What is marriage? What is the purpose of marriage? What do we hope to accomplish through marriage? Is marriage an end in and of itself, or is it a means to an end?
What is marriage? What is the purpose of marriage? What do we hope to accomplish through marriage? Is marriage an end in and of itself, or is it a means to an end? Is marriage merely a convenient arrangement between two people or does it represent something deeper? Why is it that when a couple gets divorced, even the holy altar "sheds tears" (Talmud Tractate Gittin 90b)? Is the bond and commitment of marriage really so strong? Is marriage really so special? We will return to these questions a little later. Let us first turn our attention to a seemingly unrelated topic.
"Hear O Israel, the Lord is G-d, the Lord is One." Known as the Shema prayer, it is undoubtedly the most well-known phrase of the Jewish faith. The Talmud (Tractate Pesachim 56a) records a fascinating incident regarding this week's Torah portion which probably provides the earliest origin of the Shema. While on his deathbed, Jacob calls his sons so that he may bless them. In addition, Jacob wishes to reveal all future events until the coming of the Messiah. Unexpectedly, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) leaves Jacob and he is unable to transmit this information. In frustration, Jacob turns to his sons and says, "Just as my father Isaac and my grandfather Abraham both fathered unworthy children, maybe one of you is unworthy and thus has been deprived of receiving this prophecy." The brothers respond unanimously, "Hear O Israel (their father's other name), the Lord is G-d, the Lord is One." Placated and relieved by his sons' commitment, Jacob replies, "Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity."
We say the Shema prayer twice a day, yet do we really understand what we are saying? Why is the Shema so special? By simply uttering a single phrase, the 12 brothers convince their father Jacob that they are indeed worthy sons. Whatever possible suspicions Jacob harbored concerning his sons were dispelled in an instant upon the declaration of the Shema. What is so powerful about the Shema that Jacob ceased to suspect his sons of any wrongdoing? What is so profound about this simple phrase that, throughout history, it has remained the calling cry of Judaism, the final utterance of those martyred for the sake of G-d?
We can now proceed to answer all of our questions one by one. Without a doubt, the Jewish religion is composed of many different aspects and important beliefs. However, one tenet, expressed so succinctly by the Shema, stands above the rest recognizing G-d's uniqueness and unity. This recognition, however, encompasses far more than simply rejecting pantheism. To understand that G-d is One is to understand that G-d is everything and everything is in G-d's domain. Although it may appear that many different forces pervade the universe, in fact, everything falls under the subjugation of G-d. Even the power of evil, which appears to oppose Hashem Himself, in truth is merely a player in G-d's master plan.
Ultimately, even we, human beings, the focal point of the entire creation, are nothing without the constant support of G-d. Every single atom in the universe falls under the direct control and regulation of G-d; nothing can escape Him. He is One, the only One. It is no underestimation to say that if one can attain a true understanding and appreciation of G-d's oneness and unity, then the rest is just commentary. If we have one mission on earth, it is to arrive at a full and complete awareness of G-d's oneness. This is the message conveyed by the one line of the Shema. No wonder Jacob was placated by his sons' proclamation. No wonder the Shema continues to represent the Jewish religion.
However, achieving a full and complete understating of G-d's oneness is not a trivial matter. For if we truly grasped G-d's total dominion over everything, how could we dare sin? Knowing that everything is in His hands, how could we even dare think about betraying Him? Inculcating this knowledge into the fabric of our being takes years and years; it is a task we might never complete entirely, even over the course of a lifetime. What is so difficult? Why does the true appreciation of G-d's unity and oneness elude us? Certainly, the words are easy to say and seemingly simple to comprehend that G-d controls and directs everything. What is much more difficult for us to grasp is the concept that G-d is everything, the only thing. How can the trillions upon trillions of components of the universe really be part of one entity? Such a concept boggles the mind, but until we truly understand it, we are lacking in our life's mission.
Fortunately, G-d provides some assistance, presenting us with certain tools to aid our achieving a total comprehension of His unity. One of the most important tools, if not the most important, provided by G-d, is the institution of marriage. G-d created each of us "incomplete" by design, with a need to find our "other half." Marriage was devised as the method by which the two halves could come together to form a whole. That two separate individuals, with very different characteristics, personality traits, backgrounds, and life experiences can come together to form one entity is an astounding notion. When a couple reaches a state of oneness with each other, where each one is totally in synch with the other, they are in a position to better understand Hashem's oneness. When they view themselves as one being, although they appear to be two distinct individuals, they can more readily comprehend how the many components of the universe (although appearing to be separate entities) are in fact one.
Thus, marriage is a precious gift from G-d designed to assist us in our life's mission of understanding and integrating God's oneness and unity into our hearts. However, as anyone who is married knows all too well, achieving this state of oneness with a spouse is a lifetime task, requiring tremendous effort and hard work. May Hashem grant us all the strength and wisdom to eventually reach the day when we can truly feel that we are not just two individuals, but rather one whole entity.
Mazal Tov to Yoel and Chavie Spotts on their one year wedding anniversary which they will celebrate this coming Monday, January 4th.
Yoel Spotts, a native Atlantan, is a member of the Ner Israel Rabbinical College Kollel in Baltimore.
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