Printed from kabbalaonline.org
Two Lights - Betrothal and Marriage

The Kabbala of Marriage

The Kabbala of Marriage

Advanced Advanced
 Email
The Kabbala of Marriage
Two Lights - Betrothal and Marriage

The laws of divorce in the Torah begin with the phrase: "When a man takes a wife and engages in marital relations with her…". (Deut. 24:1) The laws of betrothal and marriage are derived from this passage. In Jewish law, "betrothal" (kidushin) is not simple engagement, but rather a legally binding relationship that establishes a quasi-marital bond between the betrothed couple. The marital bond is not fully actualized until "marriage" (nesu'in), which occurs when the couple first engages in marital relations.

Know that when a man betroths a woman, a certain spirit from the spirit of the husband is drawn down upon her. [This spirit] is an encompassing light.

There are two types of "lights", or spiritual energies: "Encompassing" light does not enter into the operative consciousness of the entity it encompasses; rather, it serves as a source of inspiration or protection. In contrast, "inner" light informs the consciousness of the entity it enters and remakes its possessor's world-view, changing the way the possessor lives his or her life.

Once the encompassing light has been drawn down upon her from his spirit, he can then engage in full marital relations with her. This imparts to her an additional level of spirit from him, an inner light.

Marital relations involve the union of the souls of the couple, not just their bodies…

"Full" marital relations involve the union of the souls of the couple, not just their bodies. By the same token, full union is not possible without bodily union, either. But the ideal is that these two types of union enhance each other. Therefore, no matter how close the couple become by being betrothed, their full spiritual union is not possible until their marriage is consummated.

Betrothal must therefore precede [marriage], for the inner spirit cannot enter her until the encompassing spirit of this same [inner] spirit enters her first.

Note the use of the verb "to enter" for the encompassing spirit as well as for the inner spirit. This is because the "encompassing" spirit does not physically surround the entity to which it has been given, but metaphorically. It is a present within the entity as is the inner spirit, but since it does not inform its consciousness, it is always "at a distance".

As you know, [the partzuf of] Leah is formed from malchut of bina [i.e., of Imma], and [that of] Rachel from malchut of tevuna. Since they all shine from the same place, they all join together during marital relations.

Leah, the partzuf of the thought, develops from the intellect proper. Rachel, the partzuf of speech, develops from the "applied intellect," tevuna.

Now, Leah is manifest in the dalet of the knot of the [head-]tefillin, and Rachel is also manifest as a dalet. When they join together, they form the closed mem of the word "to increase [lemarbeh] the reign." (Isaiah 9:6)

The final mem can be envisioned as two dalet's, one written normally and the other upside down and backwards, forming the angular mirror-image of the first one.

The final mem occurs in the middle of a word only once in the Bible, in the verse, "To increase the reign and for peace without end over the throne of David and his kingdom…." The word for "to increase" [le-marbeh] is spelled lamed-[final] mem-reish-beit-hei.

[The final mem] is formed of two hinges and two doors. The two hinges are the two yud's, i.e., the thorns in the backs of the dalet's, this being what distinguishes the letter dalet from the letter reish.

The word dalet actually means "door". Thus, each dalet that makes up the closed mem can be envisioned as a door swinging on a hinge, i.e., the point where the two lines of the dalet meet. Since the upper stroke of the dalet extends beyond the vertical stroke, the excess may be seen as a yud, act as the hinge around with the two strokes of the dalet swing.

These [two yud's may also be conceived of as] the two "handles" [to the doors], the 28 "times" of Ecclesiastes.

The word for "handle" is yad, which is also the word for "hand" and the basic meaning of the name of the letter yud. This word is spelled yud-dalet, and its numerical value (10 + 4) is 14. The two yud-handles have thus a combined numerical value of 28.

In the beginning of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon lists 28 "times," in the form of "A time to…and a time to…." (Ecclesiastes 3:2-8)

The door swings on its hinge, whose [influence] extends in either direction only by virtue of the power of the yud, for the yud represents the soul while the dalet represents the body.

