Socrates, the great Greek philosopher, once said to a
disciple, "My advice to you is to get married. If you find a good wife, you'll
be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher."
"If you find a good wife, you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher"
Indeed today, we have many philosophers. In our time, there has been an
unprecedented rise in broken relationships. In the United States, it is
estimated that one out of two marriages end in divorce. Single-parent families
have doubled in the past 20 years. Only one child in two will have parents who
were married when he or she was born and who will have stayed together till the
child grows up . A lecturer told me that for years she had gone into schools
to teach children about religious faith and about "G‑d our Father." She can’t do
so any more because so many of the children do not understand the word. Not the
word "G‑d" but the word "father."
Like a meteorite entering earth’s gravitational field, marriage and the family
The worst thing we could do now would be to get into a debate about who is to
blame: the individual or society, affluence or secularization. What we need is
imagination, not recrimination; optimism, not pessimism. It is here that the
Jewish mystical tradition has something beautiful and vital to say.
In the very opening chapter of the Hebrew Bible, where the story of Creation
unfolds, the mystics pose a fascinating question: How, if G‑d exists, can the
universe simultaneously exist? G‑d is infinite, G‑d is everywhere. Therefore, in
any given place, there is both finite and infinite being. But surely infinity
crowds out anything finite. There is simply no space for physical matter if
every place is filled with the infinite presence of G‑d. How then is there a
The mystics’ answer is compelling. In order to make space for the universe, G‑d,
as it were, initiated a process called "tzimtzum," self- contraction or
withdrawal, creating a spherical vacuum - the space needed for the world to
exist. By withdrawing His endless light, an autonomous, independent world,
distinct from G‑d, can emerge. The conclusion? The universe is the space G‑d
creates for mankind through an act of withdrawal. No single act more profoundly
indicates the love and generosity implicit in Creation.
In the beginning of life, there is no otherness.
In a dazzling parallel, the same applies in human relationships . In the
beginning of life, there is no otherness. A newborn infant does not distinguish
between itself and the rest of the universe. It knows and cares only about its
own needs. When it cries it is saying: "I want Mommy, I want to be fed, I want
to be held, I want to be played with, and if you don’t do everything I want,
immediately, I will ruin your life." There is no room for the other. As children
develop and mature, they begin to find the other as a separate entity. They
begin to have relationships; they begin to care for the other. That process is
essential to healthy development.
As adults we know that in order to truly love, you need to withdraw yourself
from your "center" (ego) and create room for another person in your life. A
relationship is not about control. When one partner dominates the other,
demanding of him or her to conform and suppress his/her personality, the
possibility of a relationship is snuffed out. Genuine love not only respects the
individuality of the other but actually seeks to cultivate it. Love, like the
act of creation, is the courageous act of creating space for the presence of the
other. When man moves away from himself, reaching into the heart and soul of
another human being, he emulates G‑d, who chooses to suspend Himself in order to
give room to the other.
A young man and woman went on a date. For two solid hours, he spoke about
himself, his accomplishments, successes and ideas. And then he turned to her and
said: "Enough of me talking about myself, now what do you think of me?"
There are two simple English words which illustrate this mystical notion of
tzimtzum, contraction. The words "soil" and "soul" differ by just one
letter. Yet they represent two polar opposites: the material and the spiritual.
The word "soil" represents the material. The word "soul" represents the
spiritual. The difference in spelling is the "I" vs. the "U." When a person
thinks only about "I," he is self-centered, and can’t make sufficient space to
nurture another. But when he thinks about "U", by moving himself out of the way,
he makes room for another person in his life. He is ready to live deeper and
By moving himself out of the way, he makes room for another person in his life.
This idea of tzimtzum finds expression in a beautiful part of the Jewish
wedding ceremony known as the "bedeken," the veiling. Before the chupa,
when the bride and groom meet together under the wedding canopy, the groom is
escorted to the room where his bride is waiting and he covers her face with a
veil. Tradition tells us that this custom commemorates the events as they
occurred during Jacob's wedding ceremony. The Torah relates that Jacob traveled
to the house of Laban. Upon arriving, he meets Laban’s younger daughter Rachel
and falls in love with her. Laban proposes a deal: work for me for seven years
and I will give her to you in marriage. Jacob does so, but on the wedding night,
Laban substitutes Leah for Rachel. Since the bride was veiled, he did not
realize that he was marrying the wrong woman and Jacob discovered the deception
only after it was too late. Ultimately, Jacob accepted his fate and remained
with Leah. But he later also married Rachel, the bride of his choice.
The question that arises is, if the veiling reminds us of Jacob and Leah,
shouldn't the custom be that the groom uncovers his bride's face to make sure
that he is marrying the bride of his choice?
The answer is moving and profound – I heard it first five years ago during my
own wedding ceremony from my friend, Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson.
Leah and Rachel, he quoted the Jewish mystics, are not merely two sisters living
in Mesopotamia at the early phase of the Bronze Age. They also symbolize two
dimensions of every human personality. Each of us possesses an inner "Rachel" as
well as an inner "Leah."
Rachel, the beautiful woman, symbolizes the attractive, charming and beautiful
characteristics existing in our spouses and in ourselves. The name Rachel in
Hebrew means ‘ewe’, known for its bright white color and its serene and lovable
Leah, a name that literally means weariness or exhaustion , represents those
elements in us and in our spouses that are more challenging. Leah, the
"weak-eyed" sister was easily moved to tears. She was emotionally vulnerable.
Weakened from tears and anxiety, Leah represents our struggle with insecurities
and psychological and spiritual tension.
Few people can be defined as "Rachel" or "Leah" exclusively. Most of us possess
both components. We are a mix of serenity and tension. We have compassionate
instincts but we must struggle against selfish ones as well. We have light but
we also must deal with shadow; we enjoy structure but also profound moments of
chaos. Both are genuine parts of our multi-dimensional personalities. Rachel is
the light; Leah is the struggle against the dark.
Rachel is the light; Leah is the struggle against the dark.
Hence, the drama that occurred at the wedding of Jacob, the patriarch of the
Jewish nation, occurs at every wedding. Before you get married, you think that
you are marrying Rachel – the beautiful, smart, kind, sensitive, and fun-loving
spouse of your dreams. In reality, you are bound to discover that you ended up
with Leah, a person also struggling with unresolved tension.
Naturally, you love Rachel, and you reject Leah. Yet as life progresses you will
come to discover that it is precisely the Leah dimension of your spouse that
challenges you to transcend your ego and become the person you are capable of
becoming because it is the very shortcomings and imperfections of your spouse
that allow you to grow into something larger than yourself .
This, then, is the secret behind the veiling of the bride. When the groom veils
his bride, he is saying, "I will love, cherish and respect not only the "you"
which is revealed to me, but also those elements of your personality that are
hidden from me. As I am bound with you in marriage, I am committed to creating a
tzimtzum, a space within me for the totality of your being - for all of
you, for all time."