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Divorce and union on earth and in heaven

The Marriage Crisis

A recent report in the Sydney Morning Herald stated that close to 200,000 people have filed for divorce in Australia in the past two years, the highest number in more than a decade.

This staggering figure is rendered even more stark when considering that the marriage rate has dropped from 9.6 marriages per 1,000 residents half a century ago to 4.6 in 2017 and a jaw-dropping 3, 1 in 2020.

Relationships Australia NSW chief executive Elizabeth Shaw cited COVID-19 as a contributory factor to the trend. Ironically, she attributed the startling divorce figures to the fact that couples were forced to spend more time together and discovered in the process that there were unresolved conflicts and dysfunctionality that were not conducive to a productive and happy union. A husband lets on to his wife of fifteen years that he feels they are growing apart. The wife replies that she doesn’t want to be with a man who doesn’t love her. Yet another divorce looms large.

We live in a world dominated by “me”.  It is telling that the most ubiquitous hashtag ever unleashed is #metoo. As the celebrated journalist Melanie Phillips opines in a recent article “the social-justice agenda places the individual at the centre of existence so that objective truths are replaced by [individual] subjective opinions, [personal] feelings trump moral codes, and duties are replaced by [individual] rights.”

The iPhone is well-named. A generation ago, recreational technology meant sitting in front of the ubiquitous TV set. It stifled conversation to be sure, but at least the family was all gathered in one room watching the same show or movie which created a certain bonding. Now everyone is glued to their own device and oblivious to each other. We have become obsessively I-centred and inner-directed. No wonder relationships are floundering and dysfunctional families are mushrooming!

“To love” in Hebrew appropriately stems from a root meaning “to give”. As Rabbi E. Dessler (1892-1953) used to say when addressing bridal couples: Know that the moment you find yourselves beginning to make demands on each other, your happiness is at an end. When demands begin, love departs!  “I” needs to come before “U” only in the dictionary, certainly not in the marital home.

Sadly, the crisis that exists today between men and women in society generally, has a similar root cause. “My individual rights” takes precedence over what is good altruistically for a stable, wholesome society to flourish. This has manifested nowhere more than in the so-called “feminist” movement. Women and men have become rivals to one another when they should be constructively complementing each other. The fissure in the template of the man-woman relationship has its parallel in the celestial realms.

G-D’s Fractured Name

Thrice daily in Aleinu, we pray for the day when “G-D will reign over the entire earth; in that day, [not only] G-D will be One, also His Name will be One” (Zecharia 14:9).

What does this mean? Isn’t G-D’s name One now? Kabbalistic wisdom says “no!” G-D’s Ineffable Name is made up of four letters: Yud, Hei, Vav and Hei.

The first two letters, Yud and Hei, represent G-D’s Essence which transcends anything we can possibly conceive. Kabbalistic literature depicts it symbolically as the ‘masculine’ aspect of G-D. We use the name HaKadosh Barukh Hu (“the Holy One Blessed-be-He”) when discussing this transcendent aspect of G-D that is beyond us.

The latter two letters, Vav and Hei, on the other hand, represents the Shekhina, G-D’s imminent “Indwelling Presence” concealed within the world and within each of us, manifesting only in locations and epochs of supreme kedusha. This is depicted as the ‘feminine’ aspect of G-D.  It will be noted that the word Shekhina itself is feminine.

Human estrangement from Godly connection – which has been especially evident in the Jewish world since the destruction of the Second Temple and the scattering of Am Yisrael to all parts of the globe – has effected the “divorce” of HaKodosh Barukh Hu – or  Yud Hei – from His Shekhina – or Vav Hei in the higher realms.

Many kabbalistic prayers, meditations and declarations of intent prior to performing mitsvot, speak mystically about the attempt, through the devoted performance of these mitsvot, to re-unify or “re-marry” the Yud Hei and the Vav Hei or HaKadosh Barukh Hu with His Shekhina. This will represent the ultimate tikkun or repair and usher in the Messianic Age when G-D’s Name will indeed be One.

