Rabbi Aryeh Levine, famous for his efforts on behalf of Jews imprisoned by the British for their efforts to seek Israel’s independence, shared a unique relationship with his wife.

As the couple advanced in years, the woman began to feel several of the difficulties associated with old age, including acute pains in her leg. Because of his efforts on behalf of the prisoners, Reb Aryeh knew whom to turn to for medical advice. As he and his wife sat down in the doctor’s office, Reb Aryeh began to explain: “Doctor, our leg hurts....”

Parshas Ki Seitzei

This week’s Torah reading speaks about the laws of marriage and divorce. In that context, our Sages said: “If a man and a woman merit, the Divine presence rests between them.” Our Sages explain this concept as follows: The Hebrew word for man is spelled איש (ish), and the Hebrew word for woman is spelled אשה (ishah). The letters that spell the Hebrew word aish meaning “fire,” and the letters יה spell out one of G‑d’s names.

If the couple merit, they combine the energy they each possess to create G‑dly fire: constructive energy that can be used to fuse together the different elements of their existence into a comprehensive whole. If, however, their union is devoid of G‑dliness (G‑d’s name is removed), all that is left is fire, unharnessed energy that can wreak havoc and destruction.

To translate our Sages’ message into contemporary terms: Each person has a character of his or her own, a unique potential which only he or she possesses. Because of that uniqueness, it is difficult for one person to communicate and share totally with another, and this results in a fundamental aloneness which all of us feel at times. It’s neither good, nor bad; it’s just the fact of our existence. We are our own selves and there is no one else who operates entirely on our frequency.

So how do we relate to others? There are some who try to use people to their advantage, seeing other people as pawns. What they are interested in — whether admittedly or unadmittedly — is what the other person can contribute to their own benefit.

Others are more benign. They don’t want to take without giving. And some try to make sure that the exchange is fair; employing a win-win approach.

In the long run, however, that’s no more than enlightened self-interest. You don’t want anyone to take advantage of you and so you treat others as you would want them to treat you.

Barter — even of this type — is not a healthy basis for a marriage. What a man and a woman are truly looking for in a marriage is communication — to go beyond themselves and really share with another person.

Given our inherent self-interest, how is that possible? When both partners appreciate a purpose above themselves. By dedicating themselves to a higher goal, they step beyond their ego concerns. This enables them to relate to others selflessly, and think of the other person’s benefit, not only their own.

This is achieved by “the fire of G‑d.” (אש י-ה) mentioned above. A Jewish home has three partners. In addition to the husband and wife, “the Divine presence rests between them,” creating harmony between the two.

The cornerstone for such harmony is following G‑d’s guidelines for our conduct, the laws that govern Jewish family life. As long as our commitment to G‑dliness is merely abstract and theoretical, the dimension of self-transcendence is not so apparent, for after all, our own thoughts and feelings are defining the nature of our commitment.

How do we know that our commitment to G‑d possesses a selfless dimension? When we do what G‑d tells us to do, performing deeds and actions for the sole reason that G‑d commanded them. This allows us to live selflessly with our spouses and children, building the atmosphere of our home into a place where “G‑d’s presence rests.”

Looking to the Horizon

According to Talmudic Law, marriage is a two-staged process involving erusin (betrothal) and nisuin (marriage). At present, both stages are performed in the traditional marriage ceremony under the chupah. In Talmudic times, however, there were months – up to a year – between the two stages. The couple were man and wife, but because they had not had the opportunity to live and share together, they didn’t know each other thoroughly.

Marriage on this plane is an analogue to the relationship G‑d shares with the Jewish people. Here also there are two stages. At Mount Sinai, with the giving of the Torah, our people were betrothed to Him; but the nisuin, the consummation of that bond, will be only in the era of the Redemption.

Thus although we have shared a three-thousand-year relationship with G‑d, there is still a measure of distance between us. We do not fully understand and relate to Him, and even He, as it were, is not fully united with us.

In the era of the Redemption, that will change. Our bond with G‑d will be complete, as the Prophet states: “Your Master will no longer be hidden, and your eyes will behold your Master.” May this take place in the immediate future.