The soul animates the body. In general, the letter yud signifies chochma, the first conscious sefira, the first manifestation of the soul in the body. The letter dalet is often understood to refer to malchut, the last sefira that "possesses nothing of its own", but rather serves as the means the other sefirot use to find expression in the world. As such, it is a fitting representation of the body, which serves as the means for the soul to express itself in the world.

Of these two yud's it is written, "those who desecrate it shall surely die." (Ex. 31:14) The word for "those who desecrate it" can be understood to mean "its emptiness." The numerical value of the word for "emptiness" ["chalal"] is the same as that of the word for "life" ["chaim"].

The verse "those who desecrate it shall surely die" refers to those who desecrate the Shabbat. The root of the verb "to desecrate" ("le-chaleil") is the word for "emptiness" or "vacuum" ("chalal").

Chalal: chet-lamed-lamed = 8 + 30 +30 = 68.

Chaim: chet-yud-yud-mem = 8 + 10 + 10 + 40 = 68.

The phrase "those who desecrate it shall sure die" can thus be read, "its emptiness is surely death". The "emptiness" is the hollow of the doorway, the space through which the door swings. The door is the body, and the body by itself, without the soul, is a lifeless corpse.

This is the mystical significance of the phrase [in the preceding verse,] "You shall keep My Shabbats." The arms [of Shabbat figuratively] spread out to add from the mundane [weekdays] to the holy. The yud indicates Shabbat itself. All this will be [more fully] explained, please G‑d, when we explain the significance of the two Shabbats [implied in the plural "My Shabbats"].

Shabbat is to the week as the soul is to the body, and thus as the hinge is to the door. The workweek gives us a chance to express and actualize the inspiration we draw from Shabbat, but without Shabbat the workweek is a lifeless corpse. In order for this relationship to be clear, Shabbat must "take over" some of the weekday; this is why we add some time to Shabbat before it begins (at sundown on Friday) and after it ends (at nightfall on Saturday).

Now, the dalet spreads forth as the mem of malchut. The yud alludes to the point of Zion of malchut, this being the mystical significance of the Holy of Holies.

The yud is often conceived of as a geometric point, since it is the smallest of the Hebrew letters and the graphic origin of the others - all other letters can be drawn by first drawing a yud and then extending it in one way or another.

The Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple, is the point of union between G‑d and the Jewish people…

The word for Zion (in Hebrew, "tziyon") also means "point" or "dot". When malchut is first emanated, its initial form is that of a single point that must then be "fleshed-out" or "constructed" by transferring the malchut's of the preceding sefirot to it - through coupling with Zeir Anpin. "Zion" is a synonym for Jerusalem, the seat of the Kingdom of David (who also personifies malchut). The Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the Temple, is the point of union between G‑d and the Jewish people, and is thus allegorically referred to as the "bridal chamber."

Specifically, "Zion" indicates the yesod of malchut, the womb. (Etz Chaim 35:3)

For what we said [above, that malchut] takes the form of the yud, you can understand the mystical dimension of betrothal, which requires the groom's money.

It was not stated explicitly before that malchut takes the form of the yud, but it was stated that the yud signifies the soul and Shabbat, both of which are manifestations of the sefira of malchut. Nukva of Zeir Anpin is the origin of the soul, and Shabbat is the seventh day, corresponding to the seventh of the seven middot, malchut.

Although a man may betroth a woman "in three ways, with money, with a document, or with intercourse," (Kidushin 1:1) the prevalent way is with money (i.e., an object of value, such as a ring), which he gives to her in the presence of two witnesses, saying, "Be betrothed to me with this ring according to the laws of Moses and Israel."

This [money] embodies the mentality he gives her, which is embodied in the yud, which has three tips.

