Parashat Vayetzei describes the way Jacob married Leah and Rachel. In this context, the Arizal discusses the issue of divine providence in arranging matches.

In the Midrash on this parasha, [it is written that] Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon opened [his discourse by explaining the following verse]: "G‑d makes individuals dwell in a house; He brings out the captives in proper ways." (Psalms 68:7) [He continued:] a certain [non-Jewish] matron once asked Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta, "In how many days did the Holy One, blessed be He, created His world?" (Bereishit Rabba 68:4) The Holy One, blessed be He, sits and makes matches…

The Midrash continues:

"In six days," he answered. "And what has He been doing since then?" "The Holy One, blessed be He, sits and makes matches," he answered, "assigning the daughter of this man to that man, the wife of this man to that man, the possessions of this man to that man." "If that is difficult," she scoffed, "I too can do the same. I have so many manservants and maidservants; in no time I can match them up." Said he to her: "If it is easy in your eyes, it is as difficult before the Holy One, blessed be He, as the dividing of the Red Sea." Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta went.

She went and took a thousand manservants and a thousand maidservants and lined them up opposite each other. She then said, "This one will marry that one and this one will marry that one," and married them all that night. The next day, those who were thus united came to her; this one's head was injured, that one's eye was out of its socket, another one's leg was broken. She asked them, "What's the matter?" This woman said, "I do not want this man," while this man protested, "I do not want that woman."

Straightaway, she summoned Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta and admitted to him: "There is no god like your G‑d: it is true, your Torah is indeed beautiful and praiseworthy, and you spoke the truth!" Said he to her: "Did I not say to you, if it is easy in your eyes, it is as difficult before the Holy One, blessed be He, as the dividing of the Red Sea." The Holy One, blessed be He, matches them up against their will and to their detriment. What is the proof? "G‑d makes individuals dwell in a house; He brings out the prisoners in proper ways [in Hebrew, 'bakosharot']." What does "bakosharot" mean? "Weeping" [in Hebrew, "bechi"] and "song" ["shirot"]: he who desires [his companion] utters song: and he who does not, weeps.

It is proper to understand [the following questions]:
First, what in this verse so troubled Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon that it forced him to interpret it as referring to making matches? The simple meaning of the text is that it refers to Egypt. The Israelites came to Egypt few in number, seventy souls, and G‑d made them into "the House of Israel", i.e. he increased their number, as it is written, "and the Israelites were fruitful and swarmed…" (Ex. 1:8). The verse thus means, "G‑d made out of the few a multitude and a great House". [The verse then describes what happened] afterwards, i.e. that "He brought them out in proper ways", i.e. in a time fit for leaving, neither in the hot [summer] nor the cold [winter], but in the spring [season], the month of Nisan. This is the meaning of the word "in proper ways".

Secondly, why did [the matron], in phrasing her question, say ["In how many days"] with a lamed, [meaning literally] "for how many days", rather than with a beit, which would mean "in how many days"? True, we could say that this is a printing error, for in some of the other sources in which this same story is told (Bamidbar Rabba 3; Vayikra Rabba 1; Midrash Shmuel 5), the word is written with a beit. But it is better to understand it the way it is written [here], especially since in yet other sources it is written the way it is written here.

Another question: Why did [Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta] bring proof [that G‑d made the world in six days] from the verse "for in six days G‑d made…" (Ex. 20:11), which is from parashat Yitro? In parashat Bereishit, the entire account of Creation is told in detail: this happened on the first day, that happened on the second day, etc. - "and G‑d finished on the seventh day" (Gen. 2:2). It would have been better to bring proof from there. Since G‑d created the world, He has been making and fixing delicacies and worlds to bestow upon the righteous in the World to Come

Furthermore: The matron really intended only to ask the second question: "From then until now what has He been doing?" The [answer to the] first question is obvious to everyone, i.e. that G‑d created the world in six days. So why did she have to preface [her real question] with the first one? Elsewhere, it is implied that everyone admits that the world was created in six days, so what she really wanted to ask could not have been this question but only the second question. So [again], why did she preface it with the first question?

