Most frum Yidden marry because it’s a Mitzvah. Marriage enables permitted relationships, procreation, family, Nachas. Each home is a Mikdash M’at, a Bayis Ne’eman Byisroel, a home that secures the continuity of the Jewish people.
But what does marriage involve?
United in mission
Bereishis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife and they shall become one flesh”. The Seforno comments: “And they shall become one flesh – united in their actions to achieve their purpose in creation as if both were fused into one.”
Essentially this means that the most important ingredient in marriage is their common mission statement – that together they are united to achieve their purpose in creation.
Therefore, in order to get married – one first has to; a) know the purpose of creation and b) make sure that one’s future spouse is united with you in that purpose.
United in Purpose
Shemos 25:8: “And you shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them.”
Marriage is a miniature sanctuary – and the goal is the indwelling of the Shechinah. This is achieved by taking all elements and aspects of creation, mineral (gold, silver and bronze), vegetable (oil, flour, wine), animal (offerings) and forming from them a home for the Shechinah – a Dirah Betachtonim –a dwelling for the Shechinah in this world (see Midrash Tanchuma Nasso).
“I will dwell within them”
Talmud Sotah 17b: “Ish (man) and Isha (woman) when they merit, the Shechinah rests between them.”
The united goal and purpose of marriage is to create a relationship and home within which there is the indwelling of the Shechinah.
How to achieve that goal
The first step to achieving that goal is to live that goal. This is achieved by becoming an Eved Hashem, a servant of Hashem. What does Avodas Hashem mean? The word Avodah is rooted in the words Ibud Oros, which has the meaning of tanning skins. In the tanning process, one takes something that is crass and unrefined, and one works on it until it becomes refined.
The first stage in getting married, even before one looks for a prospective spouse, is to work on oneself, transforming the coarse and animal within to become a mench. This is very much the Avodah of Tikun Hamiddos.
The rule of marriage is that one does not set out to change the other, one may only change oneself. And in order to change oneself, one needs to recognize the great utility of Avodah which requires great Bittul.
The word Bittul means nullification. It is used in Halchah to describe the nullification of one substance within another e.g. Bittul Bshishim, the nullification of one kind within 6o of the other. In this context, Bittul means deflation of the ego.
Each person is a complex tale of two souls (see Tanya Ch.1,2); a) a Nefesh Habhamis – an animal soul, and b) a Nefesh Elokis, a G-dly soul. Each of these two souls possesses both intellect/Sechel and emotions/Middos. We often refer to the Middos of the Nefesh Habhamis as the Yetzer Hara and the Sechel of the Nefesh Elokis as the Yetzer Tov. These two souls vie with each other through the thinking mind.
The essential difference between the two souls is that the Nefesh Habhamis is self-centered, and the Nefesh Elokis is G-d centered. Simply stated, the Nefesh Habhamis is concerned with the self, with one’s ego, and the Nefesh Elokis is concerned with what Hashem wants.
Davening in its classic sense is the request from Hashem for one’s needs. On a deeper level, Davening is a) the attachment of the G-dly soul, b) the refining of the animal soul. It is the time when we engage in inner conversation, the dialogue between the G-dly soul and the animal soul. In this dialogue the G-dly soul explains to the animal soul, using language that the animal soul understands the utility of them both serving Hashem together.
This is what Chazal meant when the explained the Possuk in the Shma – Veahavta Es Hashem Elokecha Bchol Levavcha – You shall love Hashem with all your heart – with both the Yetzer Tov and the Yetzer Hara.
How is it possible for Hashem to command an emotion – and such a personal emotion as love? The commentaries explain that the command is to meditate and contemplate which will thereafter arouse the feelings of love. In Davening a person needs to address their Nefesh Habhamis, their ego and engage their darker side prevailing upon it to come on board and serve Hashem in tandem with the G-dly soul.
This takes place in two stages:
1) Sur Mera – turning away from evil/suppression. The first stage in Avodah is to remove oneself from the negative and destructive habits of the Nefesh Habhamis. This may be achieved in a number of ways.
a) The very first step in Avodah is Kabbolas Ol – the acceptance of the yolk of Heaven. The realization that Hashem is everywhere and is concerned and interested and cares about one’s conduct. This leads a person to a basic level of Yiras Shomayim – being G-d fearing (fear not in the sense of being afraid, but rather a deep sense of awe).
b) The second step is Iskafia/suppression which involves self-control. This comes about through practice and habit. Such control needs external arousal such as inspiration through Torah learning, Farbrengen etc.
c) The realization that each and every act of self-control is hugely appreciated by Hashem and makes a huge difference.
2) Aseh Tov – Doing good. The second stage in Avodah is the routine and habit of doing what is right, even if this jars on the animal soul. Slowly and surely this leads to ishapcha/transformation of the animal soul, it being tamed and channeled in Avodas Hashem.
