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Letter & Spirit - Personal and Public Correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Send Us Your Letters Letter & Spirit - Personal and Public Correspondence of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Whether a marriage partner is determined by Divine decree or man's choice

Whether a marriage partner is determined by Divine decree or man's choice

This letter was written in response to the questions of a yeshivah student whose name was not published.
B"H, Thursday, 23 Shvat, 5707

Greetings and blessings,

In response to your question which I summarize below, [you write]:

a. I discovered a difference of opinion with regard to marriage partners. According to the approach of the adherents of the Chakirah school,1 there is free choice with regard to this matter, while according to the Kabbalists, it is a result of Divine decree. I would like to know the conclusion the teachings of Chassidus reaches concerning this.

b. From several sources in Chassidus, it appears that the matter is a result of Divine decree. If so, what is the result of one's efforts in this regard? Is it just to provide a medium [for G-d's influence] and to enclothe it within the natural order?

You did not cite the sources from which you quoted the above points. Nor did you mention the particular differences that exist within each one of these two approaches. Your first question touches on a point of halachah with a practical application and has already been ruled upon by the halachic authorities.

I will outline the different approaches, and in this way, clarify all of the above.

There are several different perspectives and approaches to the question of whether the issue of marriage partners is left to man's free choice entirely, in part, or not at all. In general, they are based on --and dependent on -- the interpretation of our Sages' statements in Moed Katan 18b, Sotah 2a, Sanhedrin 22a, Bava Basra 12b, Bereishis Rabbah 68:1, Zohar I, 91b, 207b, 229a; II, 170b; III, 283b, et al. (The Midrash Tehillim has also been cited, but it is not available to me to examine.)

The different approaches are as follows:

a. "A heavenly voice emerges and decrees: 'The daughter of so-and-so for so-and-so.'"2 The supplications for mercy of a [third] person3 can be effective in enabling that other person to marry her only for a limited time, but he will not engage in relations with her. Afterwards, he will divorce her or die and she will marry the person decreed for her (Sefer Chassidim, sec. 383).

Although the Sefer Chassidim does not state whether [the above] refers to [a first or second] marriage, in order not to create a difference of opinion between the passage in Moed Katan and the passage in Sotah, it can be said that his intent is only with regard to one's first marriage.

b. The prayers of another person can be effective in enabling him to marry her and engage in relations with her. Ultimately, however, he will divorce her or he will die and she will marry the one designated for her (loc. cit. according to the first interpretation of [R. Chayim Yosef David] Azulai;4 Rabbeinu Nissim's [gloss to] Moed Katan.)

c. A heavenly voice decrees, but prayer can nullify the decree entirely (Rashi's [commentary to] Rabbeinu Yitzchak Alfasi's [gloss to] Moed Katan. [This is evident] from the fact that he does not explicitly state that [the nullification] is only temporary. [This is also reflected by the statement of] Tosafos, Sanhedrin 22a, who draw a parallel to prayer that has the power to transform a fetus from a male to a female.5 It is also apparent that this is the approach of the Tzemach Tzedek in his Chiddushim to the Talmud, Moed Katan).

d. [It is left to a man's] free choice whether to marry or not. If, however, he decides to marry, it is decreed by Heavenly edict that he will marry the daughter of so-and-so. Through supplications for mercy, another person may marry her first, but their marriage will not be perpetuated, as explained in the second approach (Tashbetz, Vol. II, responsum 1).

e. The announcement made by the Heavenly voice is not a decree, but merely clarifies the person's natural tendency. According to his inherent nature, he is disposed -- and it is easier for him -- to choose the daughter of so-and-so, because of her nature. He, however, possesses free choice in this regard. (It appears that this is the approach of Rambam, ch. 8, of his Shemoneh Perakim; see also his responsa, responsum 159.)

According to this interpretation, that the designation of the daughter of so-and-so for so-and-so comes about because of the closeness that exists between their inherent natures, this principle would apply with regard to both a first and second marriage. [If so,] why do our Sages state6 that the second marriage is dependent on one's deeds?

It is possible to explain that, according to the natural order, a Heavenly voice should make a proclamation for one's second marriage as well. Nevertheless, because of the concept of reward and punishment, the natural order is upset and [the choice of] marriage partners becomes dependent on one's deeds. (This interpretation can be said to be reflected in Rambam's wording in his responsa that is quoted by Tashbetz.) At the outset, even in one's second marriage, one must choose to decide whether one desires to marry. For in this, there is no compulsion from Above, because a mitzvah is involved. This applies even with regard to a second marriage, even if he already fulfilled the mitzvah of procreation, for "It is not good for a man to be alone"7 (Yevamos 61b).

f. All marriages are dependent on a person's deeds. Our Sages' statement: "A Heavenly voice emerges and decrees..." concerning one's first marriage refers to the union of matter and form, the soul and the body8 (Akeidah, Shaar 8 and Shaar 22).

g. According to the writings of the AriZal (a portion of them are cited by the Yaavetz in his gloss to Sotah 2a), the first time a soul descends to the world, "a Heavenly voice emerges and decrees: 'The daughter of so-and-so for so-and-so.'" When the time for him to marry her arrives, the opportunity is immediately granted without strain or difficulty. {Until that time, it is possible that she will be the wife of another man, as was the case with Uriah and Batsheva (Zohar I, 73b).} Sometimes, however, a man does not merit and he fails to marry his intended. {[In that instance,] another man who does not have a mate designated for him may supersede him through his [appeals for] mercy (Zohar I, 91b, 229a, quoted in Midrash Talpios, anaf zivug).} Nevertheless, he is granted a wife appropriate to his deeds.

