A Letter to Friends Who Thought of Getting Divorced
News reached me of your situation. You are unhappy in your marriage and want a divorce. I am so sorry to hear of your pain. My first and last thought each day is for both of you and you are constantly in my prayers. I want to share some thoughts with you from a place of deep love and a hope for both your wellbeing.
I am not writing as a therapist (I am not one) nor as a relative (I am not one). Nor am I writing as someone who has an answer. G-d holds His innermost wish and truth for both of you and with His blessing, you will both find that truth in your heart. I am writing as a friend to share something of my own story with you along with some Torah thoughts that have meant much to me on my journey. If these are useful to you, sending this letter will have been worthwhile. If not, as the saying goes, take what you like and leave the rest.
Some Mystical Thoughts on Marriage
I think that during the weekend of your wedding celebrations I shared the concept of the partners in a marriage being like diamonds. In the analogy, a diamond in the rough is larger than one that is cut. But a cut diamond is way more valuable than a raw one. Only a diamond is tough enough to cut a diamond. And when one does so, it must be with skill because if not, the diamond can burst into dust. Life is just like that. Before marriage we are like raw diamonds – large but of less value than a person who has been refined by the demanding and deep inner work living with a partner requires. Only a spouse can “cut us down to size.” And as we grow together, we must proceed gently so as not to “shatter the vessels” of our partner.
I may also have shared that according to Kabbalah, our lives before marriage correspond to the world of Tohu, unbridled lights that do not take the other into account. By contrast, our lives after marriage correspond to the world of Tikkun, rectification, repair and healing.
We think we get married face to face. In reality we are all back to back.”
Or that according to the Zohar, each couple stands beneath the wedding canopy and believes they are marrying “face to face.” We truly do believe we are entering the marriage seeing the other, being open enough to hold them in entirety. However, the Zohar cautions us: We all get married “back to back.” We don’t have the capacity (at the outset) to see each other. Once we are married, there is a separation of sorts between husband and wife akin to that which is alluded to in the account of Adam and Eve being separated by G-d in the Garden of Eden. When G-d then brings Eve to Adam he says, “Now this is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh. She shall be called woman (ishah) because she was taken from man (ish.)” And the Torah continues, “A man must therefore leave his father and mother and be united with his wife. They shall become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked but they were not embarrassed by one another.” It takes time, years and much inner toil, until we are able to meet face to face.
Maybe I mentioned that according to the Talmud husband and wife each only contribute twenty five percent to the formation of a child. G-d on the other hand contributes fifty percent via the child’s ten spiritual abilities. Taking this even deeper, G-d is the context for our marriage. He is the Space that contains it. In fact one of the names for G-d is Hamakom, “The Space”. We have to surrender to Him in order to find lasting peace, joy and purpose.
I am not sure which of these ideas I mentioned. They all sound so lovely, so noble. In theory. Once we are married, they take on another meaning altogether. Suddenly the poetic philosophy is painfully real.
Through Marriage We Repair Our Souls and the World
I didn’t know this when I married but I do now. G-d customizes each of our matches for our optimal and individual growth. Marriage is Tikkun, “Repair”. This idea is profoundly illustrated by the famous story of the holy Divrei Chaim, the righteous Reb Chaim of Tzanz. It is told by Rabbi Avraham J. Twerski in his book, “The Zeide Reb Motele.” In my own life, I have come to see myself as both the groom and bride in the story as I will explain in a little while. We are all such complex and subtle beings. G-d in His wisdom brings us together with our mate so that we can become all we are meant to be.
This is the Divrei Chaim’s story.
“When still very young, the outstanding Torah scholar, R. Baruch Frankel, known for his Talmudic commentaries and legal responsa, Baruch Taam, chose Reb Chaim as a husband for his daughter, Rachel Feige. Shortly before the wedding, the young woman found out that Reb Chaim had a severe limp, and she refused to get married. R. Chaim asked to have a few words with her in private. She agreed to speak with him. Although no one was privy to their conversation, the story circulates that Reb Chaim asked his bride to look into the mirror. When she did so, she saw herself with a severe deformity. He then told her that she had been destined to be deformed, but since she was his soul mate, he had intervened, spared her of the pain and took her deformity upon himself. Needless to say, Rachel Feige consented to marry him. Reb Baruch used to say, ‘My son-in-law may have a weak leg, but he has a very strong mind.’”
There have been times in my life when I cried to my husband and said I did not want the pain that my perception or understanding came along with.”
My friends, I am not G-d forbid pointing a finger, diagnosing, blaming. Not to either of you. What do we know? What can we know? In the Book of Samuel we read the powerful words G-d said to Samuel when he attempted to anoint David’s oldest brother Eliav. “Don’t look at his appearance, or the height of his stature, for I have rejected him. It (reality) is not as man sees. A person sees what is visible to the eyes, while G-d sees into the heart.” (1, 16:7) I am simply sharing the truth that husband and wife a) carry things within themselves that are difficult for the other to manage and b) that those particular challenges are tailor-made for both the husband and wife to become the very person they are meant to – and can – be.
