Love and Marriage

This week our family just celebrated the marriage of our son, Pinchas to his bride, Mari.  I would like to wish mazal tov to them and to all of us and you, because every marriage is a celebration for the whole Jewish people.  In honor of the wedding below is an excerpt from my book, Gateway to Judaism, from the chapter on marriage.

Two Equals One

The Torah’s description of the creation of human beings provides us with a fundamental insight into the nature of human relationships.  Genesis 1:27  tells us, “And God created the human in His image, in the image of God He created him, male and female he created them.”  This verse appears to contradict itself.  First it states that God created one human, but then it refers to two, male and female.  The Talmud1 explains that the original human being was androgynous, a unity of both male and female. Only later, was the human divided into male and female halves. We learn from this sequence of events that the ideal, complete human being includes both male and female components, as God originally created Adam.

Knowing that He would later divide the one human being, God created the original state of oneness to enable the two halves to achieve complete unity, to return to their pre-existing condition. For this reason, Jewish law regards a husband and wife as the reunification of a single unit, almost literally, one body,3  as implied by the verse in Genesis, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife and they will become one flesh.”

Being a Giver

Clearly the Torah considers it crucial that men and women go through this process of reunification.  What is the deeper significance of this process?  Jewish tradition maintains that the purpose of life is for human beings to develop a relationship with the Creator and through that relationship to experience ultimate joy and happiness.  Such a relationship can only be created, however, when the partners are compatible.  Compatibility, in turn, requires some basic similarity between the two sides.  In order to achieve this similarity, God directed humanity to “walk in His ways.” Maimonides explains:

Just as God is merciful we should be merciful, just as He is gracious, we should be gracious, just as He is holy, we should be holy… Therefore the prophets described God as slow to anger, abundant in kindness, righteous and upright… to teach us that these are good and upright paths that a person is obligated to follow and to imitate to the best of his ability.

God’s creation of the world was an act of perfectly altruistic giving: He created in order to give. If we wish to emulate God, we must also become “givers.”  It is through a relationship of love between a man and woman that this characteristic can best be developed.

In Jewish thought, being a “giver” is one of the highest ideals to which we aspire.  Love is expressed by the desire to give to the other person.  In contrast, lust, which is based only on the physical aspects of a relationship, originates in the desire to take pleasure from the other person. Rabbi Dessler pointed out that when we say “I love fish” we are not really declaring our love for the fish, for immediately afterwards, we will kill, skin, gut, fry and eat it — hardly activities appropriate to a fish-lover.  If one really loved the fish, he would throw it back into the river.  What people actually mean is “I love myself, and the sensation I experience in eating charred fish is pleasurable to me.”  Unfortunately, when people say, “I love him/her,” all too often they mean that they love themselves, and enjoy the physical, emotional or economic benefits which they derive from their relationship with the other person.  Erich Fromm describes “falling in love” in the following terms:

For the man an attractive girl – and for the woman an attractive man – are the prizes they are after.  “Attractive” usually means a nice package of qualities which are popular and sought after on the personality market.  I am out for a bargain; the object should be desirable from the standpoint of its social value, and at the same time should want me, considering my overt and hidden assets and potentialities.  Two persons thus fall in love when they feel they have found the best object available on the market, considering the limitations of their own exchange values.

This description of the dating and marriage scene is realistic but somewhat sad. Each person is focusing on what he or she can take from the other; giving is only a means to get, and love really refers to love of self and love of pleasure.

The Jewish view of love stands in stark contrast to this.  The two middle letters of the Hebrew word for love, ahavah, spell the word hav, which means, “give.” This expresses the idea that loving is achieved through giving, and that the essence of love is the desire to give, not to take.  Remembering that in Jewish thought words with the same numerical value are related in meaning, we note that the numerical value of the word, ahavah, is thirteen, which is the same as the numerical value of the Hebrew word for one, echad.  This teaches us that through giving love, two people will become one.

Judaism views marriage as a means to achieving the highest level of spirituality, wholeness and happiness.  The Talmud says, “Any man who lives without a wife, lives without happiness, without blessing and without goodness.” For this reason, the marriage ceremony, which marks the beginning of this new endeavor, is not just a civil contract, but a religious rite that provides an inspiring, spiritual start to the mitzvah of marriage.

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