Two Worlds

Nearly all children dream of marriage, yet nearly half of today’s marriages end in divorce. Why is divorce so rampant? Conversely, with divorce so rampant, why do we still marry?

The mystics taught that divorce is a product of chaos. When G‑d first created the world, it was a spiritual but chaotic space. According to the Kabbalah, this chaos resulted from the aggressive and assertive divine energies that filled this primordial world. Each energy focused exclusively on its task, unable to accommodate the others. They operated with independence and disregard, which resulted in chaos.

We are fiercely independent, yet we yearn earnestly to be touched by othersG‑d then created a new order, one of rectitude, which is our world. In this world, the powerful energies are moderated to accommodate and forge connections with each other. The result is a more inclusive and holistic environment, in which each is enhanced by the contribution of others.

It is therefore no surprising that the human, a product of both worlds, is an amalgam of both assertion and accommodation. We are fiercely independent, yet we yearn earnestly to be touched by others. Marriage is a product of our accommodating side, whereas divorce is a product of our assertiveness.1

The Inner Conflict

Let us explore this further. The dual desires for independence and connection are essential to the human soul. Under duress and subjugation, our spirit is suppressed. We yearn for freedom nearly as much as we yearn for life, as in Patrick Henry’s famous cry, “Give me liberty or give me death.” We resist coercion and oppression with every fiber of our being. We yearn to express ourselves freely, to have the space, freedom and wherewithal to do as we choose and be as we are.

Then there is the contrary need to love and be loved, to need and be needed, to touch and be touched. Isolation starves the soul, and is anathema to a happy, healthy human being. So there is a conflict. In our quest for freedom we seek to unshackle ourselves, but in our search for love we seek to bind ourselves.

As children we are raised by parents who love and provide for us. The nurture and comfort we receive from them is vital to our sense of wellbeing and esteem, but there comes a time when we need to break free and embark on our own path. For a while we revel in our newly gained independence, asserting our right to personal freedom. But then a deeper need takes hold, and our soul begins to pine for love. We look to forge connections, to be part of a society, a community, a family and a social network. Most notably, we seek a partner to share our lives.

When we finally find the right person and marry, we revel in our bond, plumb the depths of being that were left untouched in bachelorhood, and soar to the dizzying heights of romantic delight. Then, slowly the realization dawns that gaining love requires the surrender of a significant portion of independence. We are no longer able to choose as we please and do as we feel. We must now take another into account, and do only what is right for both. Many chafe under the burden . . . and tension sets in.

If we forgo our independence in favor of love, we grow resentful of those we loveIf we forgo our independence in favor of love, we grow resentful of those we love. If we jealously guard our independence, we risk alienating the ones we love. There must be a happy medium that enables us to retain our independence and our love.

The Seminal Point

Let us return to the Kabbalists and the order of rectitude. The ability of these divine energies to accommodate each other actually reflects their true nature. Their point of origin is divine, and in their seminal form they are generic to G‑d. Their particular characteristics are assumed at a later point. Thus, their ability to accommodate transcends their differences and engages their root essence, where they are indeed one.

The same is true of ourselves. Our need for independence is a product of our particular interests, inclinations and desires. However, whether inborn or learned, these are not reflective of our seminal point. Our point of origin, our transcendental selves, is our humanity. And humanity is generic—we share it equally. When we accommodate each other, we transcend the outer shell of our particular differences and engage our core humanity. Thus, rather than confining us, accommodation can be a transcendental and liberating experience, an opportunity to engage our truest state of being.

However, this is only true when we choose to accommodate. When accommodation is forced on us, we don’t transcend our differences and engage our common humanity. We remain confined to our outer shell of differences, and are forced by others to give nonetheless. Rather than opening us to our true state of being, such giving restricts our freedom, drains our vitality and shuts us off from our very selves.2,3

Marriage Based on Divorce

As soon as the Torah mentions the word marriage, it presents the laws of divorce.4 It is a jarring juxtaposition, but it carries a potent lesson. It reminds us that marriage and its attendant compromises are not foisted on us. It is a choice we make freely every day. The option to end a marriage is always available, and if we remain in our marriage, it is of our own choosing.

This awareness is the bridge that allows us to retain our independence and our need to connect; it is the ingredient that can save a marriage. If, when making compromises in marriage, we feel set upon and compelled, the marriage can drain our sense of self and wellbeing. If, however, we remember that marriage is a choice and that in it we choose freely to give of ourselves, it actually reinforces our sense of self and independence, because the choice to give can be made only when we are independent enough to make choices.

Independence allows us to be ourselves. Love enables us to give of ourselves. We don’t have to jettison one to attain the other; we can make both work. And when we do, we learn to transcend ourselves.5