The Future of a Marriage – Part 2: The Blessing of Marital Dialogue
* In memory of my dear friend Rabbi Dr. Sholom Gold z”l of Yerushalayim
Words spoken at the festive meal (“Sheva Berachot”) on the occasion of
the marriage of our grandson and his bride, Lakewood, USA, 24th of June.
As I wrote previously (“The Future of a Marriage, Part 1: The Art of Speaking,” here), the great blessing of a marriage is that the bride and groom now face their challenges together. They are not alone. Marriage is a journey across an unknown land. Nothing can completely protect one from the possible (and often almost certain) obstacles, disappointments, setbacks and painful experiences.
However, as long as the couple are together, they will be capable of weathering all of these. This does not necessarily mean they will be able to solve all of these, but they will experience them together—which makes the journey lighter.
This partnership is only possible through constant dialogue between husband and wife. Dialogue can take place on many different levels—speech and various forms of body language, for example, yet the most important way is speech.
The wonder of speech is that we are able to relate to each other through the creation of sounds. These sounds are objectively quite meaningless, but through an ingenious transformation which takes place in our brains, they become meaningful. This is indeed a miracle since the brain is nothing more than a piece of flesh with millions of blood vessels. How these produce thoughts and meaningful words is still beyond human comprehension. The more we know about the brain, the more we become astonished by its mysterious composition.
The great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) spoke about a “language game” (“sprachspiel”) in which human beings decide on rules as to what these sounds should mean. This is a “game” that human beings play throughout life. The fact that they are able to do so is indeed mysterious.
But, speech also leads to a great amount of confusion because these words are used in the context of something larger. One word can have many meanings—this is one of the most fascinating dimensions of language. (Consider, for example, some of Wittgenstein’s famous observations: “Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language”; “One of the most misleading representational techniques in our language is the use of the word ‘I’”; “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”)
In whatever manner this process occurs, words become meaningful—without them a dialogue cannot take place. But in all these cases dialogue keeps the parties together.
It is important to remember that the essential dialogue and communication does not mean that the parties to a marriage need to agree on every matter. Marriage is complementary: it is a balancing act in which two perspectives complement each other. However, this is only possible when ideology, such as religious or philosophical foundations, is clear to both parties.
Within a true Jewish marriage, the husband and the wife live in accordance with a worldview based on Judaism to which both are committed. They may differ in approach, but they are in agreement with regard the basics.
Still, once the dialogue, in whatever form, ends, there can no longer be a notion of marriage. The marriage falls into an existential hollow space resulting in a reality of two separate individuals simply sharing one roof.
This is a critical moment, which, especially later in life, nearly all marriages encounter. After all, how long can one maintain speech? How long can one speak about the grandchildren, the weather or shopping? And once speech stops altogether, the smiles, winks and other non-verbal communication slowly disappear as well.
The Jewish tradition offers a most profound solution to this problem: studying “Torah” together—whether sections of Tanach, Talmud, Midrash, Jewish philosophy and so on.
Once daily speech has been exhausted, studying a religious text together is both healing and uplifting. This study brings souls together.
Studying Torah together is an existential experience. The Torah is not an academic work but an existential journey. It is the story of every human being, a spiritual narrative, within a historical context, that touches the soul and raises the spirit. It is not an epic about the life of heroes, but the story of human beings who searched constantly for holiness, at times failed, and then tried again.
Nothing can be more deceptive than trying to understand the Torah as a work that can be subjected to academic dissection, as so often happens in universities.
Such activity is akin to deciphering the notes of a composition of Mozart while refusing to play the notes and thus hear the music—yet declaring it out of tune. This may quite simply be compared to rejecting Einstein’s Theory of Relativity owing to his terrible handwriting!
Torah study is a search for inspiration, and existential meaning where both parties become uplifted and cling together. The sacred text becomes the “shadchan,” the “marriage broker,” whereby the marriage is recreated and rejuvenated. Husband and wife tread on holy ground and together see new dimensions that bind them afresh and with greater might.
Through the act of joint study, they perceive the infinite. This results in the renewal of the marriage on a higher plane—a renewal that has saved many a marriage.
To be continued.