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Between God, a Man and his Wife
By Nachum Mohl
Perhaps one of the best known speeches that is said to a newly wedded or engaged couple is one that is based on the Talmud (Sotah 17a):
"Rabbi Akiva expounded: husband and wife, if they merit, the presence of G-d dwells between them; if they do not merit, then a fire consumes them."
Rashi explains that if they live faithfully to one another – meaning not to have lovers – then G-d’s presence, which is derived from the difference in the Hebrew spellings of man and wife , (the differences being the letter in man and the in the word wife which together make the name of G-d) will live together with them. But if they do not meet the proper criteria of being faithful to one another then G-d takes His name from them, (meaning He removes the letter from the word man and the letter in the word wife) leaving both words of man and women to be spelt as (fire) which will consume and eventually destroy them.
But there is more to it than just an interesting speech, there is invested in these words a very deep concept that requires explanation:
There is another verse which is found in the prophet Isaiah (26:4) that says "Trust in G-d, for the Lord, G-d, is the foundation rock of the world." On this verse the Talmud (Menuchot 29b) explains that since the Hebrew spelling of the word "Lord" is shortened to use only the first two letters, the letter and the letter that with one letter G-d built this physical world as we know it and with the other letter He built the next world (the world of everlasting peace and happiness; Gan Eden or paradise). With the letter He built the next world and with the letter He built this world.
If we relate this back to the difference between the spellings of man and wife , we note that the man has the letter and the woman the letter . We can see that the man (the letter ) is related to the next world which is totally spiritual and the woman (the letter ) is more related to this world which is mostly physical. This is not simply a convenient observation but rather it relates us to the essence of man and of woman and to their needs and relationships between one another. Women are more earth related, more practical and more keyed into everyday physical life. Men are more abstract and more speculative. But it would be ludicrous to say that one sex is superior to the other since they were both created by G-d’s own hand. Rather each one has a separate and individually important role and purpose in the creation. Together they make up for the other’s lacking even though their spheres of interaction are separate. One with out the other is lacking a part in the creation.
To understand further we can explain that the letter has dimension, like this world that has not just the dimension of height, width and depth, but also past, present and future. The letter is the smallest letter, it does not have a real dimension, but it has on the head of its face a small antenna. This provides the letter with a contact with that which is above it. The man was created for being abstract and spiritual is abstract; his wife was created for dealing with this physical world.
Separately man or woman can not exist as a whole, but together they provide benefit for each other. He becomes her guide to the spiritual; she becomes his support for the physical. Together they become one and they share their individual specialness; but living separate each lacks and withers. It is important, especially in our generation to realize that each individual was created for a purpose, both in the individual and also in the sex. When we try to do our best to be ourselves, we enhance not just our spouse, but also the world. When we try to be everything, we may achieve fame, but we have not realized our true potential.
from the June 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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