We have seen elsewhere that the point of the yud represents a coin. The yud has three tips: two to the left and one below. These three tips represent the three sefirot of the intellect, chochma, bina, and daat.

This yud comprises chesed and gevura.

The origins of chesed and gevura are present in daat, as we have explained previously.

When [the bride] receives this radiance [of encompassing light] from him, she assumes the form of the vav within the six extremities, her back to him. The dalet thus represents [this phase of] coupling.

As we have explained previously, the dalet appears to be postured with its back to the preceding letter, the gimel (from gomel, "bestower").

The large dalet alludes to how [the partzuf of] Leah is opposite [that of] Rachel. [Zeir Anpin] gives her her dalet for the purpose of coupling. This is the mystical meaning of the four times the word "truth" occurs in the blessing "True and certain," as has been explained elsewhere.

In order to couple, the feminine partzuf has to be "developed" to the point where it is of equal stature with the male partzuf

In order to couple, the feminine partzuf has to be "developed" to the point where it is of equal stature with the male partzuf. This, as we have seen previously, is accomplished by the male partzuf transmitting his intellect to the female partzuf, so they can be "of one mind" and couple completely. (This is perhaps reflected in the teaching that before marital relations, the husband must "gladden" his wife with words, helping her focus on the mitzvah they are about to perform.) The dalet given to Leah is the four parts of the intellect (the numerical value of the dalet is 4): chochma, bina, and daat, which divides into two (the sources of chesed and gevura within daat).

The blessing recited after the morning recitation of the Shema, linking the Shema to the Amidah, begins "True and certain it is…." The word "true" (or the adverb "truly," which is the same word ["emet"] in Hebrew) appears eight times in this blessing:

"True and certain, established and enduring…."

"Truly, the G‑d of the universe is our King…"

"His words are living and eternal…[Your] word is good and eternal, in truth and trustworthiness…"

"Truly, You are G‑d, our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers…"

"Truly, happy is the man who heeds Your commandments…"

"Truly, You are the master of Your people…"

"Truly, You are the first and You are the last…"

"Truly, You redeemed us from Egypt…"

The first four instances of "truth" in this blessing refer to the four aspects intellect given to Leah for the purpose of coupling. The second four refer to the aspects of intellect given to Rachel.

The mystical significance of the yud is also that the yud [is used to spell out] the name Eh-yeh, which receives the embryo.

The name Eh-yeh, as we know, is associated with the sefira of bina. Bina, as the partzuf Imma, is the mother that receives the seminal insight from Abba and develops it in her "womb" into a full-grown intellectual structure.

They [these yud's] also allude to the fact that in them are completed the ten names Havayah that act as feminine waters.

These ten names Havayah are the names used to make Zeir Anpin into a complete partzuf of ten sefirot.

In any case, from this dalet positioned with its back [to Zeir Anpin], when it faces him and receives the seminal drop, it becomes the name Havayah spelled out to equal 45, and is called the closed mem, just as bina encloses the yud of chochma within it.

Now, when it is positioned with its back [to Zeir Anpin], it possesses only one hinge and one door, as we have explained elsewhere (Etz Chaim 35:3) regarding the five states of gevura.

The feminine partzuf initially possesses only the five states of gevura; it receives the five states of chesed from the male partzuf. The hinge (1) and the door (dalet, 4) add up to 5.

But when she faces [Zeir Anpin], she receives the second hinge in the form of the five states of chesed. A door then issues from her, serving to contain the light, and thus there is then a hinge for each door.

She is then ready for intercourse, since she is a closed vessel and will not lose ("miscarry") the seminal drop of light that will deposited in her.

Corresponding to all this, the groom has to do this to her finger, for the yesod is only for her benefit.

