"To match couples together is as difficult as the splitting of the sea," the Talmud states (1).
What is the meaning behind these words? True, the process of finding and maintaining a life partner may be challenging and difficult, nothing short of a miracle. But why, from all miracles described in the Bible, does the Talmud choose specifically the miracle of the splitting of the sea – described in this week’s portion (Beshalach) -- to capture the process of marriage?
Today, we will discuss the Kabbalistic explanation to this answer.
A Map of the Subconscious
What is the difference between the land and the sea? Both the land and the sea are vibrant and action-filled terrains populated by a myriad of creatures and complete with a great variety of minerals and vegetation. Yet the universe of dry land is exposed and out in the open for all to see and appreciate, while the world of the sea is hidden beneath a bed of water.
In Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah and Chassidic spirituality), these two physical planes reflect the conscious and unconscious dimensions of the human psyche (2). Both parts of the self are extremely vibrant and dynamic. The difference between them is that while our conscious self is displayed and exhibited for ourselves and others to feel and experience, our subconscious self remains hidden, not only from other people but even from our own vision. Most of us know very little of what is going on in the sub-cellars of our psyche.
If you were given a glimpse into your own "sea" and discovered the universe of personality hidden beneath your conscious brain, what do you think you would find? Shame, fear, guilt, pain, insecurity, an urge to destroy, to survive, to dominate, a cry for love? Would you discover Freud's Libido, Jung's collective unconscious, Adler's search for power and control, Frankl's quest for meaning?
In Kabbalah, at the core of the human condition is a yearning for oneness. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of the Chabad school of Kabbalah, was one of the greatest soul-experts in the history of Judaism, and has written on the subject more then any other Jewish sage. In 1796, one century before Freud, he published a book, the Tanya, in which he presented his “map of the subconscious,” based on the Talmudic and Kabbalistic tradition. In a stunning parable, Rabbi Schnuer Zalman quotes the biblical verse “The soul of man is a divine flame" (Proverbs 20:27), explaining, that Just as the flame is always swaying, dancing, licking the air, seeking to tear free of the wick and rise heavenward, so too the soul in man is always aspiring to leave its shell and experience oneness with the divine.
The Secret of Intimacy
This quest for a relationship with the divine is manifested in our search for relationships with our twin flame here below. Where Freud diagnosed the libido as a craving for union with a parent, and Jung saw it as a longing for the opposite gender etched in our collective unconscious, the Kabbalah understood it as a quest for union with G-d. Our desire for intimacy is one of the profoundest expressions of our existential craving for Truth, for Oneness, for G-d.
As Genesis states, “G-d created Man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them.” Clearly, it was in the union and oneness of the genders, that the first Adam, the first human being, reflected the image of G-d.
This view of relationships and intimacy is expressed in the very Hebrew names for man and woman given by Adam in Genesis. The Hebrew words for man and woman – Eish and Eisah – both contain the Hebrew word fire, Esh. They also each contain one more letter, that when combined makes up G-d’s name. The significance of this is profound. Man without woman, and woman without man lack the fullness of G-d’s name. When they unite, the two-half images of the divine within them also unite. The fire and passion drawing them to each other is their yearning to recreate the full name of G-d between them.
At a Jewish wedding ceremony, this blessing is recited: “Blessed are You, G-d, King of the Universe, Who created the human being in His image.” Why is this blessing said at a wedding ceremony? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say such a blessing when a child is born? The answer is no: it is through the uniting of man and woman that the image of G-d is most closely reflected.
The ramifications of this idea are important. It means that marriage is not a suspension of one's natural individual self for the sake of uniting with a stranger. Rather, through marriage man and woman return to their true natural state, a single being reflecting G-d, each in his and her own unique way. Marriage allows wife and husband to discover their full and complete self, a self made up of masculine and feminine energy.
We may travel through life unaware of this dimension of self, seeking oneness with the divine. Throughout our years on this planet we may behave as though this element of self does not exist. Though its symptoms reverberate through our consciousness - most often in the feelings of emptiness and lack of contentment when our spiritual self is un-satiated - we are prone to dismiss it or deny it. After all, at least in the short term, it is far easier to accept that we are nothing more than intelligent beasts craving self-gratification than spiritual souls craving for G-d.
When we view the surface self, selfishness is easier than selflessness; isolation more natural than relationships; solitariness more innate than love and commitment. Only when we “split our sea,” when we discover the depth of our souls, the subtle vibrations of our subconscious, do we discover that oneness satisfies our deepest core; love is the most natural expression of our profoundest selves.
"To match couples together is as difficult as the splitting of the sea," the Talmud states. The challenge in creating and maintaining a meaningful and powerful relationship is the need to split our own seas each day, to learn how in the depth of our spirits we yearn to love and share our lives with another human being and with our creator (3).
E-mail the author at: YYJ@algemeiner.org
1) Soteh 2a. The Talmud is discussing second marriages, however, in many Jewish works, this quote is applied to all marriage (see for example Akeidas Yitzchak Parshas Vayeishev).
2) This notion of viewing the macrocosm as a metaphor for the microcosm is central to all Jewish writings. "Man is a miniature universe," our sages have declared (Midrash Tanchumah Pekudei 3), a microcosm of the entire created existence. The human being thus includes the elements of the land as well as the elements of the sea -- man has both a terrestrial and an aquatic aspect to his life. In Kabbalah terminology, the sea is defined as "alma d'eiskasya," the hidden world; while land is described as "alma d'eisgalya," the revealed world (Torah Or Parshas Beshalach.)
>>>>>>>>>3) This essay is based on a discourse by Rabbi Dov Ber, known as the Miteler Rebbe. (Published in Maamarei Admur Haemtzaei, Kuntrasim, Derushei Chasunah.)