Friday, February 09, 2007

Marriage, Sinai and Responsibility

A friend of my wife is getting married this coming week. While reflecting on the idea of marriage, I was struck by an odd yet compelling question. The midrash states that Adam and Chava were created as two sides to the same body. They were both present, and shared one soul. Hashem then decided to split the body and soul into two, so that man and woman each became, effectively, one half of a whole. When they are unified in marriage, the primordial harmony is once again established. In essence, marriage is the reunification of what God separated at the dawn of time. While considering this, I asked, "Why did Hashem separate the original human creation? Why tear a soul in two, and then leave the two halves to find each other in a chaotic world? What purpose is served in this search?"

In Shir HaShirim (3:11), the author exhorts the daughters of Zion to celebrate with King Shlomo, "on his wedding day, the day of his heartfelt happiness." The Talmud (Ta'anith 26b) allegorizes this verse. The wedding day refers to the day of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, while the day of his supreme happiness refers to the building of the Temple. What does this allegory mean?

While in Egypt, the Jewish people were not rightly a nation. They were a collection of related individuals, whose common suffering gave them a bond. God's miraculous intervention in the affairs of Man had as a stated purpose, "ולקחתי אתכם לי לעם". By taking the Jews out of Egypt, Hashem would make them into a nation that would serve Him (Exodus 6:6). The goal of this physical creation of the nation of Israel was the immediate spiritual creation of a national purpose, at Sinai, in the giving of the Torah. The Torah codifies how the Jews are to interact as a national unit. But more importantly, it guarantees that each Jew be responsible for, and only be complete, in that national unit. This is the significance of the phrase "נעשה ונשמע", the national resolve that "we will do". No Jew can keep all 613 commandments, as some only apply to one group, while others only apply to another. It is only as a nation, by sublimating ourselves to the כלל, that we truly can uphold the whole of the Torah.

It is easy to imagine the connection between Har Sinai and the marriage canopy. Up until marriage, we are essentially individuals, fulfilling our own individual needs. However, under the chuppah, a man and woman accept the responsibility of acting and thinking as a unit. There is no more you and I, there is only we. I am reminded of the story in which the saintly Rabbi Aryeh Levine brought his hurt wife to the doctor, saying, "Doctor, our leg hurts." This man had internalized the idea of a couple as a unit, and not just a collection of two individuals, that he felt her pain as his own!

And so, our observance of the Torah and our consideration of our marriage inspire each other to greater thinking in terms of the group, and less of ourselves individually.

Next, the day of Shlomo's supreme happiness is compared to the building of the Temple. Rabbi Hirsch (Vayetzeh p. 457) explains that a Jewish home is supposed to be a miniature Temple. The atmosphere is meant to be one in which the loving and joyous service of God is carried out with understanding and emotion. When two people marry and begin a home, they lay the foundation of a family life that lives for the purpose of Heaven. Just as the Beth Hamikdash was the exemplary expression of a whole nation harmoniously serving God, so are our individual homes a microcosmic expression of the same ideal.

We can now understand why God chose to split Adam and Chava up. As one unit, the first human had no need to replace its ego with a larger picture. Everything it needed was in it. By splitting it into two, Hashem gave man and woman a need to transcend the personal ego, and sublimate it into a harmonious society serving God. This effort is then meant to be applied to the nation as a whole. Each family unit is a building block in a national unit. We see our fulfillment and success not only through individual achievements, but in the actions of the nation.

Commonly, we assume that the breaking of the glass under the marriage canopy is a reminder to mourn for the destruction of Jerusalem. While it is true that we must never leave that pain out of our celebrations, the Talmud (Brachos 30b) states that the custom arose when rabbis saw too much hilarity at weddings. They felt that with all the happiness, the bride and groom must not forget that they are just now embarking on a tremendously arduous journey, one in which they will learn to think as one, and through this, produce a home worthy of the שכינה. The glass breaking is a somber reminder that there is much work to be done.

Finally, I will add a very important lesson from מתן תורה. In Yitro, it says, "ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני", on this day, they came to the Sinai desert. Should it not say, on that day? Rashi quotes the midrash and learns from this that every day, we must feel as if we have been given the Torah anew. We must not let the apathy that so often is the effect of time to allow our zeal and excitement for Torah to rust. In the same way, marriage is something that requires constant renewal. We can never let ourselves feel stagnant and unproductive. Constantly learning about one another, seeing the glory of God emanating from our spouse, allows us to keep our marriages alive and fresh.