Three Models of Marriage

Friday, 21 January, 2022 - 12:07 pm

A woman noticed her husband standing on a bathroom scale, sucking in his stomach.

“Ha! That’s not going to help!” She said.

“Sure, it does.” he said. “It’s the only way I can see the numbers.”

A visitor at the British Museum asks a museum employee: "Can you tell me how old that skeleton is?"

"It is precisely 60 million and three years, two months, and eighteen days old."

"How can you know that with such precision?!"

"Well, when I started working here, one of the scientists told me that the skeleton was 60 million years old - and that was precisely three years, two months, and eighteen days ago..."

In this week’s Torah portion Yitro we read that 3,333 years ago, we stood at Sinai. We entered into a covenant with the Almighty: “If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, and you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.” From that day forward we were a changed people and the world has changed.

But let me backtrack to that number, 3,333. Sinai happened in the year 2448 since creation; today 5782 marks exactly 3333 years.

You might be forgiven for thinking that it is a curiosity, a cute number, a random sequence. But in Torah, everything is precise, laden with meaning.

The alignment of the threes brings to mind an odd observation made in the Talmud, some 1800 years ago:

A Galilean said before Reb Chisda: Blessed is the Merciful One, Who gave the three-fold Torah to the three-fold nation, by means of a third-born, on the third day, in the third month.

The Torah is made of three parts — Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. The Jewish people are a nation of three parts — Kohanim, Levites, and Israelites. Moses was the third child in his family, following Aaron and Miriam.  The Giving of the Torah was on the third day following three days of preparation. And it was given in the third month from the Exodus from Egypt, Sivan, the third month of the year.

Yet this is strange. Three?! Aren’t we the faith that brought monotheism to the world? Don’t we believe that the One G-d is found within every fiber of creation. There is no other existence, no other reality, besides for the one G-d?

Even America, in the pledge of allegiance as it was modified in the 1950s, had the sense to declare itself “One nation under G-d, indivisible.” Yet here, the Talmud declares that we are a three-part nation receiving a three-part Torah?

Something deeper must be at stake. The Rebbe proposed that the Talmud is asking us to reconsider what unity really means and how it is accomplished.

How do I find tranquility in the chaos of my internal life? How does harmony enter a home?  How is peace built between nations?

The answer is the number three. And it is a story told, as you might have guessed, in three acts.

Act One:

In the beginning, the Kabbalah teaches, before there was a world, time or space, the infinite, undefined reality of G-d filled all of existence. G-d, who transcends matter, time, and space, is all that there was. The idea of there being something else was nonexistent.

In the beginning of your life, too, all that existed is the reality of yourself. Everything you saw or perceived was only understood in reference to yourself. Your mother was part of you, there to feed and soothe you. Your older sister was part of you, there to amuse you. The idea that there is something else besides for you, with its own world and mind and desire was nonexistent. All that was, was you.

This certainly looks like unity. One G-d, suffusing all of reality. One child, seeing its entire world as part of himself.

But of course, the unity of one is superficial. A unity that has not been tested, that has not been provoked, is one-dimensional. If you see nothing else outside of you — whether you are G-d, a child — then granted, you are one, you are whole, but you are not united. You are alone.

Act Two:

A Jew has been stranded on a desert island by himself for many years. He is rescued one day, and the rescuers are confused to see that he has built two shuls. They ask him why.

Pointing to one of them, he says, "Well, that's the shul that I go to."

And pointing to the other, "And that's the one I don't go to."

What happens when we leave our innocent place of oneness and venture out into a world full of others? What happens when we are introduced to another reality?

You know the t-shirt: “I’m easy to get along with once you learn to worship me.”

The Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has spent his life’s work studying the emergence of morality in infants and children. Are children born with an innate sense of right and wrong? Do they instinctively act kindly toward others? The answer, Bloom found, is that kids might have an inborn sense of morality. When they see an adult, whose hands are full of books trying to open a door, they scamper over to open it for them. When they hear another child crying, they will try to soothe them by patting them on the back or sharing a toy. There is an impulse in us that is kind and compassionate.

But this compassion is limited. Our natural kindness seems to apply to people who are close to us. They can be physically in proximity, or they can be siblings, or friends, or people we know. But anyone who has a child will realize that at about nine months of age, babies start to develop “stranger anxiety.”

As long as the other fits into our understanding of the world, as long as he or she is part of our “one,” then we have no problem. Everything is calm. I can love, I can share, I can empathize.

But when I meet someone radically new, when I leave home for college and take up with a roommate from a different state, a different culture, when I leave my bachelor pad for the home I share with my wife and her history of experiences with her mother and her aunts and her cooking, then I have a problem. Because this person is not part of me. This is new, this is a second reality I did not know existed. This is two.

This is the problem of two.

It is the problem of G-d inviting a world into his idyllic space of oneness. It is the problem of a child becoming an adult and discovering there are other people with opposing desires, wishes, and aims. It is the problem of a country who realizes that there are threats outside her borders that cannot be ignored, that do not go away by just closing her eyes. It is the challenge of an individual contending with inner strife and duality.

One was simple, naive, but good. Two can be terrifying.

Act Three

What do we do with the contradictions, the oppositions, and the inconsistencies of our lives? There are two options. To deny them, repress them, and try to go back to a fake one. But the Torah comes and introduces the alternative option: When you confront number two, instead of running back to one, it is time to introduce number three.

