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What If You Mess Up?

What If You Mess Up?

What divorce teaches about marriage


Why does G‑d tell you how to get divorced, if He believes in marriage?

Not only does He believe in marriage, He believes that you should be married, and He wants you to be married to the person you are married to.

Why, then, does He allow you to get divorced? Not only allows it, but tells you how to do it?

As with all G‑d’s instructions in the Torah, getting divorced is a mitzvah, a divine commandment. In fact, His instructions on divorce are very explicit. But why?

Because, having said what His instructions for marriage are, G‑d doesn’t abandon you when you get in trouble.

Because He is merciful and compassionate, kind and considerate, He gives you a second set of instructions, in case you can’t follow the first set.

That’s like a cookbook that tells you what to do if you ruin the recipe. Two of my children were once following the instructions on a package of cookie mix. One of them read the instructions aloud, while the other prepared the mix. The child who was reading said, “Now you’re supposed to stir the dough fifty times.” The other one exclaimed, “But I’m already up to a hundred! What do we do now?”

So the first child said, “I don’t know. I’ll go back and see what it says to do.” He checked the box, but the instructions didn’t say anything about stirring the dough too many times. The two of them came to me and asked what they should do. “Should we throw it out? Should we start all over? The instructions don’t tell us what to do if we mess up.”

G‑d isn’t like that. That’s not how Torah—His set of instructions—is written. He tells you what to do if you ruin the recipe.

It’s as though G‑d says to you, “This is the person I have selected for you. This is the person I want you to be married to. You can’t? It hurts too much? Then don’t. Leave. But when you do, please shut the door behind you.”

So He not only tells us we may get divorced, He tells us how. “Here is the divine commandment for how to get in, and here is another divine commandment for how to get out.”

G‑d talks to us that way because He’s married to us.

Like everything else that exists in this world, marriage is a reflection of what exists in the spiritual world. There is an absolute marriage that exists between G‑d and us.

Marriage requires that something which you take seriously and strictly upon yourself, you are very lenient and accommodating about with your partner. G‑d is married to us, and that He takes very seriously. He is committed to the relationship. Therefore, He is lenient and accommodating when we don’t always live up to His expectations.

G‑d says to us: “You messed up? Then try again. You blew it? Then here is what you have to do. You forgot? Then next time, try to remember. You forgot a second time? Try a third time.” That’s how we know that He’s committed to the marriage.

Sometimes G‑d does even better than that. He asks us what our intentions were. For instance, He tells us not to mix meat and milk. What happens if we do? “Well,” He says, “it depends on how much milk there was, and how much meat there was. And did you do it on purpose? Or was it an accident? If it was an accident, this is how you fix it. If it was on purpose, try not to let it happen again.”

G‑d expects you to be married, and to the person He has chosen for you. But He is compassionate and understanding when you tell Him that it’s just too difficult.

Maybe He intended for you to get married and then get out; maybe the laws for divorce are your “escape clause.”


G‑d intends for you to stay married. But if you can’t, if it’s too difficult for you, He understands, and He will help you out.

Does that mean your marriage was a mistake? You took a gamble, you lost, now admit it and get out? You made a mistake, so G‑d is telling you how to fix it?

Wrong again.

Your marriage wasn’t a mistake. It was intended since the beginning of time. When G‑d created your soul, six thousand years ago, He created your “intended” along with you.

Saying that you married the wrong person is like saying you gave birth to the wrong baby. Could you have somebody else’s baby? A woman once said something like that to me. “You have how many children?” she asked, incredulously. I don’t remember how many we had at that time, maybe ten or twelve.

“Don’t you know there are some people who can’t have children?” She was indignant. It was as if she were saying, “Give somebody else a break. Share a little. Don’t have so many kids; let other people have a few.” It doesn’t happen like that. You don’t give birth to someone else’s children. The children that you have were meant to be yours.

As Einstein said, “G‑d doesn’t play dice with the universe.” If G‑d doesn’t play dice with atoms or molecules, then He doesn’t play dice with hearts or minds or souls.

You are married to the person you are intended to be married to. G‑d arranged it. He set it up; He predestined it from the beginning. In other words, His mind is made up that that’s the way He wants it.

You don’t want it? Fine. Since He is married to you, He says, “Whatever you want.”

Will it spoil “some vast eternal plan,” as Tevye asks in Fiddler on the Roof? The answer is yes. Yes, if you get divorced, you will spoil some vast eternal plan—G‑d’s plan. But will He let you? Will He help you? Yes, He will let you, and He will help you.

