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Why Get Married?

Why Get Married?

Is marriage worth the sacrifice?

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© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

Is Marriage Good For You?

Marriage has been getting a bad rap lately, and it’s entirely unjustified. Decades of studies on human wellbeing provide the same conclusions consistently: By every measure, marriage wins over staying single or living without ceremony with another individual.By every measure, marriage wins over staying single or living without ceremony with another individual.

Married people live longer, stay physically and mentally healthier, are kinder to each other, and are less likely to abuse one another. They experience less physical pain, feel more secure, make more money, retire with more assets, and are more likely to say they are happy with their lives than their cohorts who have stayed out of formal marriage or been divorced.

Similarly, the children of marriages are healthier, happier, smarter, safer, and contribute more to the rest of society.1

You may find it strange, but living with another individual without the ceremony provides almost none of those advantages. We are homo ritualis, creatures molded by ritual.2

© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

Is Marriage Risky?

Yes, there are risks. Yes, there is commitment. There is no difference between these sacrifices and those we make today to get a solid education, or to retire in comfort.Yes, there are fights, tears and emotional turmoil. Yes, there are sacrifices.

But there is no difference between these sacrifices and those we make today to get a solid education, find a well-paying job, make long-term financial investments and prepare to retire in comfort. No difference, other than that the payoff is so much greater.

As for the risks: as with a home or a car, with proper maintenance and precipitous action those can all be greatly reduced.

Yes, that’s hard work. Everything good is hard work. Good, healthy fun is also hard work. That’s what makes it good—because it’s something you achieved through your persevering, don’t-let-go-don’t-ever-let-go hard work.

So what have we done to marriage? What was wrong with it that we so easily threw it away? Why have so many otherwise intelligent people deliberately attacked and torn apart such a precious institution?

Truthfully, I can only see one cause. Society acts as an organism. When it feels it has lost its viability, it triggers its own demise. The decline of marriage is the soulless, impotent non-culture of secularism shutting down its mechanisms of reproduction, atomizing into unconnected individuals, preparing the bed of its own extinction. Without a sense of the transcendental, there is no oxygen left for life to breathe.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it, “Having children and raising them involves enormous sacrifice . . . religious people understand the concept of sacrifice . . . (but) throughout history, people in a secular, consumerist, individualist culture find it much harder to live by sacrifice.”3

To marry is to have faith in life. To believe that there is purpose to humankind, and eternal meaning to your own existence.4

© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

Marriage on a Higher Plane

The truth is that marriage is much more than a commitment to life with another person.Marriage is a choice to live on a higher plane. It is a choice to live life on a higher plane.

Look at the world around you—a plethora of living beings and things, each traveling its own road in its own direction, each fighting for its own survival, seeking its own pleasure and fulfillment, as though the entire universe is about nothing but this small creature.

If you did not know otherwise, you would expect a universal battle between innumerable forces, a cosmic traffic jam, a cacophony that should last less than a moment before all is destroyed in the havoc.

But you know otherwise. You have been there as the sun veers further south each morning, the trees shed their summertime attire, the squirrels obsess over hoarding nuts and seeds—indeed, as the entire world turns about in majestic harmony. And then the autumn winds bring the sleep of winter, winter awakes into the glorious eruption of spring, and the creatures of spring somehow all agree to slide gently into the heat of summer.

All about you the cycle of life plays again and again, the elements of planet Earth miraculously fine-tuned to the orbits of sun and moon, as the organisms that grow, scutter, swim and fly upon this earth dance elegantly to that tune.5

What makes this miracle possible? Something most inexplicable. Embedded within a world defined by diversity and change are universal constants, unchanging over time and space. And to their meter, all of life pulsates in harmony.

Now that is astonishing. The eternal breathes within the temporal, the unchanging within constant change, infinity within the finite. How does this work?