And the bigger the person, the greater their challenge. As the Talmud teaches us, “Whoever is greater than his fellow, his evil inclination is greater as well.” (Sukka 52a) I perceive both of you as remarkable, gifted and wonderful people. You do not get those gifts for free. That is a difficult truth. But it is the truth. There are times I cry to my husband and say I do not want the pain that my perception or understanding came along with. He responds, “Better the pain together with the perception than neither.”
I Considered Divorce
To return to my main point that G-d customizes our soul mate for our optimal growth, I would like to share something of my personal story with you. I have decided to share it with you because if my situation can help you in yours, then my challenge, or Growth Opportunity as I have come to call our challenges, has been well worth it. I do so with the agreement of my husband. He too hopes for your good.
On the day of my wedding, I was confident I was poised for the “perfect” marriage. It didn’t take long for me to think I had made a mistake.
I could have walked away without ever looking at myself. And I almost did.”
Only later did I realize this was a common experience. At the time though I thought I was the only one. I attended classes where, at least so it seems to me in retrospect, the women presented a façade of an ideal marriage. They would say, “Let’s say you have an argument…” as if such a scenario was hypothetical. And then, “Such as…” followed by a searching pause as they looked for the elusive fight which seemed never to have happened in their home! It was all I could do to stop myself from waving my hands and calling out, “I can give you a situation!” The example was invariably the same. It didn’t matter who or when, I came to anticipate the satisfied burst of enthusiasm that came with finding a memory. “Such as…he doesn’t throw his socks in the hamper!” Oh. My. G-d. I would have been a happy camper if that was what my husband and I were dealing with. It never crossed my mind that the picture of marital bliss was – at least in part – a masquerade. (Yes of course I understand, it was all for the honor of the Torah. After all how might it look if a teacher was actually struggling with the very concept he or she was sharing?!) All this was as yet entirely unknown to me. As such, despite those classes and lectures, I was in shock and pain. I contemplated a divorce. I could have walked away without ever looking at myself. And I almost did.
However something deep in my soul (plus a whole lot of loving support and guidance from our mentors ) made me stay. From the moment I first saw my husband I recognized him as a part of my soul. I had seen his innate goodness, reverence of G-d, commitment to Torah, depth. And although I didn’t consciously frame marriage as rectification back then, I already intuited it. I chose to remain in the marriage. I am so grateful I did.
I learned with time that I had my own “limp” and I tried to work on fixing myself. I would even venture to say that The Method, my online program, grew in part out of the inner work I did in my marriage. It has not always been and is not always easy. Like life. No matter the path I would have chosen, there would have been challenges. G-d would have found a way to provide me with the obstacles I needed to become what He wants of and needs from me. Knowing this, today I refer to challenges as Growth Opportunities. It has been a journey I would never trade. We thank G-d have a beautiful home, and refined and G-d fearing children who are good people. In his chapters on cultivating happiness in Tanya, the Alter Rebbe mentions health, sustenance and even children as material blessings. He emphasizes spiritual blessings, the life of our soul and connection to G-dliness. Today thank G-d, in addition to the material blessings, I have an inner world that is vastly beyond anything I could ever have imagined. G-d has been my Therapist-Par-Excellence. I have been humbled, become softer and kinder. I hope and think I have grown towards truth. I learned that the only sure path to peace, happiness and living my purpose was to focus on my own soul and service of G-d. I have learned that Plan B is the real Plan A! We have not arrived but we are on the journey.
Holding Our Wounded Hearts
I personally understand the opinion of the holy Rogatchover Gaon is. He states that marriage is not a one-time event. Rather, he holds, every moment of their life together a man continues to marry his wife. We recommit to our marriage each day, each minute. It is a microcosm of the exhortation, “Choose life.”
The degree to which we can tolerate shadows in another is cognate with that to which we can hold our own wounded selves.”
Before I conclude, I would like to reference the verse from Genesis about Adam and Eve not being embarrassed by one another. Adam experienced aloneness. Then he experienced the relief that came with finding his other half. Then they were both exposed, naked in each other’s presence – and they were not embarrassed. The degree to which we can tolerate shadows in another is cognate with that to which we can hold our own wounded selves. And that ability comes from our capacity to connect with our Unwoundable Self. In that place there is no embarrassment.
Dear friends, I hope you will receive this letter in the spirit in which it is written. I do not know what the right thing for you is but I did feel compelled to share these thoughts as you explore your decision going forward.
With love and blessings and prayers for both your well-being and that G-d’s light shine in and through you always, and with deep respect,
I thank my husband for agreeing to my sharing these thoughts. Our intention in doing so is to help others as they seek their highest path in making of our world what G-d intended. We both thank our mentors for their love, support and guidance.