remain intrinsically one, even after their division into two genders. In essence, they require nothing extrinsic to themselves to effect their marriage; they need only to delve into their deepest selves for their act of union to render them “one flesh.” But this is an ideal, realizable only in an ideal world. In a world in which a veneer of corporeality adheres to all things physical, the union of man and woman is too plastic and too vulnerable to corruption to define itself. It must therefore be sanctified by a formalized commitment, buttressed by the external scaffolding of kessef or shetar.

Marriage in the Future

The same applies to the internal marriage of body and soul. While the key to their integration lies in their deepest self, this is a self inaccessible by a life adrift in a corporeal world. So man’s attempts at self-definition, self-guidance and self-regulation in his body/soul relationship are doomed to failure and corruption. To consecrate their marriage, one requires the kessef (yearning[8]) of prayer, the soul’s self-transcendence in its striving toward G-d; one requires the shetar of Torah, the “writ of marriage” that documents the union and legislates its laws.

There will come a time, however, when “no longer shall a man teach his fellow… for all shall know Me, from the smallest to the greatest.”[9] A time when we will no longer require instruction and guidance from without, for the illumination will come from within, from the spark of G-dliness at our core. A time when the material world we inhabit will no longer distort our intrinsic perfection but facilitate it and bring it to light.[10] A time when the body and soul will autonomously achieve their deepest union—a union deeper than anything the most profound law book and the most transcendent prayer can generate.

Based on an entry in the Rebbe’s journal dated “Lag B’Omer, 5702” (1942)[11]

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber


[1]. Job 31:2, as per Tanya, ch. 2; cf. Psalms 16:5 and 73:26; Jeremiah 10:16.

[2]. Tanya, part IV, end of section 20; Torat Shalom, p. 120.

[3]. “An architect who builds a palace does not do so on his own. He has scrolls and notebooks which he consults as to how to place the rooms, where to set the doors. So it was with G-d: He looked into the Torah and created the world” (Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 1:2).

[4]. Talmud, Kiddushin 2a, 3b, 4b and 5a.

[5]. To be differentiated from the ketubah (marriage contract) which outlines the husband’s obligations toward his wife, her share in his estate should he predecease her, and the alimony due her should he divorce her.

[6]. Ibid., Yevamot 52a.

[7]. Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 8:1, based on Genesis 1:27.

[8]. Kessef also means “yearning” (cf. Genesis 31:30; Tanya, ch. 50).

[9]. Jeremiah 31:33.

[10]. Cf. Midrash Tehillim 73: “In the future era of Moshiach, if a person would go to pick a fig on Shabbat, it would cry out: ‘Do not pick me! Today is Shabbat!’”

[11]. Reshimot, #43


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jie lieee
15 years ago

I thought the Means of Marriage article was thought provoking, and well written. So Thanks.
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