Common Questions About the Jewish Perspective on Marriage

Couple PicIn a world with a divorce rate of close to 50% and so many young Jews seeking a meaningful relationship to build a lifetime Jewish home, let’s delve into the secrets and great wisdom our Jewish heritage brings to this 21st century quandary.  Here are 3 questions commonly asked with an answer rooted in Jewish heritage and wisdom.

  1. How are we supposed to view marriage according to Judaism?

Before we answer this question, we have to answer another one.  Why does it matter?  Do we really need a paradigm or can’t we just “let it flow,” “ride the waves as they come,” and “just be natural?”  One day, a father and son were going fishing.  The son was so excited!  “Where are we going fishing, Dad?”  “Well, we’re going to the lake not too far from here.”  “Yippee!”  The father loaded up the gear, and they we’re on our way.  When they got to the lake, the young boy started taking off his shoes and shirt.  “What are you doing, son?”  “I’m going fishing!”  After some confusion, the father realized that his son thought “fishing” is going in the water and acting like a fish.  After explaining that fishing is not being a fish but rather catching a fish, the son was just as excited and put his shoes back on.  Marriage also needs a proper paradigm in order to “make the catch.”   So what is it?

Biblical Trivial Pursuit Question:  Of all the animals created and put into this world, there is only one that was created, taken apart, then put back together again.  Which one was it?  Hint:  He’s your greatest grandfather.  Answer: Adam!  G-d created man, removed a portion of him and then created Eve from that portion (perhaps we should call women, “Humans, version 2.0”).  Regarding the entire animal kingdom, both genders were harmoniously created simultaneously.  Why this major change in the creation scheme?  There’s something fishy here (No, we’re not going swimming!).  In Biblical studies, “something fishy” means “there is a lesson here.”  So what’s the lesson?  

Simply put, Adam was taken apart and another human being was formed from him to show us that we become truly complete when we join our counterpart.  All the challenges, joys, tribulations, growing pains, and pleasures of married life… they’re an integral process of our growth and maturation as human beings.  I’m sure plenty of animals enjoy having a mate (just look at Mickey & Minnie, Donald & Daisy, Kermit & Miss Piggy), but that’s not about becoming complete.  We as humans have an integral lesson to be learned.  We were actually “taken apart” and rebuilt as two different entities to teach us this lesson for all times.  And that’s how you go fishing in a marriage!

2.  Is there such thing as “bashert,” i.e. “the one”?  

This question often can be reread as, “Did I marry the wrong person?” Or “I’m just not ‘feeling it’ with him/her anymore.  So they must not be ‘the one’, right?”  Or “Am I ever going to find Mr./Mrs. Right?”  And the answer is… Well, it’s complicated.  There is a concept of bashert (lit. “destiny” in Yiddish) based in Jewish sources dating back thousands of years.  Some even say that our soul mate is predetermined before birth.  As alluded to above, we perceive our souls as halves that unite to make a whole through holy matrimony.  So how come it doesn’t just slide into place when we meet “the right one”?  Mystical sources actually explain that we are halves, however, our portion doesn’t perfectly correspond to another portion.  Rather, it is a tremendous effort of perseverance, patience, compassion, and growth that allows the two halves to merge together as one..  That process of connecting and molding a wholeness between the two halves is the great endeavor we call, “marriage.”  In layman’s terms, you quite possibly found your ‘bashert’.  We all just need to work on ourselves to correspond harmoniously with one another.  

  1. We always seem to fight.  Are we doomed?

The survival of a marriage and its potential to thrive is not determined by whether couples fight.  Rather, it is determined by how they come to resolution.  Perhaps the question could be better asked, “What should we do about our fighting?”  The word used by our Sages in the Talmud to describe the act of marriage is kiddushin, literally to make holy.  We hear this term used at the marriage ceremony as the ring is given saying, “You are holy to me.”  If we set that as a mantra in our mind from that moment forward, “You are holy to me,” then perhaps we will change the way we interact with our spouse.  We won’t treat our spouse the same way we treat a roommate or sibling.  When we argue, it will be with the understanding that you and I are learning how to connect and correspond on a deep level.  We are creating a whole unit called “us” together.  

In summary, when we take on the paradigm that marriage is a completion of ourselves, but it comes through much work and effort to combine our two halves to make a whole.  And our spouse is a holy person whom I am lovingly destined to work through these trials and tribulations of love, then together we can beat the statistics and build a meaningful relationship for a lifetime of love as we build our Jewish home.  

Joshua Marder is a rabbi and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  He and his wife, Laura, are the directors of Chicago YJP, a Division of the Lois and Wilfred Lefkovich Chicago Torah Network.  

(This article originally appeared in the JUF News, Feb 2016)

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