“It is proper for man to emulate his Creator, for then he will attain the secret of Supernal Form (Tzurah) in both: image (Tzelem) and likeness (Demut). For if a person’s physical form reflects the Supernal Form, yet his actions do not, he falsifies his stature.”
Those are the first words of Sefer “Tomer Dvoira – The Palm Tree of Devorah” of RAMAK – Rabbi Moshe Cordovero.
How it is possible for a man, creature enclosed in his three dimensional environment to emulate Creator of the universe? How can a human being be called a “reflection of the Supernal Form”, or the image of Hakodoish Boruch Hu? By what means can a person represent the Unknown and Unimaginable Ain Sof? And if we somehow grasp the answers to these questions than comes perhaps the most difficult question, how can one emulate the Almighty G-d after taking in consideration man’s limited power?
With the help of Hashem I will try to explain what I learned from the Rabbonim who taught and influenced me with my learning the past few years. The Rabbonim which have influenced my thoughts range from a list of personalities dating back to at least 800 years ago. Starting with my beloved Rabbi Hirsh in conjunction with the Tomer Devorah, Rabbi Cordovero. The next in this non chronological list will be Rav Dessler in conjunction with the Ramchal. Also the Maharal, Rabbi Yehuda Loew’s from
– the Mahral’s teachings on the topic of
marriage and family are exceptional. I can not bypass the contemporary names of
today’s Rabbis like Rabbi Akiva Tatz and Rabbi Sholom Arush. But all of my understanding wouldn’t have come
to fruition without the most important of the seforim in my life, “Chovois Halvovois”
In order to make “space” for the world to be created, the Creator withdrew himself. This act of withdrawal is known as Tzimtzum. Another description of this act of “self limitation” of the Creator is called Hestar Ponim – the cover of the face or concealing of His countenance. In order to bestow His love upon creation and his creatures HBH ‘gave up’ something of Himself and only then the creation could happen and Love could come to realization – could be active.
He created man in his image. As our masters teach us, every organ of man, 248 of them, correspond to one of the middos – characteristics of the Creator, These middos are expressed as the mitzvois aseh – active commandments of Torah, the commandments asking us to do the will of the Creator. (The explanation of the remaining 365 prohibiting commandments will not be addressed in this essay.)
Each part of our body represents something of our Creator. For example: the hand represents acting power, the eye represents sight, the ear represents the ability to acquire information, the legs represent movement and so on. (I do not have the necessary education on this subject to explain all of the middos in this manner. There are many seforim that explain in depth how each part of our body corresponds to a particular and different midda of the Creator.) This is why the Torah informs us at its very beginning that man, i.e. Human Beings were created in the image – Tzelem of G-d.
But there is another Hebrew word Demut – likeness which tells us that we were created with the goal to be like G-d. The most important characteristic of us – human beings where we are “like” G-d is our Bechira – freedom of choice. Of course while His bechira is unlimited our bechira is limited by the fact that we exist in a three dimensional reality with all of its limitations. For example, the limitation of the laws of physics or who our parents were. But unlike any other creature we were created with the freedom of moral choice. No other creature can use, enjoy and eventually profit from this moral freedom. The possibility of making a mistake and even rebellion against our Creator i.e. evil is necessary for this freedom of moral choice to be real.
How can we emulate G-d?
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero in his sefer explaining this question, teaches us to follow the thirteen middos of Hashem. We recite these 13 middos every day while saying the prayer called tachnun and on other occasions as well. In the second part of his sefer Rabbi Cordovero explains the term of ten sefiros – emanations ( I am unaware of the proper word or terms in English to describe sefiros) These sefiros are known to us from the sefer Aytz Chaim as written by his student and the student of the Arizal Rabbi Chaim Vital. Among many others characteristics – middos or sefiros of Hashem there are those known to every human being. Love, compassion, patience, self restraint, giving from ones self etc. Rabbi Cordovero tells us that if we do not emulate our Creator then we are actually falsifying His image, we are distorting information about Him which He wanted us to share with humanity, with other creatures like our selves and with all of the creation. Because the majority of men and women do not possess the supreme knowledge of the Creator from other sources, then the only way that they can become informed with this knowledge of G-d is when people that have studied and do possess this knowledge and wisdom enlighten others by emulating what and how G-d interacts with us. One more time I would like to remind that all positive (to do) mitzvos of the Torah, including both subcategories of: bein Adam le Chaveiro – how men relate to each other and bein Adam le Mokoim – between man and G-d, are precise expressions of how HBH relates to us and how we should relate to others.