3) Sholom: Ultimately, the goal is one of peace and inner tranquility and harmony in the sense that both the animal and G-dly soul are working in tandem to serve Hashem together.
Avodah within Marriage
When single, one has to contend with one’s own animal soul and the struggle within the self. However much a person has refined themselves before marriage, it does not approach the challenge of marriage. When one is thrown 24/7 into a relationship with another and different person, this presents a huge challenge and often a new attack and arousal of one’s own ego.
When single, out of self-love a person can often overlook their idiosyncrasies, and meshugas. They can easily forgive themselves for indulgence or conveniently ignore transgression. This is certainly not the case within marriage.
Living close up with another, exposes all the skeletons in the closet. One becomes fully aware of one’s own shortcomings and equally and perhaps more focused on the shortcomings of the other. Nobody is perfect and nowhere do imperfections become realized more than in marriage.
The fundamental rule of marriage is that it is the university of life. It is the ultimate testing ground and arena where a person can grow spiritually, where both their own and their spouses imperfections are revealed, and yet “Two are better than one” as mentioned by the Seforno above, that together united in purpose and goal they can create something far greater than what is achieved than being single.
Are you ready?
From all the above it is manifestly clear that when contemplating marriage – far beyond the concerns of external looks, home, aesthetics finances etc., etc., is the mature realization that this enterprise will involve spiritual growth and work. So, the first question a person really needs to ask themselves before they get married is – ARE YOU READY FOR THE NEXT STAGE IN AVODAS HASHEM?
If you have no idea what this question means then it would be advisable to enter a pre-marriage course that teaches not just the laws of Taharas Hamishpachah but gives practical advice and help how to navigate the challenges and issues that will arise within marriage, such as effective communication and conflict resolution.
Once you are ready for this challenge, then you need to seek a partner with whom you are ready to build together. Realize that after the glitz of the dating and Chasuna have settled, you will then settle into real life. Then, you will start to learn who this person really is.
Believing in Hashgocha Protis means understanding that this relationship is tailor-made for me. This does NOT mean that it is going to be angelic and super-easy. Rather, this means that Hashem has sent you a partner whom together you can build something very special.
Yes, on the way, this will pull at your ego, and yes you will have to exercise Bittul/Iskafia/Ishapcha in full Avodah as described above. Yes – you will not be able to change the other, but only yourself.
You may initially be plagued with the question – did I sign up for this? Why did Hashem send me such a partner with such and such Middos? For example, you may be super tidy, and you may find your partner is super untidy. This can really test you and requires gentle and sensitive communication to resolve.
But make no mistake – this is sent by Hashem so that you can work on yourself and your Middos. You may on occasion stumble and mess up, but we are all human and need to learn how to rise after the fall, how to apologize and admit weakness, how to grow and build.
The most important thing to remember is that the most valuable thing you have in life is the peace between you, and the indwelling of the Shechinah. This will bring blessing and Nachas. DO NOT DO ANYTHING THAT WILL JEOPARDIE THIS!
Even if you are sorely tempted to ‘teach the other person a lesson’ and use the useless stick of criticism, it will backfire. This does not mean that you should not communicate your needs or desires. On the contrary marriage is all about communication – but EFFECTIVE communication – and not one that belittles or puts the other person down. WHAT YOU DON’T LIKE DONE TO YOU DON’T DO TO ANOTHER!
There is a beautiful story in this regard. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach a great Rosh Yeshiva and Posek was once on the way home from the Yeshiva after delivering Shiur. He was being accompanied by a Talmid. When climbing the stairs to his apartment he straightened his tie. The Talmid asked that most people remove their tie when they come home – why was he straightening his tie.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman answered; “Since the day I got married, the Shechinah dwells in my home, however before I enter home after work, I may be tested when I enter by something that may remove the Shechinah from the home, and therefore before I enter I straighten my tie to remind me not to do or say anything that may remove the Shechinah from my home!”
Love, attachment and … Avodah
Love, attachment, etc are all vital ingredients in a marriage. However, the one most vital ingredient that a lot of people overlook is the element of Avodah within the marriage. This is the stage in life in which one really has to address one’s own ego and look for the common good and the indwelling of the Shechinah. Criticism, harsh words, stonewalling etc., can all drive away the Shechinah, and with no peace in the home, with no Sholom Bayit it is a living hell.
Conversely, when a person listens, empathizes, validates, gives sensitive constructive criticism, inspires and uplifts, these are the ingredients that invite the Shechinah and build a true peaceful home.
There is no greater gift that you can give yourself, your spouse and your children than this indwelling of the Shechinah. It is worth far more than any material gift. It should be your goal in married life and it is the passport to bliss here in this world – if there is peace and harmony – there is everything.