It could only be with a power that transcends all such terms and definitions, neither being nor not-being, but the Creator of all that is transient and all that is constant, finite and infinite, of all the above. In this dance of life, heaven and earth join to touch G‑d.6

© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

The Choice of Marriage

So our world tells its story at the intersection of two themes, and you choose where you wish to live—as yet another competitive organism fighting to survive, to win in a struggle over many other little lives,You can choose to live in that scattered world of the competing organism, or in the wondrousness of eternity. to avoid pain and to attain pleasure, to gasp a breath of air and then begin its journey to decay, as another spark that erupts to glow for a fleeting moment, only to darken, to fall and to perish into the dust.

Or to choose to dwell in the wondrousness of eternity, to join with another who is not you and dance within that circle of sun and earth, day and night, love and awe, summer, autumn, winter and spring again. To bring yet more life into this world with the awesome power of the Infinite, as a new little person emerges out of the nothingness to join your circle-dance, and then another, and yet another, and from them others who will beget yet others. You have risen to the eternal, “as the days of the heavens upon the earth.”7

At a marriage celebration, the kabbalists say, an infinite light descends into the world in an explosion of unbounded joy. From that light comes the power to create life without end.8

That is why marriage must be sanctified. Because only through that sanctification can this union rise beyond the desires and passions of temporal creatures, to enter into the cosmic eternity.

© Yoram Raanan
© Yoram Raanan

Marriage at the Center of Being

The mystery of marriage runs yet deeper; it lies on yet a higher plane—not only in the circle, but in the point around which that circle turns, and in the dynamo that turns it.

The marriage of man and woman is a reflection of the cosmic marriage.The marriage of man and woman is a reflection of the cosmic marriage. As a circle is turned by the dynamic of opposite poles engaged in union by a higher force, so the universe is brought into being by its Creator through the union of opposites. And a marriage, too, is sustained by the dynamics of those very same opposites.

That is why marriage is not about finding one who is the same as you, or even one who is just right for you. Even if by some miracle this person were just right for you when you started, at some point the tectonic plates will shift, even so slightly, and the parts will no longer fit.

And who would want such a union of sameness—one that demands that you remain as you are, ever still, so as not to disturb the perfect-fittedness of this other? You are alive. Life is change. Life is forever being “not that”—ever-transcending, escaping that which you were a moment ago.

Rather, marriage is a union with one who is not you. It is in marriage that you learn to step beyond the cramped boundaries of defined being, to discover your true self that can be neither spoken or known—but only touched, deeply, by the other with whom you unite.

Marriage is the union that lies at the center of all life—the union of energy and matter, time and space, body and soul, heaven and earth, the eternal and the temporal, Creator and the created. It is the generator of life, of being, of existence.

In marriage, man and woman play G‑d. Indeed, when we were created, we were created in G‑d’s image, as it says, “In the image of G‑d, the human being was created”—and what is that image? “Male and female He created them.”9

That is the image of G‑d upon this earth: A man and a woman, two selves, two others, ever-becoming one. Nothing can be more transcendent.

Get married. Stay married. Become eternal.

Footnotes
1.
For a thorough review of the evidence accrued by the year 2000, see Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case For Marriage (Broadway Books, 2000). The book is a little repetitive and mean on the polemics, but a good summary can be found in Gallagher’s article in City Journal (autumn 2000), “Why Marriage Is Good For You.” Yet more evidence has accrued since then, including from the Harvard Study of Adult Development.
2.
For an astounding demonstration of this phenomenon, see University of Virginia Dr. Jim Coan’s hand-holding study in PLOS One, published 11/20/2013. As he puts it, “Married couples, but not cohabiting couples, had reduced hypothalamic activity in response to threat cues while holding hands with their partners.”
4.
See Tosafot to Talmud, Shabbat 31a, citing the Jerusalem Talmud: “A person has faith in eternal life, and therefore plants seed.”
6.
See Rabbi Shalom Dovber Schneersohn, Hemshech 5666, p. 163; Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, Maamar Patach Eliyahu 5715, sec. 2.
8.
Rabbi Y.Y. Schneerson, Maamar Bati Legani 5710, sec. 5.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Yoram Raanan takes inspiration from living in Israel, where he can fully explore and express his Jewish consciousness. The light, the air, the spirit of the people and the land energize and inspire him. His paintings include modern Jewish expressionism with a wide range of subjects ranging from abstract to landscape, biblical and Judaic.
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Devorah UK November 14, 2017

For every general rule there is always the exception! I am behind marriage all the way but we have to accept there will always be individuals for one reason or other don't marry. It can't be helped.