All this of course is a gross oversimplification of very profound Kabbalistic concepts but it serves our purposes in enabling us to appreciate a little the palpable symmetry between human and Divine connection and disconnection.

The Cosmic Impact of Ahavat Chinam

This being the case, we can now understand the strong link emphasized by our Sages between the sin’at chinam, the boundless hatred that existed between Jewish groups and individuals in the waning years of the Second Temple and its ultimate destruction.

“G-D is your shadow” declares King David (Psalms 121:5). G-D has fashioned the universe such that the way we behave down below determines His ‘behavior’ above. (See Nefesh haChaim 1:7). This applies macrocosmically as well as microcosmically.

It is for good reason that the Golden Rule of the Torah – Leviticus 19:18 – reads in full: “Love your fellow as yourself – I am G-D!”  The startling implication is that only if there is boundless, selfless, “me”-transcending love and harmony down below in and among all aspects of His Creation, only then will G-D be G-D, i.e. whole. Only with true ahavat chinam on earth will HaKadosh Barukh Hu and his Shechina be One.

 Why Tisha b’Av is followed by Tu b’Av.   

Inasmuch as we have averred that the unification of HaKadosh Barukh Hu (masculine aspect) with His Shekhina (feminine aspect) is identified with the “re-marriage” of the “divorced” pairs of letters of G-D’s Ineffable Name, and inasmuch as we have seen that G-D is our “shadow”, it follows that the quintessential love which needs to be manifested here below is the love of a man and a woman within the sacred bond of marriage, which in Judaism is called kiddushin.

Could it be for this reason that our Sages sought fit to institute a remarkable day hot on the heels of Tisha b’Av, a day whose significance has been all but lost, yet one whose resuscitation is urgently needed.

Our Sages say that “there were no days as festive as Tu b’Av (15th Av) and Yom Kippur (why Yom Kippur requires an essay in itself) because on those days the unmarried girls would … go out and dance in the vineyards and …say: ‘Young man, lift up your eyes and see whom you will choose [as a bride].”

The source for this passage is the last Mishna in Massekhet Ta’anit (4:6). The whole tractate had been taken up with fasts and fasting, culminating in the chronicling of the mournful days of 17th Tammuz and 9th Av. What is the connection of Tisha B’Av and Tu B’Av? Why are they spoken about in the same context? And why did the Sages see fit to fix a day of mass nuptial celebration less than a week after the most tragic day in the Jewish calendar.

The answer should now be evident to us. The union of man and woman on earth within the sacred bond of marriage replicated manifold is the perfect vehicle to foreshadow the “re-marriage” of HaKadosh Barukh Hu with His Shekhina, the perfect antidote to Tisha b’Av and all it represents, which will, we pray, usher in the golden era of the Third Temple for which we yearn.  

 May it happen soon!

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This year, 9th Av is on Shabbat. The fast of Tisha b’Av will be on the 10th. We shall celebrate Shabbat more or less as usual. We shall eat meat, drink wine until just before sunset, sing zemirot even beyond. We shall refuse to let the mournfulness of Tisha b’Av enter us until the moment nightfall hits.

Then before saying Barukh ha-mavdll bein kodsh le-chol, kicking off our leather shoes and lighting the Havdala flame may I suggest we all take a minute out to turn to G-D and say to Him the following:

Dear G-D, our nation is exhausted and spent. We have endured all the blows, the slings and the arrows of our history. We are weak and cannot even observe the fast of Tisha b’Av with the intensity that we used to.

Surely it is revealed and known to you G-D that Tisha b’Av has outlived its usefulness. Take this hateful day away from us already!

Even if it is not yet quite Shkia (sunset) on the Friday of world history and destiny, it must surely already be within the time-frame for us to welcome the blessed cosmic Sabbath and attach it to the weekly Shabbat that we have just devotedly observed, to greet our righteous Mashiakh and fly on eagles’ wings together to our homeland where the fast of Tisha b’Av and all it stands for will be just a bitter memory!                                          

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation
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