Marriages Built on Quicksand
Marriages built on American values are doomed.
America no longer calls it marriage, but partnership. They degraded a loving relationship to a functional, profitable entity to jointly accomplish common goals, a business arrangement as easily dissolved as formed. In addition, because of a culturally induced fear of intimacy, fear of commitment, or fear of losing highly valued independence, many are terrified of vulnerability and of sacrificing their independence. Marriages, at best, are marriages of convenience: Parallel lives never the twain to meet.
At the same time, they only marry who they love. There are two false irrational assumptions that condemn marriages to fail.
Love’s Paradox: The Essential Role of Fear in Genuine Relationships
In a world where love is often mistaken for excitement or infatuation, the notion of fear as a vital element within a loving relationship might appear contradictory. In the realm of human emotions, love and fear are frequently viewed as polar opposites. Love is commonly associated with warmth, comfort, and happiness, while fear brings to mind anxiety, dread, and danger. Nonetheless, recent scientific research indicates that love and fear may be more closely connected than previously thought, as experiencing either emotion leads our brains to release specific chemicals and hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine, cortisol, and adrenaline. Not recognizing that fear is an essential facet of love, irrational mutually exclusive dichotomous thinking kills the relationship. If I am afraid, I cannot be in love.
Falling Out of Love
Love is not static. Couples fall out of love. A marriage based on how the other person makes one feel is destined to fail. Even where love is not selfish love, in the clear light of day, after the fantasy evaporates, after the honeymoon which can last a year or two or seven is over, at some point reality sets in and inevitably love evaporates. Love often turns to hate and for many, life is unbearable.
Marriage Built on Solid Jewish Foundations
FISH LOVE Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twersky shares a story illustrating that much of what people call love is actually “fish-love” – a selfish love based on personal gain. In contemporary culture, many relationships are transactional, with individuals aiming to maximize their profits by investing as little as possible to receive the most in return. These marriages are ultimately hollow and unsustainable.
REAL LOVE Authentic love, as valued by Jewish tradition, focuses on transformative relationships in which a marriage brings wholeness, and two individuals become one. This love is based on giving and selflessness, as expertly articulated by Rav Keleman. The Torah instructs us to love (ואהבת לרעך כמוך) without necessarily expecting love in return. When two people desire nothing more than to give their all, their love can reach its full potential.
The Torah places great emphasis on the importance of love between husband and wife. It not only demands perpetual nurturing love within the marital relationship, but it also presents a vision of love that is transcendent in nature. This transcendent love surpasses physical attraction and emotional attachment. Transcendent love, the ultimate aspiration for authentic Jews, is characterized by the presence of Hashem within the relationship. This love transcends the physical realm and connects with the divine.
This love is other worldly by uniting soulmates. Every Jew has a soulmate, known as a “bashert” in Yiddish. These soulmates are two halves of a single soul, created by Hashem before their birth. The ultimate purpose of marriage, is to reunite these two halves not merely on a physical or emotional level but rather a profound spiritual bond that transcends time and space.
Even more auspicious, uniting the couple’s souls brings the shechina, divine light into the world. The Ramchal says until someone is married, they do not have the shechina because to have the shechina hinges on the wife.[i] It is this unification that brings down the shechina.
The Jewish ideal of marriage revolves around transcendent love, a sacred union that unites the couple with the divine and elevates their relationship to a higher plane of spirituality. By focusing on selfless giving, spiritual growth, and steadfast commitment to Torah values, a Jewish couple can experience the profound beauty and holiness of transcendent love in their marriage.
The moment the afterglow evaporates, a marriage based on Torah values transition from “I married you because I love you” to “I love you because I married you.”
And fear plays an essential role.
Marriage is Awesome
The Torah perspective of marriage should inspire awe and is justifiably frightening
So few get it right.
To never ever hurt each other’s feelings, despite this being an explicit Torah obligation, is rarely achieved.
To be totally honest, open, and real, vulnerable to your core, desperately needing each other, terrified of losing them whether through death or falling out of love each may be reason enough to be afraid.
This is not “I am afraid because”. Fear is an integral part of love. This is the facet of love that maintains respect and adds value to the one you married.
The fear that is an integral facet of love is more akin to awe than fear of consequences.
Transformative love is, with trepidation, committing suicide of the self for the birth of the conjoint self. Frightening.
Transcendent love, where the All-knowing, Omnipotent, Omniscient Almighty is ever-present, relies on Hashem to instill and maintain this love. The Maharal explains that when it says that Hashem is mezaveg zivugim it means that Hashem continuously binds every couple. No one falls in love. Hashem makes you do it. And Hashem sustains it. Frightening.
In the Chida’s tefilla for shidduchim, it says[ii] that we are commanded to get married and have children as life both in this world and in the world to come depends upon his wife. As the Yerushalmi[ii] says “Man cannot live without woman and woman cannot live without man.”
So, love like your life depends on it. It does.
The Ramchal explains that what is between a husband and wife it not just holy, but the holy of holies.
[i] תומר דבורה ט
לעשות שהשכינה תידבק בו ע”י ההתנהגות עם אשתו
עוד זהירות הרבה צריך ליקח האדם לעצמו לעשות שתהיה שכינה דבקה עמו ולא תפרד ממנו, והנה האדם בעוד שלא נשא אשה פשיטא שאין עמו שכינה כלל כי עיקר שכינה לאדם מצד הנקבה
[ii] “וצויתנו לישא אשה ולהוליד בנים, והחמירו עבדיך רבותינו זכרונם לברכה שלא לאחר מצוה זו, ויען חיי האדם בעולם הזה ובעולם הבא תלויים כמעט באשה”