Furthermore: what kind of question is the [second] question she asked, what has [G‑d] been doing since then? Who doesn't know that G‑d oversees all the details [of life] and sustains and provides for everything "from the horns of the re'eim to the eggs of the lice" (Avoda Zara 3b), that He causes the rain to fall, makes the dew blossom, makes the wind blow, "provides for the needs of every living thing" (Psalms 145:16) and so on ad infinitum?

The re'eim is a large bison-like animal. The image is that G‑d provides for all creatures, from the greatest to the least.

Besides which, our sages stated in reference to the verse "mention not the sins of my youth" (Psalms 25:7), that since G‑d created the world, He has been making and fixing delicacies and worlds to bestow upon the righteous in the World to Come. They offered a parable [to illustrate this] of a king who prepared a great feast and invited the notables of his capital to it, but they were too few to eat the whole meal. So he invited the middle class of people, but they were still too few. So in the end he invited the whole city, great and small, so as not to waste the feast he had prepared. Thus King David said, "Mention not the sins of my youth and my transgressions, for the sake of Your goodness, O G‑d," so that there be [enough] people to benefit from it. (Midrash Tehillim 25)

Even if we assume that this matron, being a non-Jew, did not know this, and Rabbi Yosi did not wish to tell her this as an answer because she might not have believed in the World to Come, there are numerous examples [of things G‑d is doing] in this world, as we have said. This being the case, what was her question? And why didn't Rabbi Yosi want to answer her thus, but said instead that G‑d is making matches - to which she could reply, "I can also do this?" If he would have answered her by saying what we said - that He is sustaining and providing for everyone from "the horns of the re'eim, etc." - she would not have been able to reply, "I can also do this."

Furthermore: our sages have said that all souls, from the time they are formed out of their supernal source - out of the place "from whence they were hewn" (Isaiah 51:1) - emerge as male and female together. Afterwards, each half goes its own way, the male to one [body] and the female to another, and they eventually join in this world, "so-and-so with so-and-so". We may assume that such a match does not have to be forced, against their will.

Why, then, does the Midrash state that G‑d matches them up against their will and to their detriment? The most joyous occasion in a person's life is the day of his wedding and the day of his heart's joy…

Another question: We have never seen anyone get married against his will or to his detriment. And the most joyous occasion in a person's life is "the day of his wedding and the day of his heart's joy."

At least when people get married, they do so feeling that this is for their good and that they will be happy.

Furthermore: If it is indeed true that G‑d makes matches against our will, there should be no reward or punishment for [fulfilling or avoiding] the commandment to procreate. For if a person is married to his wife perforce, why should he earn reward by marrying? And why should he incur punishment for not marrying? He could reply [to the Heavenly Court]: "Why wasn't I forced by heaven to marry, like you force others?"

We must also understand why, in the [matron's] question - "since then, what has He been doing" - why did she articulate the pronoun "He" explicitly?

In Hebrew, the subject pronoun can be understood from the verb, and there is no necessity to articulate it explicitly.

Furthermore, [Rabbi Yosi also] chose to phrase his answer explicitly, saying, "The Holy One, blessed be He, sits and makes matches." He could have simply responded, "He makes matches." Why did he mention "the Holy One, blessed be He" explicitly.

The answer [to all this] is as follows. Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon assumed that if the verse "G‑d causes individuals to dwell as a house" refers to the Exodus from Egypt, it should have read, "He makes the few into many." Why does it use the idiom "individuals", and why does it use the idiom "as a house" to mean "into many?" Furthermore, the verb "He causes to dwell" [- if it means increasing the Jewish people - ] does not fit well with the name Elo-him [used for "G‑d" in this verse], which indicates strict judgment: what G‑d did for the Jewish people in [taking them out of] Egypt was pure mercy, so it would have been more appropriate to use [in this verse] the name of mercy, saying, "Havayah causes individuals…." Why instead is the name Elo-him used?

He therefore says that through [understanding] the argument between Rabbi Yosi bar Chalafta and the matron we will be able to understand this verse properly, i.e. why the name Elo-him is used.

And for this reason, he says that it is proper to use the name Elo-him in reference to making matches, for [G‑d] forces matches to take place, as we will explain further on, please G‑d.