The reason that G‑d allows divorce, and commands divorce, is because by doing so, He is teaching you how to be married.

So even though G‑d has rules, even though He has laws, even though He has divine commandments, when you sin, He tells you: “You messed up? Try again. You made a mistake and you admit it? Don’t worry about it; you'll do better next time. You did it ten times already? Ask for forgiveness, and I’ll forgive you ten times.”

That’s exactly how you should be married—by treating your spouse the way G‑d treats you. With that much mercy and compassion, that much kindness and consideration.

Your wife did it to you again? Forgive her again. She did it ten times? Forgive her ten times.

Be as committed to making this relationship last as G‑d has been committed to making His relationship with you last. The moral is, by offering to help you get divorced, G‑d is helping you stay married for all time. The way He has stayed married to you.

Rabbi Manis Friedman, a noted Chassidic philosopher, author and lecturer, is dean of Bais Chana Women's Institute of Jewish Studies.
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Dana September 15, 2016

Marriage: An anthropology This was the most beautiful and eloquently put article on this subject I have ever read. Thank you for you beautiful insight. Reply

Anonymous Lakewood NJ March 2, 2016

In addition to my previous comment, one can answer that to emulate God, there can be only one partner who internalizes this message in order for it to work. God, in his infinite wisdom, care, and commitment is able to keep giving chances even though his Jewish children can remain stuck for years or sometimes lifetimes. God is able to do that because he wont feel depressed, disappointed, or keep sliding downwards in result of being in such a relationship. I am not God. By reading this article, I understand to a greater degree the severity of divorce and the sadness that two people couldn't make it work. is there anything else that I am missing? Thank you Reply

Anonymous Lakewood NJ March 2, 2016

if you mess up The article was great. Made me cry. Got me thinking more about how sad it is to be ending my marriage. yes, sometimes we mess up. God gives us the option to leave and from that we can learn how to stay married. But marriage includes two people. It takes two to internalize that lesson in order for it to work. If only one partner wants to move forward in life and the other is stuck, how can this article be good advice and be brought to practicality? I still love the article though. Makes me feel the amputation stronger. thank you. Reply

Yisroel Cotlar For September 16, 2014

A key requirement in the get process is the complete acquiescence of both parties to the proceedings.

As for the husband handing over the get to the wife:

A divorce is the reverse of what happens at marriage. At marriage, the husband "betroths" the bride by giving her a ring and acquiring her hand in marriage. He is therefore the one who initiates the termination of that relationship.

More here.

Anonymous September 11, 2014

divorce great article! Here is a burning question from our community. Why is it that the Torah commands that a divorce-get be with the consent of the husband. why so? it's seems unfair! In many cases the men are not well or crazy and still it's dependent on them, and the woman remains married as long as he does not want to grant the get even though he too does not want to remain married to her. Can you shed some light on this issue, please? Reply

Anonymous Johannesburg November 7, 2013

My husband wants a divorce, - I love him and want to fix our marriage/relationship but he is not interested My husband wants and is getting out of the marriage, he wants to and I don't, I wanted to fix it but he was just not interested in me or the marriage I am so upset because I spent 17 years building a home that he does not care for and is breaking apart. I am so frustrated and upset and disappointed that my prayers are not being answered in the way that I want, - my friends say that I will not know myself without him and that it is a gift but I have worked so hard and am so sad and disappointed. - and out of my death with the children - they know so much pain and loss and disappointment. Reply

Rishe Deitsch Brooklyn, New York September 4, 2012

appreciate the message AND the style very beautiful and touching like most of Manis Friedman's work Reply

Anonymous Grayson, LA. September 7, 2011

Domestic violence I have been married to an abusive husband for 50 years and never knew that it sould have been OK with G-d for me to leave him. Great article that lets women know that there are times that He will let you get out. Reply

Anonymous Amsterdam September 5, 2011

Making a mistake Thank G-d that He helped me with getting a quick divorce. My marriage was a mistake from the beginning and I knew it. G-d tried to warn me and give me red flags but I didn't listen.
I went through a lot of suffering. I knew from the start he was not the right person for me but sometimes we're afraid to walk away and instead move forward with a marriage that is doomed to fail.
I thank G-d that He gave me the courage to leave, to make 'things happen' that would leave no doubt in my mind. If I would have listened to my instincts, I would have not married my ex husband. What I realised is that we make mistakes and 'deviate' from our course but, Hashem, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, brings us back to where we were supposed to be in the first place.
And gives us a chance to rectify. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI July 28, 2011

Making A Mistake Sometimes, marriages just plain don't work out.