I had a divorced orthodox friend who wanted to marry again. A Rabbi had 3 daughters; 2 of them pretty, outgoing & smart but the third was plain and ordinary. No man wanted to marry her. So the Rabbi approached this guy who wanted to marry again and offered his daughter with the added incentive of acceptance of giving him a helping hand financially in setting up a business. My friend accepted. He is now happily married with a new baby. He admitted he found his new wife ugly but he was happy being married again. This true event sounds like a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer but in fact all of Isaac's stories were based on true events told to him in confidence. Reply

Anonymous November 5, 2017

It breaks my heart to read some of these cynical views on marriage. I did take comfort in your words however, Rabbi— If I understood you correctly, systems and behaviors which are against Gd and our true nature will eventually self-destruct. And this brings me comfort. It may not happen in my lifetime but maybe I will merit to see it anyway.
I guess as a married woman of 12 years I don’t have the experience of some.. however, I can confirm that the benefits to my children are close to infinite (their sense of security and self-esteem are intact and those are priceless). By working on my marriage, I teach them communication skills, benefit of the doubt, how to make peace with another person, and how to forgive and be forgiven.
These are tools which they will surely need in life.
And I myself learned that I am not perfect. Though I went into marriage thinking I am perfect. I now realize that I am good enough. I have my faults and make mistakes. And am still lovable! As is my husband. Reply

JDV Paramus November 7, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I agree with so much of this. And I did the same thing. Married 35 years with two thriving sons. Reply

Peter Lake havasu city October 31, 2017

Why would a man get married with today's laws? You have to be very trusting. Reply

Ed Saskatoon October 30, 2017

"As for the risks: as with a home or a car, with proper maintenance and precipitous action those can all be greatly reduced" So which company is it that is selling connubial insurance? It will be interesting to see how high risk an actuary assess marriage. Reply

Patrick October 30, 2017

Missing The Point Like all marriage defenders, you miss the point. Marriage does get a bad rap, and it's completely deserved. All the maudlin praise you can dump on marriage fails to address one inescapable fact: a failed marriage will ruin a man's life.

When divorce, something that happens to half of all marriages, occurs, a man will lose half his income for the rest of his life, his home, car, kids (except on alternate weekends), all of his savings, investments and retirement.

And it doesn't even have to be something the man has any control over. His wife could simply decide she's bored and want out of marriage. And with all the benefits she gains from divorcing her husband, the law actually incentivizes divorce. Society encourages her to divorce. Just dump the loser and you get his house, car, kids, all his investments, savings and retirement and half his income for the rest of his life.

Until society recognizes that marriage is one-sided rip-off, marriage will have a deserved bad rap. Reply

A Woman November 6, 2017
in response to Patrick:

I have to disagree with your perspective, wholeheartedly (and hopefully, respectively)
The one-sided rip-off you describe does not exist. Married men live longer than single men. Married women have shorter life-spans than single women.
If you measure for health and well being, men do better off married than unmarried. That’s besides all the other benefits of being married.
I guess the question then follows, how do you stay married? One way, is to choose your spouse wisely. How do you choose someone wisely? In my experience, you have to choose based on moral qualities rather than physical ones.
Also, you know women work in this day and age. She won’t necessarily “clean you out” because she usually has an income of her own.
If you are a good man, and find a good woman, even divorce may end up amicable (if it occurs at all). But it sounds like you have a lot of resentment for women. Until you work that out, you will have difficulty, friend. Reply

Janice Lakewood November 7, 2017
in response to Patrick:

I understand the men's perspective. Specially in US. Many of our young men will not marry for the reasons he lists. Some young girls marry for the purpose of divorce and getting men's benefits; specially thru welfare systems.
Need to work real hard on changing the system. Reply

Patrick November 7, 2017
in response to A Woman:

I'm not your friend, so kindly don't address me that way.

