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What Do We Do About the Relationship Crisis?

What Do We Do About the Relationship Crisis?

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What Do We Do About the Relationship Crisis?


By Dov Greenberg

Socrates, the great Greek philosopher, once said to a disciple, "My advice to you is to get married. If you find a good wife, you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher.”

Indeed, today, we have many philosophers. In our time, there has been an unprecedented rise in broken relationships. In the United States, it is estimated that one out of two marriages end in divorce. Single-parent families have doubled in the past 20 years. Only one child in two will have parents who were married when he or she was born and who will have stayed together till the child grows up.1

What we need is imagination, not recrimination

A lecturer told me that for years she had gone into schools to teach children about religious faith, and about “G‑d our Father.” Now she can’t do so any more because many of the children do not understand the word. Not the word “G‑d” but the word “father.”

Like a meteorite entering earth’s gravitational field, marriage and the family are disintegrating.

The worst thing we could do now would be to get into a debate about who is to blame: the individual or society, affluence or secularization. What we need is imagination, not recrimination; optimism, not pessimism. It is here that the Jewish mystical tradition has something beautiful and vital to say.

In the very opening chapter of the Hebrew Bible, where the story of Creation unfolds, the mystics pose a fascinating question: How, if G‑d exists, can the universe simultaneously exist? G‑d is infinite, G‑d is everywhere. Therefore, in any given place, there is both the finite and infinite. But surely infinity crowds out anything finite. There is simply no space for physical matter if every place is filled with the infinite presence of G‑d. How, then is there a universe?

The mystics’ answer is compelling. In order to make space for the universe, G‑d, as it were, initiated a process called “tzimtzum,” self- contraction or withdrawal creating a spherical vacuum - the space needed for the world to exist. By withdrawing His endless light, an autonomous, independent world, distinct from G‑d, can emerge. 2

The universe is the space the Author of Being creates for mankind through an act of withdrawal

The conclusion? The universe is the space the Author of Being creates for mankind through an act of withdrawal. No single act more profoundly indicates the love and generosity implicit in Creation.3

In a dazzling parallel, the same applies in human relationships 4

In the beginning of life, there is no otherness. A newborn infant does not distinguish between itself and the rest of the universe. It knows and cares only about its own needs. When it cries it is saying: “I want Mommy, I want to be fed, I want to be held, I want to be played with, and if you don’t do everything I want, immediately, I will ruin your life.” There is no room for an other. As children develop and mature, they begin to find the other as a separate entity. They begin to have relationships; they begin to care for the other. That process is essential to healthy development.

As adults we know that in order to truly love, you need to withdraw yourself from your “center” (ego) and create room for another person in your life. A relationship is not about control. When one partner dominates the other, demanding of him or her to conform and suppress his/her personality, the possibility of a relationship is snuffed out. Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other but actually seeks to cultivate it. Love, like the act of creation, is the courageous act of creating space for the presence of the other. When man moves away from himself, reaching into the heart and soul of another human being, he emulates G‑d, who chooses to suspend Himself in order to give room to the other. Stephen Hawking was wrong in his book, A Brief History of Time. It is not through theoretical physics that we will approach an understanding of the “mind of G‑d.” It is through making room for another person within oneself.

A young man and woman went on a date. For two solid hours, he spoke about himself, his accomplishments, successes and ideas. And then he turned to her and said: "Enough of me talking about myself, now what do you think of me?"

There are two simple English words which illustrate this mystical notion of tzimtzum, contraction. The words “soil” and “soul.” They differ by just one letter. Yet they represent two polar opposites: the material and the spiritual. The word “soil” represents the material. The word “soul” represents the spiritual. The difference in spelling is the “I” vs. the “U.” When a person thinks only about “I,” he is self-centered, and can’t make sufficient space to nurture another. But when he thinks about “U”, by moving himself out of the way, he makes room for another person in his life. He is ready to live deeper and love deeper.

This idea of Tzimtzum finds expression in a beautiful Jewish wedding ceremony, known as the "bedeken," or the veiling. Before the chuppa ceremony, the groom is escorted to the room where his bride is waiting and he covers her face with a veil. This custom traditionally commemorates the Biblical event that occurred during Jacob's wedding ceremony. The Torah relates that Jacob traveled to the house of Laban. Upon arriving, he meets Laban’s younger daughter Rachel and falls in love with her. Laban proposes a deal: work for me for seven years and I will give her to you in marriage. Jacob does so, but on the wedding night Laban substitutes Leah for Rachel. Since the bride was veiled, he did not realize that he was marrying the wrong woman. Jacob discovered the deception only after it was too late. Ultimately, Jacob accepted his fate and remained with Leah. But he later also married Rachel, the bride of his choice5

The questions that arises is, if the veiling reminds us of Jacob and Leah, shouldn't the custom be that the groom uncovers his bride's face to make sure that he is marrying the bride of his choice?

It is the very shortcomings and imperfections of your spouse that allow you to grow into something larger than yourself

The answer is moving and profound. Leah and Rachel are not merely two sisters living in Mesopotamia at the early phase of the Bronze Age. They also symbolize two dimensions of every human personality. Each of us possesses an inner “Rachel” as well as an inner “Leah”6

Rachel, the beautiful woman, symbolizes the attractive, charming and beautiful characteristics existing in our spouses and in ourselves. The name Rachel in Hebrew means ‘ewe,’ known for its bright white color and its serene and lovable nature.7

Leah, a name that literally means weariness or exhaustion,8 represents those elements in us and in our spouses that are more challenging. Leah, the “weak-eyed” sister was easily moved to tears.9 She was emotionally vulnerable. Leah, weakened from tears and anxiety, represents our struggle with insecurities and psychological and spiritual tension.

Few people can be defined as “Rachel” or “Leah” exclusively. Most of us possess both components. We are a mix of serenity and tension. We have compassionate instincts but we must struggle against selfish ones as well. We have light but we also must deal with shadow. Both are genuine parts of our multi-dimensional personalities. Rachel is the light; Leah is the struggle against the dark.

Hence, the drama that occurred at the wedding of Jacob, the patriarch of the Jewish nation, occurs at every wedding. Before you get married, you think that you are marrying Rachel – the beautiful, smart, kind, sensitive, and fun-loving spouse of your dreams. In reality, you are bound to discover that you ended up with Leah, a person also struggling with unresolved tension.

Naturally, you love Rachel, and you reject Leah. Yet as life progresses you will come to discover that it is precisely the Leah dimension of your spouse that challenges you to transcend your ego and become the person you are capable of becoming. Because it is the very shortcomings and imperfections of your spouse that allow you to grow into something larger than yourself

This, then is the secret behind the veiling of the bride. When the groom veils his bride, he is saying, “I will love, cherish and respect not only the “you,” which is revealed to me, but also those elements of your personality that are hidden from me. As I am bound with you in marriage, I am committed to creating a tzimtzum, a space within me for the totality of your being - for all of you, for all time.”

That, if only we lived it, is the meaning of Tzimtzum and it has the power to bathe today’s broken world in the loving light of the divine presence.

 

 

 

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