||THE GEMORA'S FORMULA FOR PEACEFUL MARRIAGE, PART FIVE: MARRIAGE IS NO PLACE FOR "THE LOVE MISCONCEPTION"
- Thursday, November 1, '01 - Parshas Vayeira 5762
In case anyone is beset by the slightest doubt about the legitimacy of the marriage institution, the Torah says openly, "Have children and multiply (Genesis 1:28)...it is no good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)...therefore a man will leave his father and his mother and attach to his wife and they will be one flesh (Genesis 2: 24)...and [a woman's] longing will be to [her] husband (Genesis 3:16)." There you have it in a nutshell. Right from the "Source" (with about 100,000 embellishments added in the Talmud, midrashim and Halacha, to round things out). Marriage is created, commanded and endorsed by G-d Himself. If you can't hack it or if you think you have something better, by definition there's something not operating right inside and you have an immediate and full imperative to get it fixed and to be a "marriageable entity."
My subject matter (human relations, personal development, man-woman compatibility, etc.) gets to the "guts" of people. Getting older as a single, having a stormy marriage or going through (and facing life after) divorce can tear people to pieces. In my work, I see people, time after time after time, who present themselves on the street to the world as happy, functional and "put together" people.
When they speak to me about their inner lives, when the act goes down and the real person comes out, I see the heartbreak, the anguish, the dysfunction, the disappointments, the suffering, the abuses, the neglect of real-life-issue responsibilities, the lack of real-life-issue skills or emotions, the pretense, the destructive values and the self-sabotage. When I do counseling for individuals or couples, when I do matchmaking, when I do workshops or seminars, when I receive questions after lectures, I see the "real" or "inner" person come out. After one lecture at Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City, a group of people came up to the lectern to gather around me to ask personal questions. One woman asked me a question about a painful relationship that she was in. The issue was so painful that in front of about a half dozen strangers, she started crying.
We're talking serious. We're talking "big time," "major league" stuff. Yet, with all the constant failure, disruption and sorrow, people hold onto the stuff that doesn't work, that breaks hearts, and which wrecks marriages and innocent children.
The Torah refers to one's wife as "aizer kinegdo", a "help against him." The commentaries wrestle with the obvious contradiction between "help" and "against" in the same phrase. If she is a help, she's not against him. If she's against her husband, she's no help! The classic, basic answer is that if he is worthy, a man's wife will be his help in life. If he is not worthy, she will make his life bitter. I want to suggest, from my work experience, another meaning to "aizer kinegdo."
No person is perfect. If two people approach their relationship as a joint effort to work on themselves and on life harmoniously and supportively, their marriage can be characterized by "help" to one another. They can supportively work together on their shortcomings - openly, objectively, honestly and courageously. They can bring out potentials, help refine and elevate each other. They will have a dynamic and growing relationship. In that relationship, the spouse is a "help."
If, when the shortcomings come out, one or both is/are closed, defensive, rigid, self-justifying, unkind, irresponsible, inconsiderate, stagnant (in terms of human development) or hostile; or sets up (in relating terms) shields or boundaries beyond which the other cannot penetrate; this relationship will be bitterly characterized by "against."
This is similar to, and supported by, the verse in Proverbs (18:1), "LeTaava yivakesh nifrad (self-indulgence pursues isolation/separateness)." Being out for yourself forces the creation of "apartness" because you and the other person essentially become mutually exclusive. You make the other person feel that your primary goal or interest is to take and to satisfy yourself. Taking leads to degeneration and destruction of a relationship. No one was born just to feed the other's needs. To the extent that the other falls short of a taker's needs, expectations or demands, the taker is disinterested, frustrated or hostile. The other person can only be left feeling disrespected, abused, shortchanged, unhappy, pushed away or left-out. Knowing the taker isn't worthwhile. It could be downright painful and humiliating.
This is all antithetical to love.