Sunday, May 20, 2012


It might seem strange to my readers for me to conclude my series of essays on the topic of marriage and family with an article about divorce. 
My aim in posting this topic was that after absorbing Rav Hirsch’s elucidation on the value and meaning of “the family,” as well as my two essays on the same topic the reader would so profoundly appreciate the concept of “family” that he or she would never even consider divorce as a viable solution for marital problems. Just so you know, I strongly hope that those who visit this blog will someday realize what I have learned in life: divorce is catastrophe of cosmic proportions.
Nevertheless, divorce happens not only in society at large and among Jewish people, but also among Torah-true Jews who are devoted to Hashem’s service on an above-average level. Why it this so? Why do people despair of working out their differences? Why don’t people comprehend the utter destruction that results from divorce? Why don’t they seriously consider the welfare of their children and grandchildren who will not only suffer greatly but who will then accept divorce as a viable solution to marital discord instead of the calamity it truly is?

Unfortunately, statistically, children of divorce are much more inclined to divorce than children of intact marriages, who do not view divorce as a preferred “exit strategy.” Even after having suffered the many negative consequences of divorce, they reason that if their parents and/or grandparents chose that path it can’t be all that bad.  

An additional consideration when contemplating the issue of divorce is: If divorce is seen as one acceptable option among many to marital discord, what happen to the concept of zivug which I wrote about in my last essay? How does divorce enter the picture if we believe that marriage is a spiritual connection made by G-d Himself even before the two spouses united in marriage were born?

With the help of Heaven I will attempt to answer some of those questions according to what I have been learned, and I will also share with my readers some of my own thoughts.

Perfect people don’t need the Torah.
The Zohar Hakadosh teaches us that malachim, the angels, did not want Hashem to bequeath the holy Torah to the Moshe Rabbeinu and through him to mankind, who, obviously, are mortal. Hashem explained to them that it is precisely mortal and imperfect people who are in need of the precepts promulgated by the Torah so that they can improve themselves and elevate themselves spiritually.

The fact that human beings are not perfect gives them tremendous opportunities dedicate their lives to achieving excellence through Torah. One improves one’s nature by means of  bechirah –free choice. When person refuses to do evil and chooses instead to do good as defined by Torah, tikkun — progress toward perfection — is being achieved.

But people do not always choose to do what is good, both in general and specifically in the sphere of marriage and family. Most find it difficult to humble themselves enough to invest the work and self-restriction required to build a solid marital relationship.  Others are not aware exactly how to create a healthy marriage and family, and either refuse to learn or don’t even know that they should seek this knowledge.  Perhaps they fear that to achieve a good marriage they will have to relinquish some of their innate selfishness, or even forgo some of their usual indulgence in gashmius, material pleasures, all aspects of earthly life to which they have become accustomed without giving them much thought. They sense that establishing and maintaining a happy family will require them to act in ways that do not fit in with life as a single person living only for him or herself.

Those who never marry are, indeed, unfortunate because they will never have the opportunity to become fully developed human beings. The Torah expresses this teaching in its opening chapter when it states that the Creator created man as ish ve’ishah – male and female. Only in the unity of marriage can people achieve the full potential that he or she was created for.

What happens when people marry and then are too lazy, immature or even too filled with bad character traits to succeed at marriage? What if they refuse to work on acquiring positive middos, characteristics, as is expected of them?  What if they don’t view the inevitable difficulties and challenges of building a strong marriage and establishing a family as an opportunity to achieve spiritual heights, heights that can only be reached by overcoming their inborn weaknesses? What happens if even after family members and friends offer advice on how to improve themselves they prefer to remain in their “comfort zone” and refuse to change?  What if they have general problems with their emunah, their faith, yet prefer to lead their lives on a superficial level, never attempting to understand why they were placed on this Earth? What if they never achieved happiness with their lot in life, with what Hashem has programmed for them, but rather constantly imagine that their lives could and should be better and that this will only happen once they are free of their marriage? What if the person sees him- or herself as a victim not only of life but of his or her life’s partner and children?

People in any of these categories rarely invest the effort required to improve spiritually and practically; in fact, they rarely investigate methods of achieving a happy marriage and all too often ultimately divorce.