At times, his soul will undergo a transformation (from bad to good or the opposite) and he will forfeit his intended and marry another [woman], for he is no longer the same person. At times, he will reincarnate so that he can marry his intended. At times, he will reincarnate for other reasons, but because he possesses many merits, his intended is also made to reincarnate with him. Nevertheless, since he sinned and was forced to reincarnate, there are forces that oppose him and prevent him from [bringing about] that marriage. [This is implied by the statement:]9 "Bringing [marriage partners] together is as difficult as the splitting of the Red Sea" (Shaar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 8 and Hakdamah 20; Sefer HaGilgulim, ch. 13; Likkutei Torah and Sefer HaLikkutim, Tehillim, ch. 48).

If a person's intended does not reincarnate, he is coupled with a female reincarnated soul that also does not have a partner [in this incarnation]. Therefore it is difficult to bring them together since they have a different nature (Sefer HaLikkutim, Parshas Vayeitzei). [The woman] must, however, share closeness with him at their source (Sefer HaGilgulim, loc. cit.). There are some opinions which maintain that if [the intended] is not forced to reincarnate, [the man] takes a wife according to his efforts, as [implied by] the mystic interpretation of "And you shall grab from the vineyards, each man his wife"10 (the gloss of B'nei Aharon to Shaar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 8, in the name of the elder Rabbis who cited the teaching in the name of the AriZal).

What results from all these different approaches is that with regard to any marriage, another person can marry one's intended first. For this reason, a halachic ruling was given concerning actual conduct, allowing one to consecrate a woman during Chol HaMoed.11 As a logical consequence, one can conclude that [a person] must exert himself [so that he will in fact marry his intended].

At the conclusion of Or HaTorah, the Tzemach Tzedek offers two interpretations of the statement of Bereishis Rabbah 68:1 that a person's intended marriage partner is [decreed] by the Holy One, blessed be He. It is possible to explain that the intent of the first interpretation -- for his wording itself is not clear -- is that a person has the choice whether to marry, but it is determined from Above who his marriage partner will be, as explained by the Tashbetz above.

The second interpretation explains that a marriage partner is comparable to children, life, and sustenance of which it is said12 that they are dependent on one's mazal and not on one's merit ([i.e., they do not depend on] one's deeds). If so, there is room for effort in this sphere, just as there is with regard to children, life, and sustenance. For if a person's mazal is not desirable, Heaven forbid; through great merit, the mazal can be changed (Tosafos, Shabbos 156a, s.v. ein). Moreover, even when one has a good mazal, it is necessary that one undertake activities (see Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah, responsa 52) and possess merit, as stated in Biurei HaZohar, the conclusion of Parshas Vayeira. See also additional explanations of this concept according to Chassidus in Derech Mitzvosecha, mitzvas tiglachas metzora; Mayim Rabbim, ch. 74ff; the conclusion of Chanoch LaNaar (there the series of maamarim entitled VeKachah is cited in error; it should be Mayim Rabbim), et al.

With regard to our Divine service, the difference between a first marriage and a second marriage is discussed in the maamar entitled Anochi from Shabbos Chol HaMoed Pesach, 5671. In general, the explanation is that a first marriage comes from Above, relating to an arousal from Above that precedes an arousal from below, relating to the first redemption. A second marriage, by contrast, is according to a person's deeds, relating to an arousal from Above that follows an arousal from below, the final Redemption.

With the blessing "Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,"

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson
Chairman of the Editorial Board13

1. [I.e., Jewish philosophy.]
2. [Moed Katan 18b, Sotah 2a.]
3. [Moed Katan, loc. cit., states that one should still hurry to consecrate the woman one desires, for perhaps through supplications for mercy, another will be able to marry her first.]
4. [The Chida in his commentary Bris Olam to Sefer Chassidim.]
From Sefer Chassidim (Forma manuscript, published by Makitzei Nirdamim), sec. 1128, it is clear that the second interpretation of R. Azulai [is correct]. This follows the first approach mentioned above.
5. [Tosafos questions: How can our Sages say that forty days before a child is born, it is decreed whom he or she will marry, when in Berachos 60a, it is written that a person's prayers can change the gender of his offspring? They explain that although there is a decree, that decree can be changed by prayer. As a support, they cite the above-cited passage in Moed Katan 18b which indicates that, through prayer, another person has the potential to marry a woman designated for a colleague. This shows that they understand the passage in Moed Katan as indicating that through prayer one may nullify the original decree entirely.]
6. [Sotah and Sanhedrin, loc. cit.]
7. [Bereishis 2:18.]
8. [I.e., the term "marriage" is used as a metaphor, referring not to a person's actual marriage, but to the union of the body and the soul.]
9. [Sotah 2a.]
10. [Shoftim 21:21; the original verse states the words in slightly different order.]
11. Jewish marriage is a two-phased process involving kiddushin, consecration, and nissuin, consummating the marriage bond. From the time a woman is consecrated, no other man may consecrate her. Hence, although it is forbidden to celebrate nissuin during Chol HaMoed, one may consecrate a woman to prevent her from being consecrated by another man.]
12. [Moed Katan 28a.]
13. [I.e., of Kovetz Lubavitch. Apparently, this letter was prepared for printing in the Kovetz, but was never actually printed there.]
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