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What Do We Do About the Relationship Crisis?

by Rabbi Dov Greenberg

  

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Socrates, the great Greek philosopher, once said to a disciple, “My advice to you is to get married. If you find a good wife, you’ll be happy; if not, you’ll become a philosopher.”

Indeed, today, we have many philosophers. In our time, there has been an unprecedented rise in broken relationships. In the United States, it is estimated that one out of two marriages end in divorce. Single-parent families have doubled in the past 20 years. Only one child in two will have parents who were married when he or she was born and who will have stayed together till the child grows up.1 A lecturer told me that for years she had gone into schools to teach children about religious faith, and about “G-d our Father.” Now she can’t do so any more because many of the children do not understand the word. Not the word “G-d”, but the word “father.”

The universe is the space the author of being creates for mankind through an act of withdrawal. No single act more profoundly indicates the love and generosity implicit in Creation
Like a meteorite entering earth’s gravitational field, marriage and the family are disintegrating.

The worst thing we could do now would be to get into a debate about who is to blame: the individual or society, affluence or secularization. What we need is imagination, not recrimination; optimism, not pessimism. It is here that the Jewish mystical tradition has something beautiful and vital to say.

In the very opening chapter of the Hebrew Bible, where the story of Creation unfolds, the mystics pose a fascinating question: How, if G-d exists, can the universe simultaneously exist? G-d is infinite, G-d is everywhere. Therefore, in any given place, there is both finite and infinite being. But surely infinity crowds out anything finite. There is simply no space for physical matter if every place is filled with the infinite presence of G-d. How, then is there a universe?

This idea of tzimtzum finds expression in a beautiful Jewish wedding ceremony, known as the “bedeken”
The mystics’ answer is compelling. In order to make space for the universe, G-d, as it were, initiated a process called “tzimtzum,” self- contraction or withdrawal creating a spherical vacuum—the space needed for the world to exist. By withdrawing His endless light, an autonomous, independent world, distinct from G-d, can emerge.2 The conclusion? The universe is the space the author of being creates for mankind through an act of withdrawal. No single act more profoundly indicates the love and generosity implicit in Creation.3

Footnotes

  • 1. The figures are taken from Kathleen Kiernan and Malcolm Wicks, “Family Change and Future Policy.”
  • 2. Beginning of Eitz Chaim (Heichal Adam Kadmon, 1:2; Shaar HaHakdamot) and Mevo Shaarim, kabbalistic works of Rabbi Isaac Luriah (known as the Arizal), transcribed by his prime student Rabbi Chaim Vital. Cf. Likkutei Torah by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), addendum to Leviticus, 51b-54d.
  • 3. Tanya chapter 49.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Life Cycle » Marriage » Married Life

Chabad
Chabad, an acronym for Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding, is the name of a Chassidic Group founded in the 1770s. Two of the most fundamental teachings of Chabad are the intellectual pursuit of understanding the divine and the willingness to help every Jew who has a spiritual or material need.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.