If your husband refuses to give you a Get, report him to the Jewish Authorities! Reply

one flesh via January 21, 2011

interfaith marriages not real? one of the first posts on this thread claims that interfaith marriages are not real. I have been married to my husband for 10 years and even though my mother is not Jewish and I have not yet converted t, I know that our marriage is real. G-d meant for us to be married just as he meant for our children to be born. Everything happens for a reason, even things the Torah tells us not to do (like what Josephs brothers did to him) . God plans them all so that we can be better. Our children came from our marriage and have brought my lifelong consideration of conversion to the forefront, which in turn has brought out a more observant side of my husband. Our relationship is the very description of what marriage should be. So tell me again how that's not real.

In regards to the article itself, I found it very helpful. Both from the perspective of the state of marriage of some poeple very close to me and from the perspective of my personal marriage with G-d. Thank you for writing this. It brought me tears of gratitude, relief, and humility. Reply

Anonymous middleton, nh January 6, 2010

G=d doesn't play dice Thank you for the statement about our children are meant to be our children. For the first time I don't feel guilty for having my 18 month old baby. I felt I have brought this pain of impending divorce to him and if only he weren't born I could leave... Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman via September 2, 2009

For anonymous in Fort Lee If your husband is violent and hurting you, you need to immediately go for counseling. If he refuses to go for therapy, then perhaps divorce is in G-d's plan. A violent husband can destroy not only your life, but the lives of your kids. He needs help and so do you. Reply

anonymous anonymous via September 1, 2009

my husband hits me? so God planned that? If I divorce I am ruining God's plan? Reply

Anonymous san antonio, tx August 28, 2009

Dear Anonymous in Baltimore,
Loneliness in a marriage is very difficult. There are no easy quick fixes. I went thru a similar situation. I realized it was not my husband who had to change but me.
Begin to bless your husband by giving him the honor and respect that he is due as a protector, provider of your home whether you "feel" like it or not. Lift him up in prayer.
As you do your heart will change as will your attitude about this difficult situation.
Remember a gentle answer turns away wrath and a wise women builds her house a foolish women tears it down.
Above all honor G-D in all you do.
You may want to ask yourself if your husband has become your "idol". That is not uncommon for women.
If that is the case then repent of that sin and pray for wisdom and strength.
G-D is faithful to hear the prayers of His own Remember love is not a feeling. We don't love with our hearts we love with our minds, it is a choice evident by our actions like kindness,patience,forgiveness Reply

Anonymous san antonio, tx August 28, 2009

continued from above She is not afraid of the snow for her household,
For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She makes coverings for herself;
Her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates,
When he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them,
And supplies belts to the tradesmen.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
And does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
"Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all."
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.

Brenda Cox Palisades, ca via August 28, 2009

Divorce I am recently divorced, after 21 years of marriage. I loved the line that says, G-d allows divorce because by doing so he teaches us how to be married. It is so true. I am a much better wife to my ex husband than I was when we were married. Reply

Anonymous san antonio, tx August 28, 2009

This is G_d's standard. We all fall short An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good and not evil
All the days of her life.
She looks for wool and flax
And works with her hands in delight.
She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household
And portions to her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength
And makes her arms strong.
She senses that her gain is good;
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She stretches out her hands to the distaff,
And her hands grasp the spindle.
She extends her hand to the poor,
And she stretches out her hands to the needy. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman August 28, 2009

Re: second marriage The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, greatest of the Kabbalists) taught that sometimes a person must first go through another marriage before being privileged to marry his or her true mate.

When you are married, assume that this is your true partner for life. If it's after the fact that this didn't work out, then you can start thinking that the next one may be the real one. Reply

Anonymous Baltimore , Md August 28, 2009

I amvery frustrated in my marriage. My husband is very busy and does not make time for me and my children. When he is with us its his way or the highway. He threatened to send my7 year old son in time out to the basement because he didn't want to go bicycle riding. He is rarely home for diner and will walk in the house and go upstairs and exercise without going to greet each of his children and expects us to either eat dinner without him or wait for him to finish. I came from a house where we all ate dinner together every night of the week. WE have been married 19 years and I am very lonely in my marriage. Reply

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