And resentment for women has nothing to do with it. It's the law. It's how divorces are handled. The courts favor the woman in divorce, and a man will lose half his income to her, his kids, his home, his car, all his retirement, savings and investments. With all this working in her favor, women are being given incentives to divorce, instead of working on problems when they come up.

And no, it is not possible to choose your spouse wisely. You're dealing with an autonomous human being who is capable of making their own decisions. People change. You can't guarantee that the person you're married to is not going to change. No matter how wisely you choose your spouse, you cannot force them to remain the same person they were when you married.

As long as divorce is a one-sided rip-off, men will continue to avoid marriage. As they should. Reply

A Woman November 13, 2017
in response to Patrick:

I apologize for having called you “friend”. Clearly, you are not.
Resentment for women has everything to do with it. Courts do not make a woman divorce. Women with family values do not usually want to divorce.
But it seems you are very attached to your car and house. Not the most important things in life.
Our lives are built on relationships. Good relationships are what makes life worthwhile in the real way. Those require you to work in the relationship and to work on yourself.
I invite you to read people’s testimonies at the end of their lives. What is it they regret the most? It’s never that they didn’t work more and didn’t buy a bigger house. Reply

Patrick December 10, 2017
in response to A Woman:

It is a shame that you're unable to see the distinction between being against a system that favors women and being against women. I don't think women necessarily created the dynamic that allows them to prevail in cases of divorce, but the fact of the matter is, there it is.

Nor did I say that the courts force women to divorce. I said it incentivizes divorce. Let's say you're in a marriage that is going through some problems. You have two options, you could try to work through them, make some compromises and adjustments, or you could bail.

Now, if you choose option two, you get the house, the car, the kids, except on alternate weekends, half his income, all his retirement and savings, etc. The most generous game shows in the world don't give away those kinds of prizes!

Instead of rewarding women who seek divorce, society needs to encourage people to stay in and work on marriage. Reply

A Woman November 13, 2017
in response to Janice:

Janice, I don't think it's "the men's" (as in plural), perspective. Mr. Patrick does not speak for all men. And after all, the author of the article is also a man, is he not? I believe current statistics show that both men and women want to get married. I take comfort in the faith that Truth will prevail.
I have never met a woman who married for the sake of divorce. However, I do believe that a woman can make a man's life difficult (and vice versa...)
Most of the women I know are either married to their first husbands, or want to get married. I do know that all (every single woman that I have known in my life) prefer the security of marriage to an unmarried relationship.
One woman friend of mine is heartbroken, she has for years now been in an unmarried relationship to a man who is afraid to commit. She has chosen to stay with him. Why she is staying, I do not know... but I do believe that we all pay for the heartbreak we cause. In this world or the next. Reply

Yankeleh Gilead Eastern Thailand October 30, 2017

I wonder if the reasons for marriage, financial stability, a good home life, children, etc. is really statistically valid. Many friends have been multiply married. I tried it once as well. I can only sum up not being married with one word, freedom, to do what you want, when you want, how you want, without being tied down. I'd leave God out of the equation. Many orthodox families have their divorces and problems as well, God willing, or not. Reply

Diana November 5, 2017
in response to Yankeleh Gilead:

Freedom is nice. Just be aware that you are sacrificing something very sacred for that freedom. And you may not know the price of it until you’re 60 years old and sick or older and alone. When that time comes, there is no turning back.
Some people just know about life better than us. You may think that your viewpoint is the most valid (as I do often)... but there are people with far more experience, and wisdom than you and me. And a broader perspective.
I personally find it in my best interest to heed the advice of those people. Reply

Yankeleh Eastern Thailand November 5, 2017
in response to Diana:

Dear Diana,It is all relative to who your friends are. Sometimes friends can be better than family. I know of no single person who died alone. There was always someone there. However, in the event of an unforeseen accident, etc. where an older person dies alone, this is fate.some things are unalterable, immutable. I still cherish my freedom to nagging wives and unwanted mishpocheh who descend on you like the plague. I am old at 77, but still am happier than my friends who have been married for 50 years with all the tsoris that comes with a "happy" marriage. Reply

