Marriage is defined in the English dictionary as: “a legally recognized relationship, established by a civil or religious ceremony, between two people who intend to live together as physically intimate and domestic partners.”
This mundane secular view of marriage is reflected in a narcissistic utilitarian arrangement, a proposition entered into by two people expecting to have all of their needs met, with a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude. If the answer is “not enough,” it’s time to move on to the next partner.
Not surprisingly, marriage around the world is on the decline as materialism is worshipped and the single minded obsession with wealth, fun and the “easy life” are viewed as each person’s entitlement. Commitment and long term devotion to a higher calling are passé.
Judaism takes a diametrically opposed approach to this devastating trend as evidenced by the Hebrew word for Marriage: Nisu’im.
Nisu’im is replete with profound truths and messages that teach us the purpose, objectives and deeper meaning of Marriage.
The leading definition for Marriage in the Hebrew dictionary is to “elevate.” We are charged by Hashem to take the physical and material world, and sanctify it. We are elevated when we strive to restore our wholeness by re-connecting with our soul mate and becoming One again.
Despite the highest standard of living in many modern day countries, happiness seems to elude the masses. When happiness is pursued through external objects and thrills, it leaves an emptiness and overall sense of futility as it dissipates and is gone.
With common spiritual goals couples are strengthened while they uncover the true meaning of life while they grapple with their inner need to be the best that they can be. Each home is a satellite of holiness that brings us one step further to restoring the G-d’s Unity of which we are an integral part. Elevating Marriage occurs when we buck the trend of focusing on me and constant reflections of “am I getting enough in this relationship?’ And “am I really happy?” by substituting questions like: “am I giving enough to my partner” and “am I doing acts of kindness for my partner that bring him/her happiness and contentment?”
Another definition of Nisu’im is “to carry.” Carrying something can be difficult and burdensome, even causing suffering at times.
It is important for couples to be aware that when difficulties arise in marriage, it is a G-d sent opportunity to stretch one’s limits and transform that weakness in ourselves or in our marriage into a stepping stone to further our resolve and commitment to one another and to actively be engaged in regularly choosing to be together rather than being on auto-pilot. This generates a very dynamic and vitalizing component into marriage that is invigorating.
Unfortunately, we are witnessing a very lackadaisical attitude today toward long term commitment and indefatigable attempts to working hard in solving marital problems through compromise and soul searching. Marriage is a work in progress with a lifetime contract!
Two more fascinating clues embedded in the world Nisu’im are the words, “shinui,” (change) and “shoneh,” different.
As much as we try to marry people who are similar to us, we are each a world unto ourselves, with our own family backgrounds, personality traits, feelings and opinions. Merging these two worlds is a monumental and never ending but gratifying endeavor. It requires great humility, an indispensable trait in healthy loving marriages. We have two eyes; one ought to be for seeing the good in our partners and the other to realistically see our flaws and commit to changing them and growing as a result. Rav Avraham Twerski notes that the letters “tzaddik” and “sin” are interchangeable, thus teaching that true “simcha” and inner satisfaction are achieved by “tzmicha,” growth and self-transformation.
Nisu’im also connotes forgiveness; to forgive ourselves for past mistakes and forgive our partner for unintentional hurts will forge the path to love, acceptance and unity.
Finally, our Parsha, Parshat Naso deals with the counting of the Jewish people. There is a wonderful expression related to the passing of time: “don’t count your days; make your days count!”
Making marriage count is an awesome achievement that requires total commitment and complete investment of myself as a giver and as someone who wants to bring out the best in my partner. When I do this, I am on the road to the ultimate commandment of “teach your children,” (v’shinantam l’vanecha). By growing and developing myself and my marriage with these spiritual messages in the forefront of my consciousness, I am imparting the greatest legacy to my children and their children until the end of time.
Sherrie B. Miller, MA. is co-founder of Bechirat HaLev, an organization that promotes marriage education in Israel. Sherrie is a certified Kallah teacher and marriage counselor with a private practice in Jerusalem.
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The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.