What is marriage all about? A first glance at the halakhic sources would give the impression that raising a family is the primary motivation. But a deeper look shows that Shalom Bayit, marital harmony between husband and wife, is just as important.
The very first commandment in the Torah, according to Rambam and the Chinukh, is P’RU UR-VU – be fruitful and multiply. This is also the first halakhah in Even haEzer, the section of the Tur and the Shulchan Arukh relating to marital laws. There are also a number of laws which seem to make marital harmony subordinate to the need for procreation. For example, if a couple are together for ten years and have no children, Rambam rules that he is obliged to divorce her and seek another match which will enable him to fulfill the mitzva of procreation. (Ishut 15:7.)
Yet examining these very examples ultimately convinces us of the independent importance of the emotional and spiritual connection between husband and wife. It is true that the first mitzva of the Torah is to “be fruitful and multiply” (B’reshit 1:28). But the previous verse describes the creation of mankind as follows:”And G^d created mankind in His image, in the image of G^d He created him; male and female He created them”. Male and female are two different, essential aspects of the single creation of Mankind; afterwards, they are commanded to procreate. In the following chapter of B’reshit as well, the reason for the creation of woman is so that man should have “a help suitable for him”. Only much later in the chapter is reproduction mentioned, as Chava is punished with painful labor and referred to as “the mother of all living”.
The Tur does begin his code with the laws of reproduction, but the beginning of the book reads as follows: “It is not good for man to be by himself, I will make him a help suitable for him.”
Blessed be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, Who desires the welfare of His creatures, and knew that it is not good for man to be alone, and thus made him a help suitable for him. And ALSO (my emphasis – AM), because the intention of the creation of man was for him to be fruitful and multiply, and this is impossible without a help.
Of course there is an intimate connection between the two, as the Bach points out. The “help” created for Adam was specifically one who would join him in propagating the human race. But the human element is given separate and even primary importance.
The Rema in the Darkhei Moshe on this same chapter relates to the various laws that seem to subordinate marital harmony to the need to raise a family. He cites the Rivash who writes: “All our days we have never seen, and for many generations we have never heard, of a Beit Din which occupied itself with separating a wife from her husband if she lived with him ten years without children”. He then goes on to give a number of other examples where the law seems to forbid marriage or oblige a divorce where having children is impossible, but practically speaking “the sages of the generations never paid attention to prevent such [childless] matches, and it goes without saying that they did not seek to separate them.”
One opinion in the Gemara (Avoda Zara 5a) suggests that in the absence of sin, procreation would have ceased at Matan Torah; but the same opinion acknowledges that marriage and marital intimacy would have continued.
Domestic harmony and raising a family are not independent, unrelated aspects of marriage. They are intimately related, as we see from the adjacent mention in the Torah and in the Tur, and as explicated by the Bach. When the human experience is complete, when the Divine image is realized jointly, “in the image of G^d He created him; male and female He created them”, then our humanity is also fertile and prolific, tending to multiply itself. And conversely, family life and raising children make an invaluable contribution to deepening the affection and under- standing among spouses.
But it is true that in our sources as well as in our law the psychological and spiritual connection between man and wife has its own independent importance.
Rabbi Asher Meir is the author of the book Meaning in Mitzvot, distributed by Feldheim. The book provides insights into the inner meaning of our daily practices, following the order of the 221 chapters of the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh.