If he marries an additional wife, he may not reduce [this one's] food, clothing, or conjugal rights. (Ex. 21:10)

Food, clothing, and conjugal rights are the husband's three basic obligations to his wife.

According to the Midrash, allegorically G‑d Himself fulfills all the precepts that He commanded the Jewish people. The relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people is compared to that between husband and wife. Therefore, G‑d has "obligated" Himself to always provide the Jewish people with all their needs.

Our one need is divine consciousness….

In spiritual terms, our one "need" is divine consciousness, the awareness that allows us to lead spiritual lives. In this context, food, clothing, and conjugal rights are three different levels of divine consciousness that G‑d provides us with:

"Food" connotes spiritual consciousness that can be "digested", i.e. grasped. This is the level of divine consciousness wherein we are conscious of G‑d's presence within reality. This awareness helps us relate to all aspects of life as opportunities to connect to G‑d. Such consciousness is only possible when G‑d "lowers" Himself to be truly within the reach of human comprehension.

"Clothing" does not sustain us, it only protects us. Although, like food, it is also tailored to us, we nonetheless wear it outside ourselves. Clothing therefore connotes higher levels of spiritual consciousness that we can conceive of intellectually but can grasp in only the most general terms. When we become aware of the existence of these spiritual levels, this awareness can indeed "protect" us from the invasion of negativity. Nonetheless, our awareness of these levels is too abstract to enhance the way we relate to the world in any concrete form. Thus it remains beyond, or "outside" of us. At this level, too, G‑d has "lowered" Himself, albeit to a lesser degree than with "food".

The Torah is the marriage contract between G‑d and Israel….

The highest of the three levels of consciousness is "conjugal rights", reflecting a true union with the essence of G‑d. This level is one of pure divine recognition, which is only possible because of G‑d's great love for us.

In this allegorical context, the Torah is the marriage contract between G‑d and Israel. Just as the three above-mentioned obligations are written into the marriage contract between husband and wife, so, too, the Torah reflects these three categories:

"Food" (that which can be fully digested) refers to the revealed aspects of the Torah; these aspects can be fully grasped by human intellect and become completely integrated into our being.

"Clothing" refers to the esoteric, hidden parts of Torah. These can be analyzed, and do indeed affect the learner. However, because they are spiritual and abstract in nature, they are never fully assimilated, and remain essentially beyond our grasp.

"Conjugal rights", the third and deepest level, is the most intimate dimension of the Torah, which requires special preparation and refinement in order to be approached. This level of Torah leads to the pinnacle of connectedness with G‑d.

Adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Hitva'aduyot 5747, vol. 2, p. 298; Reshimot 169, p. 10; Sefer HaMa'amarim Melukat, vol. 5, pp. 204-205

Reprinted with permission of Chabad of California.