Parshas Chayei Sarah
And Sarah died in Kiryat Arba which is Chevron in the land of
Canaan, and Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to cry over her.
We don't hear much about the relationship of Avraham and Sarah
in this parshah, and what we do hear could be misconstrued as
being negative. What man does not know how beautiful his wife is?
He was married to her for decades and until they are traveling into
enemy territory (Egypt), he finally realizes this? What man uses his
wife's abduction as a way to become wealthy? What man has to be
told to listen to his wife (well, I guess most of us do)? What wife
openly states that her husband is over the hill? And when a
pregnant Hagar haughtily lorded herself over her mistress Sarah, it
was Avraham who got an earful from his wife.
The Midrashim fill in the gaps and explain how the relationship of
Avraham and Sarah was one that was not only made in Heaven, but
also lived out as if it took place in Heaven. If Avraham didn't realize
how physically beautiful his wife was, explain the rabbis, it is only
because her physical beauty paled next to her great spiritual
beauty, on which Avraham was completely focused. There is no
question that the father and mother of the Jewish people were a
perfect match, perfect zivugim.
What about everyone else?
Well, with respect to the Forefathers and the rest of the great
people from Tanach, especially during the era of prophecy, we can
assume that they too found their zivugim. Or can we? According to
the Arizal, even Aharon HaKohen's beloved Elisheva was not his
true soul-mate, and if HE didn't marry his zivug, then what about
the rest of us, especially in this day when the divorce rate is so
high and climbing, even in the Orthodox community?
The truth is, without prophets it is hard to know. However, there
are rules concerning the marriage of souls, and though I don't
know how absolute those rules are today, or how many other
factors play a role in finding one's soul-mate, nevertheless they are
interesting to learn about. They come from the Arizal, via Rabbi
Chaim Vital and sefer Sha'ar HaGilgulim. The Arizal taught:
There are several reasons for the reincarnation of souls. It can be
because a person sinned against the Torah and must return to
rectify it. It can be to perform a mitzvah he previously had not
completed. A third reason is for the sake of another individual, to
guide and rectify him . . . (Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 8)
That is, even though the deceased person does not need to return
in another incarnation to rectify himself, he can still return in order
to help another person achieve his or her rectification. And, says
Rabbi Vital, there is another reason to reincarnate as well:
. . . Such as in order to marry his soul-mate, having not merited to
do so the first time. (Ibid.)
Thus we see that it is possible to NOT marry one's soul-mate, and
therefore divorce is not necessarily the result of two soul-mates
who cannot get along with each other, but rather the result of
people who really didn't belong together in the first place. It
Sometimes he may have already married his soul-mate, but he
sinned and must return to rectify the sin; he will come back alone,
as Sabba of Mishpatim has written (Zohar 105b) on the posuk, "If
he came by himself"(Shemos 21:3). (Ibid.)
This posuk from Parashas Mishpatim is actually talking about a
Jewish servant. Coming by himself means that he was single when
he was sold into slavery to pay for his crime. However, on a deeper
level, says the Arizal, it is actually a reference to a reincarnating
soul coming back into this world without his zivug.
. . . Sometimes he has merits, and even though she does not need
to reincarnate, she reincarnates with him b'sod, "and his wife will
go out with him." (ibid.)
On the level of discussion concerning a Jewish servant, this means
that his wife, with whom he entered his six-year period of service,
also leaves with her husband at the end of the six years. On the
level of discussion about gilgulim, this posuk means that his wife's
soul will also return to earth, even though she does not need to
reincarnate for her own sake. She returns just to keep him
If he was married then his wife will go out with him. (Shemos 21:3)
The saga continues:
Sometimes, a person will not merit his soul-mate the first time,
and a wife is arranged for him according to his deeds. (Ibid.)
In other words, all hope is not lost for the one who does not marry
his zivug. On the contrary, if he lives a good Torah lifestyle, Heaven
can still arrange for him to meet the wife of his dreams. It may not
be THE wife of his dreams, but it can still be a good match, and
they can achieve shalom bayis — a peaceful home.
In a sense, this may require more "effort" on Heaven's part, since a
soul-mate automatically matches his wife or her husband.
Nevertheless, though they may not be soul-mates, they may be
close to it:
From the souls of all the women of the world, there are none as
close to him as this woman even though she is not his actual soul-
mate. When he sins and reincarnates, he will do so with this wife,
even though she is not his actual soul-mate. (Ibid.)
The saga now continues. Not only did he have to return and as a
result marry a woman who is not really his zivug, but he has to
reincarnate again and re-marry the same woman in the next
lifetime! Why not just give the poor man and woman their real
soul-mates? The answer to this is discussed in a later chapter:
We discussed earlier whether or not women reincarnate like men.
Regarding this topic in the first chapter of Sotah (2a) in reference
to the posuk, "G-d settles the solitary into a family, He releases
those bound in fetters" (Tehillim 68:7); Chazal speak of a first and
second soul-mate. Hence, when it says, "Difficult is pairing people
like the splitting of the Red Sea," it refers to the second soul-mate.
(Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 20)
The obvious reading of the passage does not indicate that it is
talking about gilgulim, but that is to be expected from the Talmud.