Anonymous November 13, 2017
in response to Yankeleh :

Yankeleh,
I know of many people who died alone. I am a physician and have seen it several times. It is heartbreaking.
Maybe you have been fortunate in your friends. Just know that when I say "alone", I mean lonely. You may be surrounded by people and still be utterly and completely alone.
Gd grants us freedom of choice, however we are still responsible for our actions and answer for them... in this life or the next. Reply

Janice Denver October 27, 2017

Marriage is not just one to another; but also the joining of two families, then when the children are grown and marriage more braches are connected to the tree, marriage builds strong nations as values, moral and ethics are passed down. Divorce breaks heats of children, who may carry scars for years and may pass down dysfunction of first family; in the next marriage, this is like cutting braches off the tree, which then weakens the nation. Reply

JDV Paramus October 29, 2017
in response to Janice:

Even though one's children may be grown, they are still your children. To think otherwise is a cop out. I have seen many instances where the grown children of divorced parents are lost and without direction And yes, strong families lead to strong societies and vice versa.. Reply

Reality Revealed Your City October 26, 2017

Why some can't commit. I do not understand why people choose to. Remain single or not have offspring. The usual argument I hear is that they 'want to be free' and continue 'partying'. First of all, the single life leaves one more trapped - in loneliness & (yes) limited experiences than a life shared. When does the false excitement of the 'party' wear- off. Answer - pretty quickly - probably right after your early 20's. Those still 'partying' & approaching 40 are lying to themselves about so-called 'good times'. As well those living together, failing to make a. commitment are fooling themselves. They do so for ease of flight if relationship gets too close foe ease of flight or they see better candy elsewhere. The ' afraid to commit' are protecting their childlike ego. Those who choose not to have offspring do so (if healthy) because they do not want responsibility or to grow up! They want to remain the 'child' in the situation forever. What a shame & what a loss. Reply

Maureen Connecticut October 26, 2017

Especially inspiring. Thank you. Wow! Reply

JANE-DORA FRASER LEEDS, UK October 26, 2017

I have never ever felt it was G-D's will for me to marry when at various times I have wanted it. Does Judaism accept that there are those individuals for one reason or other best stay single and Hashem is ok with this

I do think people who have been single all their lives can show the married folk that it is possible to live contentedy . After all, eventually one of a couple eventually becomes a widow/widower . Reply

Janice Denver October 30, 2017
in response to JANE-DORA FRASER:

Read your TaNaK,and see about being single all your life. Is there a goal for singles to show the marrieds? Seems odd to me I think it would be better for marrieds to help the sngles see the value of lifetime partner in marriage, and help them prepare themselves, and to help them find a suitable spouse. For those who want, of course. Reply

Yankeleh Gilead Eastern Thailand November 5, 2017
in response to JANE-DORA FRASER:

Bravo Jane-Dora Fraser, you have expressed my sentiments and views very well. God loves all of us, or at least I hope He does, married or unmarried. and in my own humble opinion, if God is indeed not satisfied with me, He would perhaps, depending on how strongly one believes, let me know, one way or another. So far, at 77, life is still wine and roses in comparison to my married friends. Reply

Ross Bay Area, CA October 26, 2017

Rituals are merely an arbitrary acting out of something taking place in the spirit. Rituals cause nothing, they are merely a reflection. As above, so below.

As for marriage, was the first man and woman ceremoniously married? If people don't take marriage seriously, it's because it's an absurdity when compared with all the rest of creation. That and it's proven to be paper-thin millions upon millions of times. With or without the ceremony, people are going to do whatever they have to do. Why add to your transgressions by swearing oaths and making promises that are not within your power to keep? Reply

Sara Alexandria, VA October 27, 2017
in response to Ross:

Ross,

It is sad that you feel so cynical. What if there is someone out there for you who does not consider marriage and monogamy just a sham? I know plenty, myself included.