In my recent conversation with someone specializing in the topic of family and sholom bayis – literally ‘peace in the home’, he quoted the popular story that the Talmud describes of the convert who came to Hillel Hannasi with the request that he teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel answered - “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t like to be done to you.”.
Then he asked me the following question. Why didn’t Hillel tell the convert the commandment of the written Torah ‘You should love your neighbor as you self”? Both of these commandments called by many the ‘golden rules’ are asking for the proper relation between man and his fellow. My answer to him was, that restraining from harming another person is the most basic step of the relations between humans and it is a very easy to describe down to earth definition of love. Then he asked me if this is so then why doesn’t the Torah express it this way but instead uses a more abstractive term ‘love’- ‘you should love your neighbor as yourself’? After few moments of thought I answered that while not doing harm is the first step of love the second necessary step of expression of love is to give, to do, to act to another person as we would like others to act toward us.
I don’t think I discovered
with my answers but I liked his challenge and I was satisfied with my answers. While
we were discussing this topic I was smiling widely because I am in middle of
writing this essay and I was very happy to have this conversation with him.
Hashem acted out of His Love and created us, made us in his image and gave us freedom of choice to use it to bring His likeness to our earthly realm.
In order to do so He withdrew - limited Himself. Now, this limitation and withdrawal does not happen neither in space nor in time as both space and time are creations of Hashem and can’t be used to limit Hashem who is the Creator of all creations! HBH remains the same after this withdrawal as He was ‘before’ this withdrawal . So we learn from Sefer Tania and others.
This teaches us that no act of Ahava – love or other middos can come to realization without self-limiting of our selves. With our positive act toward another human being we are giving up something that originally was ours but which now must be limited or even nullified by our conscious decision. What we are giving could be our material possession or our time which we could have been spent for ourselves, it can also be a good word or even the smile on our face, it could be moment of patience or even our fellow brothers pain which we share with our compassion. This is how love happens, all as described in detail by the Halacha - Jewish Law and Hashkofa – Jewish philosophy of life.
Our blessed memory sages teach us in their holy teachings called Mussar, how to control and shape our character to the form described by Taryag Mitzvos- all of the commandments. But Mussar Seforim are more than that; every human being can learn proper behavior and self restraint from those Seforim, every ben Noach can raise himself to a higher level of humanity by implementing parts of those teaching in his life.
To create an atmosphere necessary for love and the other middos to be realized - to happen, the Creator made man in plural form. Each human being is different than another, each group and nation has its own characteristics diverse from other nations or tribes. If everyone would be the same, then love would not be possible to happen as we would in fact love ourselves as mirrored in the other person (Iy”h, I will elaborate on this topic in the future). Only when we have to deal with those different than ourselves, then real love can happen as it will require from us self restraint and giving of ourselves to others.
The most profound manner to exercise the exchange of love is the institution of marriage and family.
“And they shall became one flesh” Beraishis
Rashi elucidates: One flesh. The child is formed through the two of them, and their flesh becomes one.
This verse of the Torah and its explanation by Rashi contain a richness of teaching and loads of information which is so characteristic of the Torah where every sentence, every word, letter and dot brings depths and heights of teachings unknown in any other writings.
The verse says “One flesh” that is one human being in the form of two separate genders. Each gender is completely different than the other one, dissimilar to the extent that the Talmud describes the genders as separate species. We can not imagine anything on this earth which is so different, so polarized and yet so united at the same time as Ish and Ishah – man and his wife. A few sentences earlier we read that the woman was created as a help against man. What a depth in this sentence what a beauty enclosed in this description of harmonious and balanced marriage.