He…makes her his partner in promulgating the divine image and consciousness…

The male yesod, the male consciousness' drive for self-actualization that propels it to seek expression, is fulfilled only when the consciousness that has developed to this point (beginning with Abba, through Imma, and into Zeir Anpin) is deposited in a vehicle for expression that will express it properly and not "spill" it into undesirable contexts (corresponding to the "death" inherent in the doorway, as above). Thus, the female partzuf has to have a closed womb that, as above, will contain the seed. The groom therefore places the ring on the bride's finger, signifying the seal with which he directs her reproductive powers and dedicates them to his particular soul-slant on the divine imperative to make the world into a home for G‑d. By courting her (before marriage) and "gladdening" her (throughout marriage), he brings their common soul-root to the forefront of her consciousness and makes her his partner in promulgating the divine image and consciousness.

The proof of this is that it is possible to betroth, as well, through intercourse.

As we saw above, there are three ways a man can betroth a woman, one of which is through intercourse. Although this is never done nowadays (and probably only rarely done in olden days), it was technically possible in more innocent times for a man to take two qualified witnesses and have them watch him say to his bride-to-be, "Be betrothed to me through this act of intercourse according to the laws of Moses and Israel" and then be secluded with her. They would then be betrothed and would have to separate until she had time to prepare her dowry and make arrangements for the actual wedding (back in those times, twelve months later). The intercourse they would conduct after the wedding, their second, would then formalize the marriage completely.

The closed mem is the image of the safe, closed womb that develops and nurtures the embryo…

The point of this is that betrothal is in order to focus the female onto one, specific male and thereby "close her mind," so to speak, to all the other, various possible ways of spreading Divine consciousness (i.e., "men"). The fact that this can be accomplished by an act of intercourse indicates that betrothal is for this purpose.

The ring signifies her yesod, which encompasses and contains the light within her.

Her yesod is her womb.

When the yud of the hinge is added to her via yesod, she is called "the closed mem". We thus have yud-mem, and she is called "the sea".

The closed mem is the image of the safe, closed womb that develops and nurtures the embryo. The numerical value of mem is 40, and it takes 40 days for the embryo to form. (Ibid.) When the embryo reaches full term, the closed mem changes into the regular, open mem, and birth occurs.

The word for "sea" ("yam") is spelled yud-mem. The sea is an appellate for malchut, since, just as "all rivers run into the sea," (Ecclesiastes 1:7) malchut is the final repository for all the lights of the preceding nine sefirot, that flow into it in order to be transformed and transmitted to a lower level of reality, the outside world.

The formula "Be betrothed to me…" contains 32 letters, corresponding to the 32 pathways of wisdom.

The thirty-two pathways of wisdom are mentioned in Sefer Yetzira, and are generally understood as the 22 letters and the ten sefirot.


Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Ta'amei HaMitzvot and Shaar HaMitzvot; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard." available at Kabbala Online Shop]

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.

Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky is a scholar, writer, editor and anthologist, living in Jerusalem. He has recently produced two monumental works: "Apples from the Orchard: Arizal on the Weekly Torah" and a Chumash translation with commentary based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Kehot).
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria […Ashkenazi ben Shlomo] (5294-5332 = 1534-1572 c.e.); Yahrtzeit (anniversary of death): 5th of Av. Buried in the Old Cemetery of Tzfat. Commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak, the G-dly Rabbi Isaac. No other master or sage ever had this extra letter Aleph, standing for Eloki [G-dly], prefaced to his name. This was a sign of what his contemporaries thought of him. Later generations, fearful that this appellation might be misunderstood, said that this Aleph stood for Ashkenazi, indicating that his family had originated in Germany, as indeed it had. But the original meaning is the correct one, and to this day among Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is only referred to as Rabbenu HaAri, HaAri HaKadosh [the holy Ari] or Arizal [the Ari of blessed memory].
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1 Comment
1000 characters remaining
kYle October 2, 2011

Breaking a Betrothal How could a betrothal be broken without sinning? Reply

The larger, bold text is the direct translation of the classic text source.

The smaller, plain text is the explanation of the translator/editor.
Text with broken underline will provide a popup explanation when rolled over with a mouse.