[Disclaimer: The essay below presents a Jewish perspective on the age-old subject of marriage. Although that word has become shrouded in controversy affecting politics, religion, economics, psychology, and sociology, since time immemorial Judaism has addressed this topic. The goal here is to show depth and understanding into some of the ancient wisdom as it relates to marriage-nothing else.]
This past week, Jews around the world completed the yearly cycle of publicly reading the Torah in shul. This week we begin the cycle again, starting with Genesis. The final beings of creation were Adam and Eve.
And man said, “This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called ‘ishah’ (woman) because this one was taken from ‘ish’ (man).” Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24)
“Therefore” seems out of place. When therefore is used it means “for that reason,” but that would mean that because woman was taken (from a rib of) man, a man should (therefore) cleave to his wife. What connection is there between where a woman comes from and the instruction that a man should cling to her? The verses above are the first reference to the Jewish concept of sexuality and marriage.
The animals of the world are divided into sexes but, as it is related in Genesis, both sexes came at the same time. Neither the male nor female tiger was created first, they sprang forth simultaneously. So too with the elephant, rhino, weasel and all the other species. Each gender of the species was born with no connection to the other gender. As such, they come together to procreate, but not as soulmates. Male and female animals don’t need each other to fulfill their life’s calling; they need each other to procreate and perpetuate the species.
But humans are different. Both men and women are considered lacking when they don’t come together in a committed relationship called marriage. No doubt, some will take offense at that idea (or even the Frank Sinatra classic, “Love and marriage,” which “go together like a horse and carriage”) but it would be disingenuous to say that historically Judaism espoused anything else. Animals can mate and be done with one another but humans long for meaningful relationships built on commitment. I have spoken with countless singles over the years who are either on the career path of their dreams or have already reached it, who say that they long for a committed marriage partner but I have never encountered someone in a committed marriage who longed to be single. Furthermore, I have asked people who have been divorced-sometimes very ugly and painful divorces-if they had it all to do over again, would they have remained single? I can only relate my personal experience, which has been that no one has ever said they wished they had never been married. They say they would have been more careful in choosing a spouse or how they conducted themselves in the marriage, but even though their attempt at marriage failed, they realized how much they learned about themselves and about life. They would not be willing to give up the uniqueness of the husband/wife relationship even though it didn’t have a happy ending. And how about the people who have the good fortune to have found their soulmate and were wise enough to do their part to make sure the love not only remained but also grew stronger? Those people will tell you that this is what brings them their greatest joy.
Now we can understand the significance of “therefore” in Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. When a person understands that a man and woman were originally one body, one mind, one soul, and how this was never the case with animals, (s)he will understand the uniqueness of the relationship humans will have. The only way a person can find his soulmate, is to leave his father and mother. That means, you must leave you family if you want to find your soulmate. In fact, the Torah explicitly forbids incest and perhaps the reason why is so that a person leaves his family to find completion. The idea is that a couple must have different characteristics to one another. If they were from the same family, they might have the same virtues but also the same character defects; the same abundancies but also the same deficiencies. Their union might strengthen their good and bad traits, but they would not complement one another. Therefore, one must leave his house; a couple must come from two different homes if they desire to become one flesh.
This idea was succinctly stated by one of the venerable sages of Jerusalem in the mid-20th century, Rabbi Aryeh Levine. Once, his wife felt pain in her foot. They went together to the doctor, who asked, “How can I help you?” Rav Levine answered, “my wife’s foot is hurting us.” Achieving and they shall become one flesh is no easy task but at least we know what we are aspiring for. As long as we have that in mind that we have the potential to find a soulmate-and our completion.
(Source: The Hirsch Chumash Genesis 2:24)