G-d bless! Reply

Anonymous November 6, 2017
in response to Ross:

Maybe because it is within your power to keep those promises? And maybe that is precisely the reason you (you specifically) were brought down to this earth, was to face and conquer that challenge?
You won’t know what you’re capable of until you try. One of the reasons we are even alive is for personal growth.
I think that if you plan on being celibate your entire life, maybe your reasoning is sound. But not “adding to your transgressions” by avoiding marriage? You are transgressing far more seriously with false intimate relations, in my opinion. Reply

Anonymous November 3, 2017
in response to Sara:

Me too! Reply

S United Kingdom October 26, 2017

Our union with HaShem is priority number one, a blessed union with another human being may then follow. Without the foundation being built upon Torah teaching, it would be difficult for a union to survive, even though some marriage unions tottering along. Reply

Ken Klein Florida October 26, 2017

After being together for 32 years, Charles and I decided to get married last month. It was even more special because my first cousin, Rabbi Dayle Friedman, conducted the ceremony.
There is a difference!
Shalom, Reply

JDV Paramus October 26, 2017

Anything worthwhile is never easy. How true! Reply

Tom Howard North Carolina October 26, 2017

It takes two to make a Marrage, but it is the wife that is the "gem" in the deal! As, "Whoso finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor of the Lord." Proverbs 18:22.
But, as Erick S. Gray explains; “Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater. If you give her sperm, she'll give you a baby.. If you give her a house, she'll give you a home. If you give her groceries, she'll give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she'll give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her. So, if you give her any garbage, be ready to receive a ton of it back!”
Oh boy! or as our Hebrew friends would say; " oy vey"! Reply

Sara Virginia October 27, 2017
in response to Tom Howard:

Love your post! Thank you! Reply

S United Kingdom October 31, 2017
in response to Tom Howard:

I will remember this😇 Reply

Chany Montreal November 12, 2017
in response to Tom Howard:

So true!!! Reply

Pete WA October 25, 2017

The sanctification is through love, not ritual. And the creation of male and female humanity in the image of god is by love, for Gods image, if you will, is love. And any ritual that supports this love is sanctified. But ritual without love borders on idolatry, like the the husk without the grain inside, an empty shell or kelipah. Reply

Anonymous October 30, 2017
in response to Pete:

But what is Love? How do you define love?
All women I know prefer the stability of marriage to an unstable unmarried relationship. Therefore, by my definition of love, if you love the woman, you should marry her.
If you find a good woman, you can also love her. Love can be a choice, an action. One can choose to love another. Reply

Free Being Bay Area October 25, 2017

Some of us are MGTOW who read this. I don't define myself that way because of a lot of baggage around that label but I have given up on the idea that other people can make me happy. Reply

Z. Wineberg USA October 24, 2017

Rabbi Freeman,

Firstly, very inspiring.

Secondly, I believe the answer to your question of why people are opting out is based on a number of factors.

Firstly polling shows most people desire marriage.

Now I believe the following are pragmatic problems.

1. It is more natural for a woman to desire to commit - as there is less (or no shame) hence men tend to be fearful.

2. In terms of nefarious forces:

The Rebbe said that as marriage is so important hence the Satan places all his wiles on its dissolution.

Additionally, much of our societal attitudes towards marriage was influenced by the Judeo-Cristian ethos - as those ethos become discarded, the premise like you mention of being selfless - a higher calling - likewise. Reply

Anonymous October 23, 2017

I believe and agree wholeheartedly in what you write, and I deeply wish to take part in this G-dly act of continuity. So why does Hashem hold me back from finding my mate? Why does he hold back so many of us from His desire? Reply

Anonymous November 13, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I don't have the answer to your question, but I really want to answer you with my limited understanding.
I believe that Gd wants the best for us, therefore what is happening in your life is somehow for your best, it is both a trial for you, and a blessing. One way to address it is to pray. And then, live. Don't forget to live.
By live, I mean - live your life. Do what you enjoy. Meet people. Learn something new. Do something new. Volunteer. Visit the sick. Enjoy and be happy.
In my experience, sometimes we are being commanded to "let go". As in, be happy as we are, right now. Reply

Editor Chabad.org October 23, 2017

Revised October 2017. Reply

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