Sunday, November 29, 2009

Torah Tips for a Healthy Marriage?

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here!]

The Torah’s malleability frustrates me at times; the line, “הפך בה והפך בה דכלא בה (Turn it and turn it, for all is in it)” is often invoked as an excuse for abusing original grammar and intent in an attempt to force specific meaning from the ancient sentences.

At the same time, who can deny that this malleability is a rabbi’s homiletic friend? Regardless of the theme I want to address, there’s always something relevant in the Torah, and (often) it can be read my way. Not with the rigidity required for halachic analysis, but certainly on a level sufficient for homiletics.

With that in mind, I pose the following question: What marital advice can you deduce from the Torah?

Example 1:
Advice: Marriage must involve a couple's on-going attempt to know each other, with real time and energy devoted to this purpose.

Source: In Hosheia 2:21-22, HaShem pledges all manner of goodness to the Jewish people, His prospective spouse. He’ll give us righteousness, justice, kindness and mercy. What need we provide? “וידעת את ה' (You shall know Gd).” As the Rambam notes in Sefer haMitzvot, this knowledge leads to true love.

Example 2:
Advice: In a marriage, rights don't make up for wrongs. Giving a gift does not make up for hurting the other.

Source: Hosheia 3:4-5 and 6:6, as well as Yeshayah 1 and numerous other passages in the the prophets, tell us that korbanot cannot be used as a make-up gift for sin, until sin itself is abandoned. Cf Moreh haNevuchim 3:32 - korbanot are intended to help us achieve a union with Gd, but they are not a substitute for that union.

So let's hear it - what marriage tips do you draw from the Torah?


  1. From Bereishis--"Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh."

    Advice for parents and for husbands and wives that's worth listening to. It doesn't mean that one should forget their parents c"v, and kovod is still owed. BUT it means to me that you keep your parents out of your marital workings. If there is something that needs fixing or working on you don't mix your parents into the middle of it; you work with your spouse to make sure things are as you want them to be, as they should be. Parents should not be taking sides, and spouses who let them and/or encourage them aren't in a "complete" marriage, one where the husband and wife are "one flesh." Unless we are c"v talking about real abuse, what happens in a marriage should stay between the two partners.

    The cleave used in the translation means "to adhere closely; stick to; cling to; to remain faithful." It's not just a surface joining but a through and through coming together. It's not just a matter of convenience or for when things are rosy; it's for every moment of a marriage, the good, the ho hum and the unexpected. A wedding? A fleeting rite of passage. A marriage? Outside of one's relationship with God, the most important relationship an adult will have, and not one to be cleaved in the other meaning of that word--to split or sever.

  2. ProfK-
    Thanks for taking the time present this. Almost 100% with you - my only disagreement is with the line at the end about this being the most important (human) relationship an adult will have. I'd put one's children first, one's spouse second.