- Avraham took a wife called Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Yakshan, Medan, Midian, Yishbak and Shuach. (Bereishis 25:1)
Sarah Imeinu died at the age of 127, when Avraham was at the age of 137. He lived another 38 years after he lost his beloved wife, Sarah, but not alone. He remarried, and not just anyone, but Keturah, who was none other than Hagar, the mother of Yishmael, and the ex-rival of Sarah.
The idea of remarriage, when it is not the result of divorce, is an interesting one. Unlike with respect to divorce, which says that two people are no longer meant to be together, in this world and the next world (it is unlikely that one divorces his zivug), remarriage that occurs even after the first marriage worked perfectly fine, raises some heavy issues.
Some spouses find the idea so difficult that they have been known to make their husbands or wives swear that, should they predecease them, that they will not remarry. Better the surviving spouse should remain alone the rest of his or her life, no matter how many years left, than to allow another man or woman into their lives.
Why even care? Jealousy can be unreasonable, but is that not pushing it a little far? Some couples have almost split up just discussing the issue!
The answer invariably has to do with the perceived eternal aspect of marriage. Not only do people like to believe that their marriages were made in Heaven, but that they will continue as well even after they get there. If marriage was like Gihenom in this world, then clearly it won’t be Heaven in the next one. But if a marriage was Heavenly in this world, even if it ended prematurely, then why should it not continue in Eternity?
Such questions may be beyond our abiliy to answer in this world, since the ways of God are far more complicated than most of us can appreciate. All we know is that, at the end of the story, everyone is where they ought to be, and with whom they ought to be, if they ought to be. The World-to-Come allows for no loose ends, and if we can just push our emotions out of the equation for just a moment, we’ll admit that this is true.
Nevertheless, there are answers that at least provide some insight into how relationships work in this world. And, it may turn out, in some cases, that there may not be as big a difference between a marriage that ends prematurely, but not because of a lack of love between spouses, and one that ends in divorce, at least with respect to the idea of re-marriage.
First of all, what do we mean by the term soul-mate? True, most people consider a soul-mate to be a partner who we can totally love, trust, and get along with, and who will feel likewise about us. It’s what people call the perfect marriage because it is a dream come true, which is what makes it so delightful.
The reality of marriage is often different. Even if people date for a considerable period of time, the truth is, in the end, we marry strangers. After all, how well can you know another person after only a few months, or even a few years, if most people barely know themselves after several decades?
Furthermore, if a person gets married based upon the belief that his spouse-to-be is going to make him happy, and that’s what makes her so perfect, or vice-versa, then what kind of marriage will it be? How many people doubt the potential shidduch because they wonder how they will be able to make the other person happy?
“I really believe that she will make me happy,” a friend once told me, while struggling to decide whether or not to pop the question, as they say. “I’m just not sure if I have what it takes to make her happy,” he told me.
“Wow,” I thought to myself, deeply impressed by my friend’s selflessness. He wasn’t prepared to pass up his present shidduch for his own good, but he was prepared to give up a potentially great wife for her sake.
“If you truly think like that,” I told him, “then she’ll have nothing to worry about.”
I cannot say that their marriage has been the smoothest, and I think that both of them have experienced many surprises along the way about each other. Who doesn’t? But, I can say, after all of these years, how much I admire their staying power, and more importantly, I am impressed by what each one has done for the other, and it makes you wonder how many divorces have occurred because people get out too early, or simply never got married for the right reasons.
Love. Companionship. Fulfillment. Etc. That’s nothing new. The new part is that we get married to help the other person feel these things, not so that we can fulfill them in ourselves. For, just as honor pursues those who flee from it, so too does love, companionship, and fulfillment occur for those who give it to others. Pity those, and their marriages, who believe and act as if it is really the other way around.
The thing about marrying one’s zivug, or soul-mate, is that it is easier to do this. Contrary to popular thought, soul-mates are not necessarily two halves of one soul, because they don’t have to be. Rather, they may simply have come from the same Soul-Root, which can result in a common approach to life.
This, of course, makes it easier to share common goals, and relate to life in a similar manner, which, of course, can result in a deeper sense of bonding. However, this does not mean that it is not possible to accomplish great things in this world, and have a good marriage, with someone who is not as closely related on a soul level as one’s actual zivug. It just means that doing so may not be as smooth, or as complete as it might otherwise be with one’s zivug.
That Sarah Imeinu was Avraham’s zivug is not only obvious, it’s in the Talmud:
- Rebi Bena’ah used to mark out caves [where there were dead bodies]. When he came to the cave of Avraham, he found Eliezer the servant of Avraham standing at the entrance. He said to him, “What is Avraham doing?” He replied, “He is sleeping in the arms of Sarah, and she is looking fondly at his head.” (Bava Basra 58a)
Nevertheless, his zivug pre-deceased him by 38 years, and Avraham had not yet finished his work in this world which included, it seems, fathering more children. Just as he had fathered Yishmael with Hagar while Sarah Imeinu was alive, he fathered six more sons with Hagar, now called Keturah, after Sarah had died.
