05 Nov When Your Relationship Goes Sour Between Spouses and Siblings
A Chassid related the following story:
I once saw a Russian soldier being whipped. His crime? While standing watch on a winter night, his feet had frozen to his boots. “Had you remembered the oath you took to serve the czar,” his commander berated him, “the memory would have kept you warm.”
“For 25 years,” concluded the Chassid, “this incident inspired my service of the Almighty.”
A Self-Absorbed Husband?
This week’s Parsha Lech Lecah relates the following enigmatic story:
A famine breaks out in the Land of Israel, and Abraham and his wife Sarah head down south to Egypt. As they approach Egypt, Abraham voices his fears to his wife that the Egyptians, notorious for their immorality, might kill him so that they may lay their hands on her, a most beautiful woman. “Please say that you are my sister,” Abraham begs his wife, “so that they will give me gifts for your sake and my life will be spared.”
This is a difficult story to digest. Abraham, the founder of Judaism, considered one of the most spiritual men of all times – the person who gave the world the gift of Monotheism — seems to be all-consumed by the fear for his life, and yet totally unconcerned with the fate of his wife.
What is even more disturbing is Abraham’s interest that “they give me gifts for your sake,” while his wife would be enduring abuse and humiliation of the worst degree.
No less absurd is the fact that the Torah finds it necessary to begin the biography of the father of the Jewish people with this episode, as though signifying that it contained the fundamentals of Jewish faith and practice.
A Tale of Two Loves
What is the difference between the sibling relationship and the spouse relationship? A spouse you choose; siblings you don’t choose. Your connection with your brothers and sisters is natural and innate.
The bond between siblings is constant and immutable. Whether you love your brothers or not, he will always remain your brother; you are eternally connected (on some level).
Conversely, the bond with a spouse is subject to change and fluctuation; today you are married, but in a year from now you may be (heaven forbid) divorced.
Yet paradoxically, love of a sibling – even at its best — is usually calm and placid; the love of a spouse, on the other hand, is capable of becoming fiery and passionate. Because the love of sibling is inborn, it can never die, but we also don’t get too excited about it.
The love of a spouse is something created anew as a result of two separate individuals coming together at a later stage in life. The distinctiveness, rather than the sameness, of the two individuals linked in marriage is what gives the relationship its unique intensity and drama, feelings that cannot be found even between the closest of siblings. Yet this same quality is also the reason some marriages are short-lived: passion can flourish, but passion can die.
And when the marriage does fail, you fall back on the innate bond that exists among family members, who are, in some weird yet reassuring way, always there for you.
When one is situated in the holy-land, a term symbolizing a psychological state of serenity and spirituality, he is her husband and she is his wife. They care for each other and look out for each other in a way that only a husband and wife can. Those are the days when you wake up in the morning and say, “Thank you G-d for giving me such a special person in my life.”
But then a famine may erupt, starving your heart and dulling your senses, you end up in “Egypt,” which in Hebrew means “constraints” and “limitations.” You lose your passion for your spouse, barriers between you are constructed, and your marriage becomes a burden. Those are the moments when you say to yourself, “Almighty G-d, why did I have to end up with this person?”
A Jewish couple was celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. During the feast, the woman stood up and said: “I’d like to make a toast to myself for sticking it out with this man for fifty years, and I want to tell you, that the fifty years of our marriage have passed like two days.”
The crowd was very moved by her words. But one man asked, “Why like two days, and not like one day?”
“The fifty years of our marriage,” replied the woman, “were like two days: Tisah B’av and Yom Kippur.”
At these moments one must remember that his wife is, in essence, also a sister, and that her husband is also a brother. Even if you don’t feel the connection, you remain connected innately; even if you don’t experience the romance consciously, you remain linked essentially. Because the shared bond between a wife and her husband is not only the result of a created union at a later point in their lives; rather the spouse relationship is also innate and intrinsic, in the words of the Zohar, “two halves of the same soul.” A marriage, in the Jewish perspective, is not only a union of two distinct people; it is a re-union of two souls that were one and then, prior to birth, separated. In marriage, they are reunited.
The relationship between spouses goes beyond feelings. We crave to always be husbands and wives, but sometimes — for our marriages to survive and thrive — we must become brothers and sisters. Whether you feel it or not, your wife is one with you, always.
Abraham and Sarah taught us, that when your spouse becomes difficult, and the relationship becomes challenging, you cease to be husband and wife; now you become brother and sister. You fall back on the innate, intrinsic oneness which binds you in an eternal link.
This, in fact, brings an awesome benefit to a husband. When you are there for your wife even when you’re not in the mood for it, an extraordinary energy of love is later returned to you. That’s why Abraham told Sarah that by saying that she was his sister, he would not only survive, but would also receive special gifts.
G-d My Sister, G-d My Wife
“A sound! My beloved knocks! Open your heart to Me, My sister, My wife, My dove, My perfection.” In these stirring words, King Solomon describes the Jew both as G-d’s spouse and as G-d’s sibling.
There are times when the Jew is situated in the holy-land, inspired and motivated to live a spiritual and G-dly life. Like in a good marriage, the Jew is crazy about G-d, yearning to be close to Him and fulfilled by having a relationship with Him.
But then come the days when the Jew enters into a psychological “Egypt,” where his inner spirituality is numbed, as he is overtaken by self-centered lusts, beastly cravings, negative impulses and enslaving addictions. His marriage with G-d seems all but dead.
The key to survival at those moments is to remember that G-d is not only a spouse, but also a sibling. We are sacred and G-dly not just because we feel it and we love it, but because man is inherently a spiritual and sacred creature, and G-dliness is intrinsic to the human being’s very composition. Whether I’m in the mood for it or not, when I behave in a moral and spiritual way, I am being loyal to my true self.
You are holy not because you feel holy, but because you are essentially holy – this is one of the most fundamental ideas of Judaism, expressed in the first narrative about the first Jew.
When the Russian winter threatens to freeze our souls, it’s time to recall the warmth provided by G-d as a member of the family. It’s time to remember the intrinsic bond existing between you and your sibling that will never fail.