Can you incorporate the things that are different from you, that oppose you, that torment you, that drive you crazy, into one unified self?  

Andrew Solomon wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book called the “Noonday Demon; an Atlas of Depression.” Inspired by his own dark depressive and suicidal episodes, he set out to unearth everything he could about depression: what are its forms, how is it perceived in different cultures, how is it treated. And he spoke to hundreds of people, listening to the stories of their embattled lives. The last chapter is called Hope. And here he turns to all those who described their horrors earlier in the book and shares their conclusions. He begins by writing this:

“None of us would have chosen depression out of heaven’s grab bag of qualities, but having been given it, those of us who survived stand to find something in it. To regret my depression now would be to regret the most fundamental part of myself. Curiously enough I love my depression. I do not love experiencing my depression, but I love the depression itself. I love who I am in the wake of it… The fact that I got through such a catastrophic illness has permanently changed my interior landscape. I was always drawn to goodness, but I wouldn't have had the drive, the moral purpose, without the breakdowns.”

These and countless other brave souls have taken the most destructive thing in their lives and incorporated it into their identities. They did not shun it, ignore it, bury, or silence it. They listened to their experience, felt it fully, and recreated a new self that shined not despite their brokenness but because of it.

How? By discovering the secret of three. Peace, unity, and wholeness is not found in avoiding conflict. That is simply one. It is not found in entering conflict either, in butting heads with every wall of opposition that you find in your way. That is two. Real unity, deep and enduring unity, is the capacity to extend your arms and encircle every part of your life in one affirmative embrace. When we discover the Divine oneness that transcends both singularity and division, we can find how paradoxes, pain, inner conflict, trauma, can bring us to a deep place of spiritual oneness. We surrender our old petty, narrow self to a larger, grander vision of self, not defined by a small ego, or by fear, but by an expansive consciousness that can find opportunity and meaning in all aspects of our lives.

Marriage comes in three varieties: the singular marriage, the twosome marriage, and the three-dimensional marriage.

In a singular marriage, one partner is completely consumed by the dominant other, as he or she cedes his or her will and identity to serve the other's will and identity. Two have joined to become one, yet theirs is not so much a union as an annihilation: either one abnegates one's own understanding, feelings, and very self to the others, or one's ego swallows up the other's mind, heart, and very being.

In the twosome marriage, there is never-ending friction.

But there is the marriage defined by the number three. When there is friction in your marriage, you dig within the friction and discover what makes you and your spouse different from each other. And when you find the differences, you don't dissolve them; nor do you run away into a safe space of number one. Nor you dominate the other and obliterate the opposition. You find a way to incorporate those differences into one relationship. You transform the two individuals into a third entity — a marriage that shines and gleams with the separate and unique perspectives that each of you bring to your home.

And the same in our own internal personal lives. When you experience failure, as all of us do, when you experience loss, as all of us do, when you come up against something that opposes you entirely, that threatens your “oneness,” your sense of who you are — then you become a larger person; you allow a third, higher, transcendent reality fuse the contradictions.

When I learn of my inner conflict, I can escape into number one. Deny, repress, and amputate my emotions. I can live in number two—filled with conflict and anxiety. Or I can introduce number three: Fine a deeper spiritual meaning which can fuse all of my experiences and inner emotions into a cohesive narrative.  

Herbert Wiener, a Reform Rabbi, published the book Nine and a Half Mystics. In the book, Rabbi Weiner interviews nine Jewish mystics and scholars and describes his encounters with various Jewish mystical groups (he is a half mystic). In 1955 he visited the Rebbe and conduct a long interview with the Rebbe. Listen to how he describes one segment of his encounter with the Rebbe. He asks this question:

"Isn't the fact that Hasidim turn to the Rebbe for almost every decision in their lives—isn't this a sign of weakness, a repudiation of the very thing that makes a man human, his freedom of will?"

The Rebbe's answer came without hesitation as if he had dealt with the question before. "A weak person is usually overcome by the environment in which he finds himself. But our Hasidim can be sent into any environment, no matter how strange or hostile, and they maintain themselves within it. So how can we say that it is a weakness which characterizes a Hasid?"

3333—this is the year of threes. Three thousand, three hundred, thirty-three years passed since Sinai.

At any moment in history, there are a lot of “twos.” The world is rife with conflict. Israel is under attack from a genocidal regime, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, and much of the world blames Israel.

Our purpose and mandate remain as relevant as ever. We cannot lose our vision of the three-fold Torah given to a three-fold people in the third month: There is a reality where life, all life, is cherished. We believe in a peace that contains all of humanity, with all its differences. Torah helps us fuse all aspects of ourselves into a unified story, into a divine narrative. It helps create stable and powerful marriages, where our difference enhances our lives, rather than undermines our lives. We learn to discover the unity between soul and body, heaven and earth, matter and energy, matter, and spirit.    

On this Shabbat, when we relive the experience of receiving the Torah, the Torah given to make peace, we take with us power to make peace within ourselves, within our own marriages, our own homes, and communities. And we take the hope that the peace we create is a vessel for the ultimate peace, for the peace that G-d can bring to a broken world of twos, the all-encompassing peace of Moshiach, who will inspire the world to sing one harmonious song of realization that G-d is one with and within every fragment of creation. May it be speedily in our days.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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