Ki Tetze: A Happy Marriage

Marriage
Everyone says that marriage is hard work, yet at a wedding, when an innocent young man and woman are initiated into an endless cycle of hard work, we rejoice as if something wonderful has occurred. Would you rejoice on the day your father was sent to slave labor camp?

The answer is that it depends on the kind of work he will need to do. Rewarding work is reason to rejoice and a marriage done right is certainly rewarding. This only begs the question; how do you make a marriage work?

Crossbreed
The answer comes to us from surprising places. The Torah forbids the crossbreeding of animals and yet marriage, the crossbreeding of male and female, is permitted. What is the essential difference between two kinds that are forbidden and a male and female, which is permitted? Don’t tell me that male and female are one kind. If you believe that, you have never been married…

To answer this question let’s analyze the laws of crossbreeding. It is forbidden to crossbreed a horse and donkey because the offspring will be neither horse nor donkey. The horse created by G-d will be silenced and the donkey created by G-d will be silenced. In their stead will come a new species that is neither horse nor donkey; a species that G-d never intended.

This makes sense; we can understand why G-d forbids this. But help me with the following: Why does the Torah forbid knitting a garment of wool and linen? The wool remains woollen and is easily discernible as such. The linen remains linen and is easily discernible as such. They don’t fuse into a new offspring that is comprised of neither of them. In fact, they don’t fuse at all, why is it wrong?

Marriage
We now return to marriage. Husband and wife bring different qualities to a marriage. If he likes to read and she likes to play piano, they might go crazy. He can’t read while she plays and she can’t play while he reads; neither can be happy. What can they do?

On the surface, there are two solutions. She can stop playing or he can stop reading. But neither would be very good. When the horse stops being a horse and the donkey stops being a donkey, what emerges is a brand-new species that is neither horse nor donkey. A species that was never meant to be.

When he silences the part in her that wants to play and she silences the part in him that wants to read, they both stop being themselves. The resultant marriage is not comprised of both, but of neither. It is a new creation that was never meant to exist. No wonder, the Torah forbids such hybrids.

There is another solution. She can keep playing, he can keep reading, and they can spend their days fighting. A comedian once said, for the first ten years of marriage, I talked and she listened. For the next ten years, she talked and I listened. Now we both talk and the neighbors listen. Is this a good marriage?

Of course not, which is precisely why the mixture of wool and linen is forbidden. Fighting couples don’t fuse and cannot a marriage make. Wool and linen are too distinctive to fuse. Linen is a plant derivative, and wool is an animal derivative. They are so distinctive that they can never partner in a joint creation. When they are forced into the same garment, they don’t blend; they remain distinct entities that are easily separated. They can never be one.

While a marriage is not meant to silence either of the parties, they are also not meant to remain unchanged; locked in perpetual battle. Husband and wife are meant to rub off each other in a positive way so that each comes to appreciate the other’s strengths. They are meant to blend. A marriage is comprised of two distinct people that come together. Not two people that are silenced, nor two people that fight each other. Two people that create a blend comprised of both. How is this done?

In the Temple
There is one place where the Torah permits a Jew to don a garment of wool and linen; in the Temple. During ecclesiastic worship, the priest would wear a sash of wool and linen.

Why?

Even the greatest enemies stop fighting when they are in G-d’s presence. They don’t stop fighting because they have been browbeaten. They stop fighting because they found their common core. They realize that they both emerge from G-d and that at their point of origin, they are one. They might not see eye to eye, but they are one so they don’t fight.

Suppose the company’s purchase manager wants to make a bulk purchase because the supplier is offering a discount. The CFO argues that this is a terrible time for a bulk expenditure because the company is tight on cash. They come at the problem from opposite perspectives and fight about it. But when they get into the boardroom they arrive at a joint decision.

In front of the CEO they stop looking at the problem as separate individuals with unique perspectives. They look at the problem as joint officers of the same company. Their loyalties and goals are uniform and this brings them together. Not unlike the way the right-hand and left-hand act in concert despite being from different sides of the body. They are of the same organism so they get along.

Similarly, when confronted by the joint goal of creating a marriage and a family, husband and wife stop fighting. He knows that the household needs music, but he hates to play. He is now appreciative of her talents and interests. She knows the children will need someone to read to them and read with them, but she hates to read. She is now glad that he likes to read and will take on that part of the responsibility.

When the goal is uniform, when life is not about my needs, but our family’s and children’s needs, the differences complement. The husband who likes chicken soup finds harmony with the wife who likes lentil soup. Harmony results when unique instruments playing different notes on separate scales blend under the influence of a single conductor. It results in a symphony rather than cacophony.

In summary: When your marriage is a temple, you will be happy. When your marriage is a fighting arena, you will end up at a boxing match.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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