Two people, each one born to a different family a different environment, with different education and upbringing. Two individuals with many diametrically different characters, after years alone meet to form a new family. Two uniquely different people are now together as one to fulfill the wish of their Creator to become one flesh.
There is no more difficult task for man than this one, there is no greater challenge in his life than to learn how to love his/her spouse. There is no other environment where a man or woman will have the opportunity to bestow his love and give of himself than with his spouse and then his children. There is no other situation in life where such tremendous amount of selfless work and character formatting can happen as when we give our lives to our partners for life. And then, we unite in an act of physical ultimate connection to create our offspring.
Forming ‘one flesh’ culminates and at the same time begins with this union and it continues to the moment when our offspring form their own new family unit together with his/her spouse.
According to Jewish Law the physical union between husband and wife is not limited to the act of procreation. At any stage of life, it is a mitzvah – positive commandment to have martial relations regardless of the possibility of becoming pregnant. Jewish code of Law contains detailed guidelines of how, when and even in what atmosphere such relations should happen. According to Jewish Law it is imperative that the marital act take place with a spiritual connection between the spouses. If such a connection does not exist then such relations are forbidden and described as the animalistic fulfillment of lower desirers and not an act of love. But as much as the mental and spiritual connection between spouses does to the physical union for it to be perfect, so too does it work the other way as well.
All our deeds which are done according to our Creator’s will, our fulfillment of the commandments of Torah by using the physical aspect of our existence, enriches us spiritually and connects us with our Creator – we form a union with the Creator. The mitzvah of physical union between the spouses is not different.
Guided by Halachic Law and teachings of our sages, a Jewish couple unite in a act of physical love to achieve a higher level of mental connection, the ultimate pleasure of this act is the indestructible spiritual bond uniting the spouses and uniting the spouses with the Giver of life.
In every aspect of marriage union and unification, what is happening is more than just the creation of one ‘flesh’. Our task of unification of the two into one doesn’t end with the act of procreation and rising of the offspring. Hashem gave us many more years of our life to continue this spiritual task of unification on different levels and by different means. And like everything, there is a reason for this as well. The union between husband and wife is not completed when our children are grown and leave the nest. If our job would be accomplished then we would die or end the marriage and this is not what happens. We are not ready yet to depart from this planet or from each other. There is still a job to be done and each couple certainly will find different areas of life where such work can be done.
The Medrash Bereshis Rabba teaches that Hashem is the one who make the matches between man and woman. Now this seems to be a strange occupation for the Creator of the universe, isn’t it? The Maharal from
explains that this Medrash informs us
that there is nothing natural about the marriage. It doesn’t just happen that
two people with their freedom of choice gravitate toward each other and than get
married. Chazal teach us that our zevug
– our match is predestined and doesn’t belong to the realm of bechira. What is within our area
of choice is our moral behavior, our work, sometimes hard work to polish the
challenging edges of those two halves of the creature called – man. Neither of
the halves by themselves can be even called a man.
Tzurah the form and chomer the matter. Those are two elements unified in G-d himself and expressed in his creation. One of the elucidations of this idea is that every tzura and chomer are interdependent and are described in the terms of masculinity and femininity.
All of the above leads to the following. Due to the character of the adjustments between a wife and husband which occur throughout life, something else no less great is also being done; the pinnacle of all reasons for our creation is happening.
For the man and woman, no other method improves us and helps in our adjustment better then learning “Anuva” humility through our interaction with our spouses and family. This lesson of humility is equally divided between self restraint and the subordination of human ego on one side and beneficial action and dynamic love on the other side in all aspects of marriage and family life.
In summary, every time we fulfill the will of our Creator by abiding the Mitzvos of his Torah we are contributing to our unification with G-d. (the topic of unity with G-d is a subject of its own and I will not elaborate on it here) In a marriage which is worked out according to the Torah, cosmic work is being done and the implication of this work is much greater than we can grasp or even imagine.