Rabbi Daniel Stein
Marriage is About Giving
"And Adam gave names to all of the animals and the birds of the sky and to all of the wild beasts, but for Adam no fitting helper was found. So, Hashem cast a deep sleep upon Adam, and while he slept, He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot. And Hashem fashioned the rib that He had taken from Adam into a woman, and he brought her to Adam" (Breishis 2:20-22). As opposed to all of the animals of the world where the males and females were created both simultaneously and independently, Chava was only formed subsequently and from the rib of Adam. Why wasn't Chava fashioned individually like all of the other females in creation? Moreover, why was it specifically necessary to remove one of the ribs of Adam in order to create Chava?
The Torah itself continues and explains, "Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife so that they become one flesh" (Breishis 2:24). If Adam and Chava had been created independently it would have been impossible for them to later merge together and function as one flesh in marriage, because the body naturally rejects foreign entities and antigens. Only because Chava was included in the original inception of Adam, were they able to be safely reunited once again through marriage. This is reflected by the Gemara (Kiddushin 2b) which compares man's search for a spouse to a person who is seeking to become reunited with a lost item, for as long as a man is not married he is indeed missing a lost part of himself.
It is for this reason that that the Gemara (Kiddushin 29b) states, "until the age of twenty, Hashem sits and waits, when will he take a wife? As soon as one reaches twenty and has not married, He exclaims, 'Blasted be his bones!'" Why is the punishment for a man who excessively postpones marriage directed specifically towards his bones? The Arizal explains that after the creation of Adam, every man is born with a missing bone that can only be retrieved through marriage. The body can function for a short while without that missing bone, but when marriage is pushed off for a prolonged period of time, the integrity of the rest of the skeleton begins to gradually deteriorate due to the structural stress created by the missing bone.
However, perhaps Chava was taken deliberately from the rib of Adam not only in order to set the stage for the future, but also in order to instruct us that the only way to build a successful marriage is when each person is willing to sacrifice on behalf of their spouse and forfeit part of themselves for their partner. The Vilna Gaon in his commentary to the Sefer Yetzirah, writes that the forging of deep relationships and personal bonds are referred to by the Torah and Chazal in numerous places as a "kerisas bris" - which literally means "cutting off a covenant." The Vilna Gaon explains that this language is used because real and lasting relationships can only exist when two parties are willing to cut off part of their own agenda and give part of themselves to someone else, just like Adam who donated part of himself to the creation of Chava.
Therefore, in order to create a healthy marriage, it is critical that we cultivate a culture of giving and mutual sacrifice, because only in that fashion can we create meaningful relationships and enable the shechinah to truly dwell within our homes. The Torah (Breishis 2:23) describes Adam as an "ish" - spelled aleph, yud, shin, and Chava as an "isha" - spelled aleph, shin, heh. The two words, ish and isha, are almost identical. The sole difference between them is the letter yud in ish, and the letter heh in isha. The letters yud and heh are the first two letters in the most commonly found name of Hashem which is spelled, yud, heh, vav, and heh. This leads the Gemara (Sotah 17a) to comment, that if an ish and an isha are meritorious and create a harmonious marriage then the shechinah will reside in their midst.
The Vilna Gaon adds that in order to complete the name of Hashem there must also be a kesubah - spelled chaf, tof, vav, veis, and heh, which is a document that outlines and formalizes a husband's obligations towards his wife. The Vilna Gaon submits that the word kesubah should be deconstructed to form the words "ksav vav heh" - "a written vav and a heh," because it is only through the commitments and responsibilities of marriage, of giving towards one another, that the name of Hashem, yud, heh, vuv, and heh can be completed. A relationship with a woman which is devoid of obligations is referred to by the Torah in the plural as "pilagshim" (Breishis 25:6) or "concubines". The Vilna Gaon claims "pilagshim" is also the combination of two words "paleg shem" - "splitting the name," because even a loving and peaceful marriage that is lacking sacrifice and commitment, can only create an abbreviated and truncated hashraas hashechinah.
The Gemara (Gittin 90b) states that a divorce is so painful that even the mizbeach, the alter in the Beis Hamikdash, sheds tears. The meforshim ask, why is the mizbeach the only utensil that cries? Why not the aron or the menorah? A number of commentators explain, that it is because the mizbeach symbolizes giving to others and self-sacrifice. Unfortunately, divorces can occur when one party places their own needs and priorities ahead of their spouse. When each person is relentlessly and uncompromisingly pursuing their own individual agenda, it is impossible for a marriage to operate. Only when each person, places their partner's needs above their own, and is willing to sacrifice and give of themselves to their spouse can a marriage function properly.
Our relationship with Hashem and the Torah is also frequently compared to a marriage. The pasuk states "Moshe commanded us in the Torah an inheritance (morashah) of the congregation of Yaakov" (Devarim 33:4), and the Gemara (Pesachim 49b) adds, do not read the word as "morashah" - "an inheritance" but rather as "me'orasah" - "a betrothal." This is because our relationship with Hashem is also rooted in the notion of giving and self-sacrifice.
The Gemara (Gittin 60b) states that Hashem made a covenant, He was kores bris with Bnei Yisrael only for the sake of the Oral Torah, as it says, "for by the mouth of these words I have made a covenant (karati itcha bris) with you and with Yisrael" (Shemos 32:27). The Vilna Gaon explains that Bnei Yisrael's unique relationship with Hashem is predicated upon the Oral Torah and not the Written Torah, because it was specifically the Oral Torah that Hashem gave over to Bnei Yisrael to develop and expand. Our relationship with Hashem was cemented through the generosity and 'sacrifice' of Hashem in relinquishing, to a certain degree, the stewardship of the Oral Torah to the Jewish people.
Similarly, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe) writes that the unique holiness of the Jewish people, is not defined and generated by our obligation to perform the positive commandments, but rather by our observance of the negative commandments and the prohibitions and restrictions of the Torah. It is only through forfeiting certain physical experiences and sacrificing part of our own agenda for Hashem that we are able to be koreis bris and establish a permanent and profound relationship with Hashem.
The Written Torah begins with the letter beis, from the word "breishis," and the Oral Torah concludes with the letter mem, from the word "shalom." The letters that precede these two letters in the alphabet are lamed and aleph which spells "lo" - or "no." Perhaps this in order to teach us, that we can only enter into the world of Torah and begin to form a relationship with Hashem, after we have already acquired the ability to say "no" and embrace the self-sacrifice which is demanded by the restrictions and prohibitions of the Torah. May we all cultivate the capacity to give and sacrifice parts of ourselves for our spouse and for the Torah, and in that zechus may we all be blessed with a full measure of hashraas hashechinah in our homes and all aspects of our lives.