Reconciling reality with free choice
People are born with freedom of choice, especially with the choice of how to react to all of life’s challenges. However, as Chazal teach us, our mates are chosen for us by Hashem even before the two people involved are born, couples are predestined. How do we then understand what is happening when the couple decides to divorce?
It is rare that both partners in any marriage bear the same amount of guilt if and when divorce occurs. Although most often one of them is less invested in building a happy marriage and family, the “other half” of the couple is usually somewhat at fault as well, albeit to a lesser degree.  Unfortunately, even if one party is doing his or her utmost to save the marriage and family, his or her efforts will not succeed if the other party is bent on dissolving the union. If one spouse feels imprisoned and is convinced that freedom and bliss are guaranteed outside the marriage, little can be done.

This impasse can happen at any stage of a marriage. Young couples too immature to understand the value and beauty of the family life, especially the opportunity to be  constantly giving selflessly to one’s spouse and children, are especially vulnerable. However, all of us know couples who divorce in mid-life, while they are fully engaged in raising their children, or even later in life when the nest is empty. Some in this situation claim that they were never happy and their marriage only survived due to the extraordinary efforts of one of the spouses who understood the trauma divorce causes children and who, therefore, opted to stay in an unhappy marriage to minimize that trauma. While divorce is tragic at any stage in life, we applaud parents who sacrificed their own personal happiness so as not to unnecessarily harm the children.

Nonetheless, it is not difficult to image that mostly, when such a situation occurs, the home was filled with tension and perhaps even a poisoned atmosphere. How sad for children growing up in such a combative atmosphere whose only consolation is their determination never to expose their own children to either the overt or covert conflict that is their daily lot in life. Parents who maintain that they are staying married solely for the sake of the children, without working out their differences and growing spiritually and emotionally from teaching themselves to compromise are not only shortchanging themselves but also, in a certain sense, destroying the lives of their offspring.

In order to thrive, children need to be raised in families that are filled with authentic devotion and love between their parents. Even when couple experience major differences and difficult life challenges, when growing children observe their parents working together to deal with, endure or overcome those problems they will be ultimately happy and prepared to build strong homes of their own. But when what children experience is a family filled with suffering, even if that suffering is endured “for the sake of the children,” they cannot help but be devastated and poor candidates for their own future marriages.  

Who our spouses are is predestined. How we deal with the challenges they present to us is our choice, one of the most important choices we will ever make.

More mature parents, who understand the devastation caused by divorce, still harm their children if all those children hear are complaints and regrets.  When a husband can’t stop themselves from telling anyone willing to listen, whether it’s someone from their nuclear family, a friend or their child, that life is unbearable because he has to work so hard to support his wife and children, and when a wife constantly complains that she has no time for herself because her days are filled with cooking, washing and cleaning, the home is filled with sadness and both are setting terrible examples for their children.

Any time we give our spouse the feeling that we are greatly sacrificing to be married and/or stay married to him/or her, it introduces bitterness into the marriage and makes our spouse’s life miserable.

Just as harmful is when a husband considers his wife his unpaid maid or when a wife feels that her husband’s only value is as a constantly available ATM machine.
In such situations, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that the marriage is headed for disaster, regardless that only one side in the marriage is expressing profound unhappiness. And worst of all is when one of the spouses, instead of trying to work on the marriage and improve any flaws in the relationship opts to break the exclusivity of the marital bond and seek happiness with someone else while still married.

For a better marriage…
The concept of marital exclusivity is not limited only to Orthodox Jewish society. However, due to the ingenuity of our holy Sages we enjoy many protective means, in the form of the laws and customs of Torah marriage, that share one aim: to provide a level of trust for each of the spouses and to protect family values. It is a conventional imperative as well as a G-d-given commandment that each spouse in a marriage “belongs” exclusively to the other. Spiritually attuned people of all religious persuasions accept that they must restrain from contact with those of the opposite gender other than their spouse. To establish and maintain friendships with non-spouses, to meet, correspond, and/or to maintain any other form of contact with someone outside the marriage causes our spouse tremendous mental discomfort, it is betrayal of the marriage covenant and ultimately may results in the catastrophic sin of adultery. Since trust is the foundation of a healthy marriage, doing anything to harm that trust is disastrous not only to the marriage but to the family.

