Shabbat Candle Lighting: 8:06 PM

Shabbat Ends: 9:19 PM






This week’s parsha is about Jews complaining and crying:

“Moses heard the people weeping with their families…”

The Talmud (Yoma 75a) states that they were dismayed about the restrictions on marrying into their own families. Before the Torah was given, certain forms of incest were permissible.

The Talmud (Shabbos 130a) states that “any Mitzvah that the Jewish people accepted upon themselves with joy, such as circumcision, they still perform with joy. [By contrast] any Mitzvah that they accepted contentiously, such as incestuous relations, they still observe contentiously. This is why “there is no Kesubah-marriage contract concerning which there is no quarrel.”

Why did the people feel so strong about continuing the practice of incest? And what is it about a Bris that is so exhilarating and marriage that is so riddled with strife?

Incest Foundation of Humanity

One way of understanding this is to refer to the way humanity continued after Cain and Abel were born from the union of Adam and Eve. Whom did they marry? Our Sages, transmitting an oral tradition, reveal that they married their twin sisters. Before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai that incestuous practice was not only permitted; it was the practical basis of humanity.

The Torah referred to the prohibition of incest as chesed, kindness! Our Sages explain that this is the meaning of the Biblical verse: “The world was built by chesed,” a hint to the origins of humanity thorough the marriage of Cain and Abel to their twin sisters.

The key to understanding the above is through a reference to the Talmud about a vestige of incest that is permitted even today. The Talmud states that it is a desirable thing to marry one’s niece.

The reason for this is that there is a natural love for and a bond with one’s blood relatives. When a man would marry a woman with whom he has a strong familial relationship it would ensure that he will not mistreat her; a practice, tragically so common in ancient times, in most, if not all, societies. Indeed, the writing of the Kesubah was designed to protect women from miscreant husbands.

The Paradox of Marriage

Marriage is by nature a precarious institution. It is true, as the Zohar states, husband and wife are really two halves of the same soul that were separated at birth and reunited at marriage. Our marriage simulates the way Adam and Eve were originally created as one body, then separated, only to reunite when G‑d performed their marriage in the Garden of Eden.

Yet, the two halves are not identical.  The husband and wife are different biologically, psychologically and spiritually. Therefore, marriage would often be met with apprehension that the differences between two independent human beings might get in the way of their love and affection for one another. So, while marriage is the reuniting of two halves of one whole, these two halves are not identical. Each partner in a marriage brings opposite forces, which, when united, can either produce an incredibly powerful surge of Divine energy or a destructive explosion.

Indeed, in one of the blessings recited at a wedding we refer to the way G‑d brought joy to Adam and Eve and we pray that it occurs in our own marriages.

The above can shed light on why a Jewish wedding ceremony is divided into two parts: Kiddushin and Nisuin.

Kiddushin is where the bridegroom gives the bride a ring, which binds them together, to the exclusion of everyone else. This stage is a reflection of their inherent unity before their two souls were divided.

But the wedding ceremony is not over.  The real challenge is living together despite (nay, thriving with) their legitimate differences. The greater miracle of marriage is not the reuniting of two halves; it is the ability to harmonize two opposites, to make the impossible possible. 

For this Nisuin ceremony, the couple stands under a chupah-canopy, which represents the overarching Divine energy that unites them. We recite seven blessings to elicit added inspiration and succor to their otherwise conceptually impossible union.

In between the two ceremonies, we read the Kesubah, because it translates that coming together of opposites in down-to-earth legal obligations of husband to wife, to overcome natural resistance to cooperation and harmony.

Marriage is thus a precarious institution and requires tremendous skill and Divine assistance for it to endure. And that is why so many marriages eventually fail, despite the fact that they are the reunion of two halves and start, romantically, with love and passion, 

This explains why the Talmud considers marrying a niece virtuous because it strengthens the possibility that the marriage will endure. The natural love between the couple will buttress the love created by realizing that they are two halves of the same whole, their opposing dynamic energies notwithstanding.

Not Up to the Challenge 

This can also explain why, before Sinai, the Torah permitted incest and that the people were upset when that option for strengthening the marriage was taken from them.

The people realized the challenge of maintaining a harmonious relationship between two distinct human beings living a lifetime together. To the pre-Sinai world, marriage was viewed as impossibility. Marriage had to be fluid to survive.  To the pre-Sinai mindset, one could not possibly be forced to stay in a committed relationship between opposites; they had to have the ability to be free to engage in other relationships. The only alternative to such instability was thought to be through an incestuous relationship.

Only After Sinai 

After the revelation at Mount Sinai the “impossibility” of marriage became possible. The revelation at Sinai was a cosmic marriage between G‑d and the Jewish people; between heaven and earth. That revelation empowered us to bring two opposites together. 

Absent that revelation, a genuine marriage remains almost impossible. Therefore, many felt that the only way to salvage that enigmatic relationship was through incest.

But Sinai changed all of that.

We can now understand the dismay of the Jewish people when they were told that they could no longer use incest to make marriage work. Their consternation was not motivated by lust for incest; theirs was a sense that marriage would degenerate into competition, rivalry or, at best, a quid pro quo relationship. They were not ready to accept the challenge of realizing an ideal marriage without the crutch of incest.

With that attitude, it is no wonder that there are conflicts with regard to the Kesubah, the marriage contract which delineates the obligation of the husband to his wife. The Kesubah is a support for a harmonious marriage that is needed because our ancestors did not fully appreciate the power we have to make a marriage work without the crutch of incest. When that power given to us at Sinai was not fully appreciated, marriage potential was compromised and quarrels with the Kesubah obligations ensued.  

In contrast to marriage, the Mitzvah of Circumcision, although a sacrifice, does not involve two competing interests or opposites coming together. Jewish people do not cower in the face of sacrifice until it gets us into a conflict of two opposing forces.

However, as we stand on the cusp of the Messianic Age, our marriages will become more complete and fulfilling because the marriage of the Jewish people to G‑d will be fully consummated. The breakdown of marriage in our society today is a harbinger of its strengthening.  The last forces of Galus are pulling out all the stops to prevent G‑d’s most holy institution, marriage, from reaching its full potential.

When we bring G‑d into our marriages it will hasten the realization of the ultimate cosmic marriage with the true and complete Redemption!