What is Marriage?
We found this definition in a recent edition of a popular magazine:
“Marriage is when two people who love each other make their relationship open, formal, and enduring. It is the joining of two people in a bond that lasts forever, but in practice is increasingly cut short by divorce. Of course, a lot happens during the course of a marriage. Personalities change, bodies age, and romantic love waxes and wanes. And no marriage is free of conflict. What enables the marriage to endure is how they handle that conflict.”
In our opinion this characterization not only cheapens the richly rewarding possibilities inherent in marriage; it leaves out a huge chunk of the story.
”A king without a queen,’ the Zohar (the fundamental text of Kabbalah) says, ‘is neither great nor a king.’ For it is the woman who empowers the man to conquer his space. And it is the man who empowers the woman to penetrate and nurture hers. And then the man will learn from this woman that he, too, can reach within others and provide nurture. And the woman will learn that she, too, can conquer.”
–Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
This reaches to the core of the original oneness of Adam and Eve.
Kabbalah talks about soul mates. Forty days before a child is conceived, a voice from heaven announces whom that child will marry.
“As they set out from their place above, each soul is male and female as one. Only as they descend to this world do they part, each to its own side. And then it is the One Above who unites them again. This is His exclusive domain, for He alone knows which soul belongs to which and how they must reunite.”
–Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai
So, if we are unwilling to take it on faith that, by definition, our marriage partner is our soul mate, how can we be sure? And furthermore, how do we know BEFORE marriage that we’ve found “the one?” Should we hold off marrying for fear “this one” isn’t our soul mate—that there might be a BETTER match out there waiting for us?
Although we may scoff at the arranged marriages of our great-grandparents’ generation, we must admit that there was a deep devotion and commitment between them, and rarely did a marriage end in divorce. Why?
Grandpa did not come home after work, sit on the couch and turn on the TV. Neither was he all about fast-tracking his career.
His family was the centerpiece of his life, and the purpose of his job was to provide for his loved ones. His larger aim was to create, with Grandma, a loving home based on their own, time-honored ideals—not those that television, magazines and novels had forced on them.
Grandma didn’t get her ideas about love from romance magazines. Rather, she had a natural knowing about how relationships worked.
In Hebrew, the feminine form of most nouns is constructed by adding the letter “hei,” which is also the symbol for God’s name (HaShem). This reinforces the woman’s fundamental connection to God.
Further, it gives new meaning to the innate wisdom we attributed to Grandma. Whenever there was a question, whom did we run to?
Grandma and Grandpa were duty-bound to set an example for their children in order to raise a responsible next generation who would continue their work in advancing our civilization.
In other words, their relationship did not center on the minutiae of their relationship; rather, they were up to something bigger: making sure they would leave behind purposeful, deeply committed citizens of the world.
So for them, there was never a question as to whether or not they’d picked the right partner: their partnership itself was bigger and farther-reaching than its own existence.
Kabbalah compares marriage to our relationship with God. As His partner, we are committed to helping Him build a better world.
“In each of us, there is an urge to climb higher, to satisfy the yearnings of our soul. And there is an urge to indulge in pleasure, to satisfy the yearnings of the flesh. The same Creator planted both in us and both are good. It is only that they must be used in very different ways.
“Awaken the yearning for spiritual delight and do good deeds to satisfy it. You will awaken a flow of blessing from Above. For this urge is of the right side, which is a positive side, a side of kindness.”
–Rabbi Isaiah HaLevi Horowitz (The Shelah HaKadosh)
The Shelah goes on to warn us about placing unnecessary emphasis on physical pleasure, since it emanates from a self-serving place.
The Zohar expounds on this by explaining that the urge for pleasure was not created for our own sake, but for the sake of our spouse.
“For a man will provide a home, clothing and affection to his wife, and he will do all he can to beautify her — all for the sake of this urge. And when doing so, he will then awaken his spiritual urge, and he will focus his mind and heart, saying that in this way he is beautifying the Divine Presence. When he dresses her in beautiful clothes and adorns her with precious jewels, he will say, ‘In this way, I am enhancing the Divine Presence with Understanding.’ So, too, when he beautifies the home, for all the necessities of the home are for the sake of creating a dwelling for the Divine Presence and all the benefits his wife receives are for the glory of the Divine Presence.
“Therefore, a man should not indulge in any pleasure except that which beautifies and benefits his wife. All of it must be directed for the sake of the woman that God has shown to be his partner and all must then be transformed to spiritual service.”
Unfortunately for us, these lofty, pure ideals that produced solid, long-lasting marriages for centuries are now mocked and “modernized” by Hollywood. We have been sold a new, improved, “enlightened” approach to love and relationships, mostly to the detriment and exclusion of marriage.
And we all know how that’s turned out.
So, we recommend going back to the basics, back to what works. Listen to Grandma. Tap into the spiritual world, draw the divine energy from it, and then infuse that vast, awesome power into our physical marriage and channel it into all our other relationships.