Of course, when for whatever reason spouses ruin the possibility of a harmonious marriage by inappropriate words and/or actions, the marriage is bound to end.  What happens, in such cases, to the concept of zivug, predestined mates? What happens to the spiritual forces that were involved in the couple meeting and deciding to marry in the first place?  What happens to the concept of “a match made by and in Heaven?”

Unfortunately, as much as I perused the rabbinic literature, so far I have not succeeded in  finding an answer to this question,  as it involves Kabbalistic areas of Jewish teachings  in which I am much less than a specialist. So what I am about to share must be acknowledged as the result of personal analysis and not a documented, authentic Torah view.

It is my understanding that a person has no choice not only in who he or she marries but also in whether he or she is born, or who his or her parents will be. Many other aspects of our lives are also not within our power to choose. Where we have choice, where we are obligated to think deeply before we exercise that power of choice, is mostly in the area of morality as defined by Torah. There are different views regarding the details on this topic among the sages, but those are a topic for a future essay.

For now let us accept that whether we chose to be born or not, we are living on Earth at this time. Life offers each of us the opportunity to grow spiritually and achieve connection with our Creator by making proper moral choices. In order to earn merit in the World to Come man must have total free moral choice in this world. If, for example, every time a Jew transgressed he or she would become paralyzed, no free choice would exist. Accepting this principle, according to Chazal (our holy sages), the ultimate sin is suicide. By choosing to end one’s life, a person has “slapped the Creator in the face.”

In Michtav Mei’Eliyahu, Harav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zt”l, teaches that relinquishing one’s power of free choice, one’s bechirah,  by ending one’s opportunity for spiritual growth by killing one’s self , is the greatest of sins. Nevertheless, to ensure that man has total free choice, even this ultimate act of rebellion against Creator is one of the many moral choices available to mankind.

What happens when a person who commits suicide is married? What happens when a person’s spouse dies for reasons other than suicide, such as illness or any other tragic event? The remaining spouse not only has the freedom of choice but is halachicly obligated by our sages to remarry. The devastation caused by the death cannot be undone, but if Hashem still gives them life He gives them additional opportunities to repair what can be repaired, and to continue to build and contribute positively even when the past cannot be changed. One thing is almost sure, that just as the person whose spouse died from any cause (except murder) is not guilty of the death, so too is the spouse who did ALL in his or her power to save a marriage that ultimately dissolved is not guilty of its ultimate destruction.

As I said previously, most of the time the spouse who keeps valiantly attempting to save and improve the marriage is the one less guilty of its destruction, and in no way causes “tears to flow” from Hashem’s eyes.

In conclusion.
My dear friend, my fellow Jew, and my fellow non-Jewish brother. Before chas v’chalilah,  G-d forbid, your marriage is in jeopardy, regardless if you just got married, you are raising a family, or you are living with your spouse in a so called “empty nest.” Do yourself a favor, the greatest favor possible. If there are any difficulties in your marriage, realize that they were given to you to help develop you into a better person.

Seek out mentors, guides and teachers to help you identify the causes of the problem and its possible solutions and work as you’ve never worked before to resolve your marital challenges because this is why you were sent down to this world. Your mission is to elevate yourself above you lower desirers by building your marriage, your family, and ultimately  society by utilizing every ounce of your intellectual and emotional power.

Read literature about how to establish and maintain harmony in the home even before any problem arises. Forewarned is forearmed. Be prepared. By investing in your marriage in this way, proactively instead of reactively, you will be blessed with a happy, fulfilled family life as you, together with your spouse, serve your Creator by building your own miniature mikdash m’at, a temple in microcosm.

My dear fellow Jew. Know that there is no better environment for serving G-d than  observing the 613 G-d-given Commandments. And as a side reward, through living as a Torah Jew you will also find in its precepts many guidelines that lead to a blissful marriage, written in both Rabbinic literature and in the words handed down by Moshe Rabbeinu at Sinai. Please remember Jewish religion cannot merely be part of your life,  TORAH IS OUR LIFE. And living a Torah life is the only guaranteed way to experience the ultimate happiness of a loving marriage and family.

Matys Weiser

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