“Ah, marriage,” sighed a middle-aged man. “The other day I was admiring myself in a full-length mirror, and I asked my wife if she will still like me when I am bald, fat and old. ‘I do,’ she replied.”

Marriages are notorious for one-line zingers, but we tell them with a twinkle, because as much as we mean them, we reallyWhen we love, we love absolutely, and when we argue... don’t, and as much as we don’t mean them, we really do. Marriages are complex relationships. Men and women are so very different, and yet, thrown together, they have to make a life. We come up sputtering and sighing, but we come up. Emotions are intense. When we love, we love absolutely, and when we argue ... well, I’d rather not say. My wife might read this one day.

Ladies and gentlemen, I kid you not. There are marriages out there that are placid and calm. The love is constant, the disagreements are nonexistent, and the serenity is unbroken. Those relaxing marriages are healthy, but they aren’t fiery. The combustive sparks of a live wire marriage spread in every direction, but the sparks radiate a heat so intense, a passion so aflame, that passersby can be singed.

Three Stages

An old man once said, “When we were young, I talked and my wife listened. When we grew older, my wife talked and I listened. Now we both talk and the neighbors listen.”

That is a sad marriage. It is true that every marriage is a three-ring circus—engagement ring, wedding ring and suffer-ring—but the relationship is meant to progress over time, not deteriorate. In a good marriage, couples argue, but then they heal and grow. The pain of suffering and the flame of argument generate a searing heat that forges a powerful bond. Husband and wife are welded together by the intensity of their emotions.

And so we come to three stages of marriage.

In the first stage, husband and wife encounter their differences, argue over their disagreements, and slowly and painfully resolve their issues.

In the second stage, the naïve promise of romantic bliss has worn off, a realistic and rock solid bond has emerged, and they realize that their butting of heads has brought them together.

During the second stage, the couple doesn’t want to go back to the first stage. They don’t want to revisit the difficult times or recall the arguments; it is like a sore wound they’d rather not reopen. A scab has grown, the wound is covered, and it is best to let it heal.

The third stage is the most powerful of all. In this stage, the couple has grown so attached that nothing will shake them. They can go back to the old times and pick at the old scabs. They can poke fun at their own silliness, laugh about their ordeals and even remember them fondly.

What is it about those searing arguments that can be remembered fondly? That those arguments sealed the couple’s bond. In the first stage, they only saw red. In the second stage, they only saw white. In the third stage, they can begin to see shades in between. They arrive at stability. They begin to see a pattern. If not for stage one, they would never have had stage two. Stage one was not a nightmare to escape. It was the key to stage two and should be treasured.

It is only now that they realize that stage one was a necessary part of the process; it was part of G‑d’s plan. They might have wished for a calm marriage like the ones I mentioned earlier, but that would never have resulted in the fiery passion they enjoy today. Their love for each other is like a phoenix that arises out of the ashes of stage one.

Marriage with G‑d

In the first stage of our relationship withWhat is it about those searing arguments that can be remembered fondly? G‑d we are distant. We see and care only about our own interests. In the second stage, we start to learn about G‑d and discover His infinite magnificence and splendor. Our perspective expands to take in the breadth of His existence, and we can no longer be content with our finite personal concerns.

The more we understand, the closer we want to be. We study, pray and fulfill His commandments, all in an effort to draw closer to G‑d. We think back to stage one and are astounded by our own foolishness. A powerful yearning to draw ever closer to G‑d grows as we hope to make up for the time we lost in stage one. We can’t believe we were once capable of such self-centeredness. We can’t imagine being so oblivious to G‑d’s incredible majesty.

Stage two is wonderful, but stage three is even better. In stage three we begin to revel in the memories of stage one and explore each one fondly. We realize that stage one was carefully orchestrated by G‑d. He deliberately created us so that the awesome truths of His existence were concealed from our minds, creating the illusion of separateness. In stage three we appreciate that G‑d created us to be self-absorbed with the expectation that once we discovered His greatness through Torah study, the distance would generate an intense yearning to be closer to Him.

We are no longer ashamed of our former thoughts and no longer revile our former selves. We know that without stage one we would never have reached stage two, let alone stage three. It was the distance that made our hearts grow fonder, and that was G‑d’s plan from the very beginning.

Over Your Enemy

The above explains a curious aspect of aIt was the distance that made our hearts grow fonder biblical Verse. The Torah says, “If you go out to war over your enemies, and the L‑rd, your G‑d, will deliver him into your hands.”1 We know that when the Torah says “over your enemies” it means “against your enemies.” But the use of the language “over your enemies” can also mean that when we first go out to war, we are already over our enemies. If we are over them, why do we require G‑d to deliver them?

The chassidic masters offered a novel, non-literal interpretation. They explained that the enemy this verse alludes to is our inner voice of temptation. In stage one, it feels as if the enemy is in control, and unless we make the effort of transitioning to stage two, it will remain so. But it is only after we cycle into stage three that we realize that the enemy was never in control. From the very beginning, G‑d was in control. We were always “over our enemies.” They were never a real threat. That was only an illusion to generate the yearning that resulted in stages two and three.

In the coming year, may we find our way out of stage one and into stages two and three. Amen.2