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Entries in Matchmaking (1)

Thursday
Apr032014

Of Marriage and Sea

In a well known midrashic tale, a matron once asked Rabbi Yose son of Halafta, “How many days did it take God to create the world?” He replied, “Six”… She said, “So what has God been doing from that time till now?” He replied, “Sitting and making matches..." (Midrash Bereshit Raba 68/4).

The woman, says "That's all? I can do that!" and matches up 1000 menservants with 1000 maidservants. The matches are not successful, and they return with bruised eyes and broken legs.  

Immediately she sent for Rabbi Jose son of Halafta and said to him, “There is no God like yours, your Torah is truth, pleasant and superior. You spoke well.” He said to her, “Didn’t I tell you so? It may seem easy to you, but it’s as hard for God as the parting of the Red Sea."

At countless shevra brachots*, people discuss this odd statement. After all, there are many humans who have made successful matches, but very few who have parted a large sea!

Moreoever - why compare the bringing together of two separate individuals with the splitting of the sea? These are two opposite energies, splitting and joining?

I think the question is a strong one, and though I will suggest some answers, it is worth continuing to think about.

One possible answer, is that getting married to someone inevitably means parting from something, and sometimes from many things: the past, our childhood, our fantasies, our complete independence... This process of parting, letting go, and maybe even mourning in some cases, is an important one. Once such parting has been done, the sea becomes whole again, and we become whole again, entering the new chapter and letting go of our previous single lives.

Another answer is indicated in the words (Exodus 14:27): The sea returned to its strength

Here, the midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 5:5) makes a word play on "to its strength" (לאיתנו) and mixes the letters around to change it "to its stipulation" (לתנאו). To the stipulation made when it was created - that when the Israelites would arrive, it would split.

Fine - but in the verse, the sea has returned to being sea again, unsplit. So why would the midrash describe this as "returning to its stipulation". It is rather returning to being water?

Perhaps because it is after changing in this way  that it truly fulfils the stipulation. It is a changed being, though it appears to be the same.

R' Shlomo Carlebach explains that we can take a lesson from this - that we should all be ready to change, for love, to step out of our rigid natures. And that is when we truly become who we were meant to be. See more here.

Returning now to the theme of matchmaking - in order for two people to come together, they have to change their natures, of being single and individual. They literally have to split open to make space for another person to walk through their center. This was the stipulation they were created with - that when this special person comes along, they will miraculously change and open. However, it is only when they return to being whole again in this new condition that the stipulation is ultimately fulfilled.

So when the matron tried to set up her menservants and maidservants, the problem was that none of them wished to split or change for their partner. Instead they wished to split their partner's lips and eyes! These violent images, coming in the context of love, indicate that love and marriage is not just flowers and roses, it is as earth-shaking and self-shattering as birth - and can be as fruitful. Whether we smile or cry from the growing pains depends on how we frame it.

And this is why it is difficult for G-d... asking humans to go through this for the sake of love. Compared to that, parting a sea is child's play.

 

(I thank Rute Yair Nussbaum for sharing her ideas, on which some of the above paragraph is based).

*For the seven days after a traditional Jewish wedding, it is customary to hold a meal in honour of the bride and groom, at which seven blessings (sheva brachot) are recited.