Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 13 January 2018 / 26 Tevet 5778

Why Get Married?

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Anonymous

Dear Rabbi,

Why should a person get married?

Dear Anonymous,

I’ll first explain some ideas behind the Jewish notion of marriage and why it’s essential, and then refute some common arguments against getting married.

One of the main reasons for getting married is to help each other grow through a life-long process of emotional, intellectual and spiritual sharing and challenge. This is the meaning of the verse, “It is not good, this state of man’s being alone; I will make a helpmate opposite to him” (Gen. 2:18). As long as a person is single, it is “not good,” meaning not only is the person incomplete, but that the entire Creation is also lacking in perfection (Rabbi S.R. Hirsch). The purpose of this union, then, is that each should help the other reach perfection. Sometimes this is achieved by sharing; sometimes by opposing, questioning and challenging. This ideal dynamic of “opposing-helpmate” is best achieved between a man and woman who are both committed to a love for growth together for life.

Marriage as context for growth is also intimated by the verse, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, and see Rashi there). As father or mother, a person’s main responsibility is to ensure that the child grows to be the best person possible. Marriage, then, takes a person to the next, natural and higher plane of potential perfection. Becoming “one flesh” is an allusion to this fusion of two perfect halves into a unified whole. In fact, the Zohar (Lech Lecha 91b) teaches that every soul is divided into male and female components before being sent into the world. Ideally, every match is the "re-fusion" of the halves into one.

But this becoming “one flesh” is not only figurative. Contrary to popular misconception, Eve was not created from Adam’s rib. Rather, Adam was split in two. The Talmud (Eruvin 11) explains the verse, “And G-d took one of his sides”, to mean that Adam was originally a composite of both male and female aspects, side by side, which G-d separated in order to create the longing for, and fulfillment in, the male/female union. Therefore, marriage is the venue through which one attains spiritual, emotional and physical unity and perfection.

Of course, the true pinnacle of male/female physical unity comes to fruition in the birth of their children — another reason to marry. Thus, G-d simultaneously commands and confers blessing upon the union of man and woman, “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). However, the point is not just to have children. Being “fruitful” means realizing one’s potential through sharing and challenge in marriage, in order that one’s productive traits and talents ripen, and his branches become laden with sweet and pleasant fruits. Only then can one truly “multiply”, as his perfection through marriage is conferred to and perpetuated by their children, the fruits of their labor. In this way, a married couple’s figurative unity as “one flesh” becomes manifested literally in one flesh, many times over.

Some people object to getting married because, as they claim, since the divorce rate gets higher and higher, why marry just to get divorced? In truth, if people really knew themselves and truly understood the purpose of marriage — in short, if each person strove to become as perfect a half as possible before "tying the knot", marriage would strengthen the knot, not undo it.

Some consider marriage restrictive. Is permissiveness truly desirable? In any case, one who only desires to receive might find marriage restrictive, whereas one who desires to give will find marriage limitless.

Others claim marriage limits one’s horizons experientially, career-wise, etc. However, the commitment and obligation to spouse and children provide an opportunity to attain true greatness precisely because of the need to succeed as both a person and professional.

Finally, some resist marriage for global considerations – to alleviate mother earth’s over-burdened resources or reduce world hunger and the like. While these are noble concerns, they don’t preclude family life. First, a lot can be done to improve personal and global consumption besides being barren. One could consume less and have more children – a creatively modest lifestyle could "permit" having children without adding significant demand on resources. In addition, there is really no direct correlation between one person’s ability to feed his children and another person’s not. One could give more to hungry children while still providing for his own.

Last, a Jew in particular should avoid this "solution" of celibacy or sterility. Relatively speaking, the Jews are but a tiny fraction of the world population. A Jew’s self-imposed sterility abrogates the Divine command/blessing to be fruitful and multiply, making him a willing accomplice to those who have sought, and seek our extermination.

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