As for the matron, even though her main question and intention was about her second question - "Since then, what has He been doing?" - she wisely prefaced this with her first question - "In how many days…." This is because she saw that she could be answered in the way we have described, namely that G‑d oversees all the details [of life] and nourishes and sustains "from the horns of the re'eim, etc." She therefore prefaced [this question] with, "In how many days did the Holy One, blessed be He, create His world?" She meant: We cannot say that someone who did such a great act in only six days has, since then, been occupied solely with such miniscule details, for [since He is so powerful, this cannot take Him so much time and] He must still have much time left.

[Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta] therefore had to answer her that He is busy making matches, meaning that besides all that she knew [G‑d does every day,] He does this, too, and it is a difficult task that requires a lot of time.

For G‑d has to orchestrate many complicated webs of "coincidences" and fortuitous circumstances to arrange that people meet and marry their proper matches.

This [explanation] accords with the textual reading [in which the matron's question begins] with the letter beit, meaning "In how many days…" [In these texts, Rabbi Yosi] also answered her beginning with the letter beit, meaning "In six days…" …She really meant to ask : for how many millennia will the world endure

But according to the textual reading in which she asked "for how many days", with a lamed, and Rabbi Yosi also responded to her, "for six days", with a lamed, her intention was to ask "for how many days was it G‑d's intention that the world last?" Since she was asking about G‑d, and in His eyes, "a thousand years are as a day that passes" (Psalms 90:4), and it is known that "the world will exist for six thousand years, and one [thousand years after] it will be desolate" (Sanhedrin 97a), it follows that she really meant to ask "for how many millennia [will the world endure]", for each millennium is like a day in G‑d's eyes.

[Continuing with the matron's logic in this version of the question:] Since He foresees all that will be and His original intent was that the world exist for a fixed time, He probably endowed each creature when first He created the world with all the power it requires to exist for its duration. If so, what has He been doing since then? We cannot say that He has been overseeing His creatures, and that He has to provide for everything "from the horns of the re'eim", and so forth, for all the energy they require and all their sustenance has already been prepared, readied, and endowed to them from the moment of Creation.

This idea can be better understood by understanding the question raised in the Zohar (II:89b) regarding the verse quoted here: …for in six days [G‑d created the heavens and the earth]. The verse literally reads: "for six days…"; why is the word "in" left out [and only implied]? The answer given is that G‑d made the world in general - heavens and earth - as "six days," i.e. the six extremities, which are the six supernal "days".

These are the six sefirot from chesed to yesod. There are six facets to human emotion and character, so therefore G‑d took six days to express these in creation. This is because…

It is known that the days [are not just arbitrary units of time, but] are [rather bona fide] creations of real substance, similar to angels but more sublime and inclusive, as it is written, "Days will be formed" (Psalms 139:16), and "the days of Israel drew near" (Gen. 47:29), and "the days of David drew near" (Kings II 2:1). The six supernal days conduct the affairs of this world, each one on its [temporal] day [of the week], giving all who ask [for their needs] whatever they require, for G‑d the Creator already endowed them with all the energy they require, each one for its time, when He created them.

The six sefirot are the channels through which divine beneficence flows into the world.

Now, the name of the angel Metatron, who is called "the Minister of the World", is composed of six letters. These are the six extremities [as they are projected] within him, which are the six powers, [manifest] as the six [supernal] days we have mentioned. The affairs of the world overall are conducted by him, for he is the Minister of the world, even though the aforementioned [supernal] days are superior [to him].

This is because [G‑d acting as] the Creator is [His presence in] Imma - this being the reason why the name Elo-him is used in [the account of] the Creation of the world. [As we know,] stern judgment originates in Imma.

The name Elo-him is associated with Imma, the "mother" of the world, i.e. of the six sefirot of emotion that govern the world. Bina is the power to differentiate between details and implications of concepts in order to accept or reject them as truth. The world is governed by these strict laws of nature, and therefore the name Elo-him is used exclusively in the primary account of Creation.

[In contrast,] the six extremities of Zeir Anpin are the ones who conduct the affairs of the world.

Thus, the sefirot of Metatron (who personifies Zeir Anpin) are of a lower order than the source of the emotions within bina.

This is why [the matron] asked, "what does He do," meaning, "I already know there is much to occupy Him, such as feeding the world 'from the horns of the re'eim,' etc. But all this is taken care of by the supernal days" - as we mentioned - "whereas He Himself, the Creator", - i.e. the supernal [partzuf of] Imma - "what does He do?"

[Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta] therefore brought her proof from the verse "[…in] six days…," for she did not ask him about the Creation week, in which case it would have been appropriate for him to answer her [by quoting verses] from the account of creation. Rather, [she questioned him] about the whole world, i.e. for how many "days" [i.e. millennia] will [the supernal days] conduct its affairs. For it will exist only for that many "days".

He replied, "for six days," meaning, "in order for [the world] to endure for six days."

She asked, "What is the duration of Creation?", and he answered, "Six millennia."

This is also why he told her that "the Holy One, blessed be He, sits…". He did not mean to imply that G‑d literally sits, G‑d forbid, for [G‑d is not corporeal and] the concepts of standing and sitting do not apply to Him. Rather, the intention was to answer her statement that G‑d "sits", i.e. is idle, [being free] from [running] all the details [of life, these being handled by Metatron, as we said].

This is the meaning of his statement that "the Holy One, blessed be He" - meaning He himself - "sits" - i.e. occupies Himself solely with "making matches".

So, whereas the day-to-day running of the world is handled by G‑d's underling, Metatron, who serves as an organizing principle to funnel divine beneficence downward, the task of orchestrating the events of life with divine providence in order to match up couples is handled by Imma. When the embryo is formed, the soul issues from its source split into male and female…

The reason He has to do this is because [matches are arranged] in accordance with [Divine] justice, in accordance with [the parties'] merits, as we will explain. This being the case, no one can do this but Him, [since He alone is the one Judge, and alone can assure] that they will be accomplished fairly relative to the conditions of the hour.

True, when [the embryo is] formed, the soul issues from its source split into male and female, [and therefore the match is intrinsic and no further evaluation of who suits whom should be necessary]. But this applies only to a person's first marriage. Certainly, for such matches no [divine] effort need be expended, and such matches are not made against the parties' wishes but rather with their full goodwill.

But here, [i.e. the case the matron was asking about,] we are talking about second marriages, where a person is given a spouse commensurate with [what he has earned by] his deeds. Thus, since a person has free choice to sin against his G‑d, G‑d has to "scheme all kinds of schemes so that no one pushed away remain pushed away [forever]" (Samuel II 14:14).

Thus, the verse under discussion describes second marriages. And more remarkably, G‑d (i.e. Imma) occupies Himself since Creation with arranging second marriages. But the definition of a "second marriage" is broader than simply the second marriage in this lifetime, as we will now see:

Such people become reincarnated, but they do not reincarnate as a couple, for sometimes he is reincarnated in one generation and she in another, such that the reincarnated man needs to be matched up with a different reincarnated woman - who also lacks her [original] mate [in this incarnation] - that is similar to him [in merits]. Matching up such a couple is indeed a very difficult thing inasmuch as they are different in nature [not having originated from the same soul-root]. It is therefore difficult to get them together.

These reincarnates are called "individuals" - [literally, "singles"] - because each one is by itself, separated from its [real] soul-mate. Such marriages are referred to as being done "against the parties' wills". This does not apply to the wedding, for then everyone is happy "on the day of their wedding and on the day of their hearts' rejoicing" (Songs 3:11). The difficulty lies only in sustaining the marriage.

As to the matches the matron made between the manservants and the maidservants, [we may assume] they first said something [positive], but afterwards they fell into arguments and she could not keep these marriages going.

Therefore [the verse we have quoted] refers to G‑d as "Elo-him", for He judges these [reincarnates] according to His attribute of strict justice, in accordance with their deeds, and [thereby] makes these marriages endure. This is why [the verse] uses the idiom [of "making them sit"], for "sitting" implies "remaining", as in the verse, "And you dwelt [literally, 'sat'] in Kadesh…" (Deut. 1:47), which means they stayed there, for G‑d makes these people - who, as we said, are "individuals" - stay in one house, even against their natures.

For their innate nature is to bond with their original soul-mates.

This explains why there can be reward and punishment [for fulfilling or neglecting the commandment to marry and procreate]. For [in a second marriage] the person first couples with his spouse of his own goodwill and volition, and he thereby acquires merit for fulfilling the commandment - and if he does not want to marry, he incurs punishment. It is only after the marriage that G‑d "forces" the couple to remain together in one house. This is the meaning of the verse "He causes individuals to dwell in the house", as we said.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

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.