Furthermore, Avraham’s inherent drive to build other people necessitated that he remarry again after the loss of his beloved wife. Unlike others, Avraham probably could have done without the companionship, being a man of God and totally devoted to his wife. However, as we see on his third day after performing Bris Milah on himself, Avraham lived to give. He could not do without it, and for that, Keturah was sufficient.
Furthermore, as it should be clear from the rest of my writings recently, life is about separating Holy Sparks from the Impure Realm, which we do first and foremost by learning Torah and performing mitzvos. Relationships, in general, provide an excellent means for doing this too, and the ultimate relationship is marriage itself, since it is possible to have children as well.
Marriage is, for all intents and purposes, the most intense relationship people undergo. With few exceptions, no relationship brings people closer together than marriage when everything is working well, or further apart from each other, when it is not. Marriage either brings out the best in us, or the worst in us, and either way, lots of sparks get used up along the way.
The trouble with marriage is the trouble with life itself: the end becomes the means. What I mean is that life can become so routine that the routine becomes life. We get up in the morning, repeat our daily activities, move on to the next set, and eventually, come home and go to sleep again, only to repeat the cycle again the next day, and the next day, etc.
Some mornings I am so tired that when I pray, I find myself simply moving from word to word, from prayer to prayer, carried somewhat by the minyan around me, and the regularity of the prayer service. If I am fortunate enough to catch myself, I quickly remind myself that each word counts, that each word is designed to enhance my relationship with God, so I refocus myself in search of a new burst of inspiration.
The rabbis of the Talmud advised us to look at each day of our lives as if it was the last one. The reason is obvious: when we think we’ll live for a long time, then time becomes less precious, and we feel we can afford to waste more of it. Getting out of this mistaken frame of mind means making better use of your time, and maximizing your portion in the World-to-Come.
There is nothing like the fear of imminent death to change the way we look at a moment, and its potential. Realizing that it may be the last time we see something, we see it differently. We notice it in ways we never did before, or once did, but stopped doing a long time ago. Familiarity breeds contempt, or at least it desensitizes us to the opportunity of life.
When I travel, I always leave home with mixed feelings. On one hand, there is the excitement of what is about to come up, but there is also the sadness of leaving home, even if only for a week or two. The combination of feelings used to confuse me, and I would ponder it during my taxi ride to the airport.
One day I realized what bothered me. As I was leaving the house, there was a sense of, “What if I never come back, God forbid? What if something happens to me along the way, and I can’t can home again?” It wasn’t something that I articulated to myself, just something I automatically felt as I left for another country for a period of time. Call it paranoia, but I liked to think that it was just a change of perspective courtesy of a change of venue.
As a result, as I was leaving, I would look at everyone and everything differently. All of a sudden, I gained an appreciation of what I had and of life in general, one that I should have on a daily basis but don’t because I get caught up in the regularity of daily activities. As the plane lifted off, I would look back at Eretz Yisroel and realize what a gift it was to live there. What an opportunity it is to live here.
One of the advantages of living in Eretz Yisroel is that you live with the constant threat of war. I call it an advantage because everyday I wonder what will change if a major war ever breaks out again, God forbid. I imagine not being able to go to shul so easily, or to buy, or even find food necessarily. I imagine not being able to write Torah, or even learn or teach it. I imagine how difficult life can become in a very short while, and then I look around me, listening to the quiet, seeing the beautiful sun pouring in through my living room window, and at all the conveniences I have at my fingertips, and I feel so grateful, amazingly grateful.
This conversation has strayed a long way from the original topic. Or, has it? The theme of this week’s Perceptions is, be a spiritual opportunist. It is, don’t get caught up in yourself and your own personal issues. This does not mean that they are not important or in need of resolution, just that they shouldn’t overwhelm you to such an extent that you look at the world only in terms of what it can do for you, not in terms of what you can do for it.
That was Avraham Avinu, a spiritual opportunist. He was devoted to using the opportunity of life as a means to draw more out of himself, as a way to be like His Creator by being devoted to giving, not taking. That’s what made him great and that is what made him fearless.
And that is what made it obvious that he had to remarry, even if his first wife was his eternal wife. The fact that he outlived Sarah Imeinu meant that he still had work to do, and was still in a position to impact the world. There were still Nitzotzei Kedushah meant for him to separate out from the realm of impurity, in order to elevate them.
Hence, whether or not we find our zivug, in this life time or any other, is really Heaven’s business, not ours. Perhaps we will, perhaps we won’t, but that is a secondary point next to the main reason for marriage, and that is to help the other person achieve fulfillment. How many divorces would become unnecessary if people approached marriage in this way? I don’t know, but I suspect that far fewer couples would end up in divorce court than actually do today.