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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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Discussion (53)
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.
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
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.
Lakewood NJ
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.
Yisroel Cotlar
September 11, 2014
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?
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.
September 4, 2012
appreciate the message AND the style
very beautiful and touching like most of Manis Friedman's work
Rishe Deitsch
Brooklyn, New York
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.
Grayson, LA.
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.
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!
Providence, RI