Rather, it seems to be talking about a first and second marriage in
a single lifetime. The first marriage resulting in one's pre-destined
soul-mate and if, G-d forbid, there is a divorce, a second marriage
to another woman that is not his soul-mate.
But, says Rabbi Chaim Vital:
The understanding of a first and second soul-mate cannot be
according to the simple definition, since in many instances we see
that the second marriage is better than the first . . . (Ibid.)
This seems to indicate that the marriage the second time around is
really the right one, not the first one. Then what?
Rather, we learn the explanation from Sabba of Mishpatim of the
Zohar on the posuk, "If he was married then his wife will go out
with him" (Shemos 21:3). That is, when a person is new and in the
world for the first time, then his soul-mate is born with him, and
when it comes time to marry, they (Heaven) arrange the moment,
making it simple for them to meet. (Ibid.)
As the Talmud says, before a man is born it is declared in Heaven
who he will marry. However, says the Arizal, this is when he comes
into the world the first time, and it is during this lifetime only that
Heaven arranges events to make the finding and marrying of one's
soul-mate as simple as possible.
However, if a man sins and needs to reincarnate as a result, then
the posuk "his wife will go out with him" applies to him, as it says
in Sabba of Mishpatim, that is, she will reincarnate as well for his
good. Nevertheless, when the time comes to get married, they will
not assist them and he will only succeed after great effort. Since he
was forced to reincarnate as a result of his sin there will be those
[in Heaven] who will accuse him and want to prevent her from
being available to him, and they will cause fighting. (Ibid.)
Hence, a new spin on the Talmud's statement. Yes, he can marry
his zivug even in the next lifetime, but no, Heaven will not roll out
the red carpet and escort her to him. He will have to make a
greater effort, perhaps even a much greater effort to find her than
the first time.
This is what it means when it says, "Difficult is pairing people like
the splitting of the Red Sea"; it is a reference to the second zivug.
Hence, in actuality she is his real soul-mate who he has already
married in his previous gilgul and now, in this new gilgul, it is their
second zivug. In other words, she herself is the FIRST wife, but it is
the SECOND time she is marrying him. This is why it does not say
the "second soul-mate" (zivug sheinis), but rather the "second-
time pairing"(zivug sheini). The former would refer to a different
wife and not the same woman. (Ibid.)
In other words, the Talmud does not refer to her as a second soul-
mate, but rather to a second pairing of the man and woman,
leaving room for the interpretation that she is the same woman as
the first marriage in the previous lifetime.
A woman of valor, who can find? (Mishlei 31:10)
How about a man of valor? In any case, the conclusion of this
section is that:
It can happen that a man can marry a woman quickly and without
any difficulty or argument. Yet, another man may fight the entire
time with his future wife until marriage, after which time there is
finally peace, proving that she is indeed his soul-mate, but that it
was the second zivug. Had there been no peace after the marriage,
we could then assume that she is not his zivug. (Ibid.)
However, before you size up your marriage or potential spouse to
see whether or not you have in fact found your zivug, you have to
take into account one very important detail: once a couple is
married, it is b'shert.
But how can that be, you are asking yourselves. Isn't b'shert a term
reserved for one's soul-mate?
Not necessarily. It really just means that something was meant to
be and intended by Heaven, because ALL marriages are made in
Heaven. For, as we have discussed a number of times before, there
is no such thing as coincidence and thus, even the marriage of two
people who are not soul-mates was arranged by Heaven.
A bad joke to punish the couple? To make them appreciate what it
means to be married and care for one's spouse by marrying into
just the opposite situation?
It may seem like that sometimes, but every marriage, the good
ones and the bad ones all come to accomplish the same thing:
tikun, which amounts to, in the words of the Vilna Gaon, sh'viras
hamiddos — the breaking of (bad) character traits.
Most people in the world have not married to rectify anything
except loneliness. The main emphasis for getting married has been
to be together with another person in a legal way that allows for
enhanced pleasure in life. True, there is great pleasure in making
the other person happy, but often that giving is still motivated by
What happens when there is dissension in a relationship? What
happens when a couple doesn't see eye-to-eye, and it turns out
that they have different approaches to many different situations so
that one spouses solutions are really problems for the other? Then
That's when marriage truly begins, from a Torah perspective.
As a person once told me, if shalom bayis (peace in the house) was
such a common concept, would there be so many segulot (for
example, like setting up one's wife's Shabbos candles erev
Shabbos in order to increase shalom bayis in the house) to
promote it? Not likely.
Thus, in such a predicament, a spouse has a choice, and though it
may not be a difficult one at the beginning of a marriage, it
becomes increasingly difficult as the children start coming and the
stresses begin to add up. That choice is: Do I force the issue to
increase my own happiness, or do I take a more passive approach
and work on making my spouse happy?
Guess which one brings about tikun hamiddos — rectification of
Thus, in a real sense, a less amicable marriage provides even
greater opportunity to perfect one's character traits. However, no
one advises looking for the wrong spouse on purpose and
marrying him or her. On the contrary, one must look for his or her
zivug to the best of his or her ability and means. BUT, at the same
time know that no matter who one marries, in the end, it is
b'sheret, and meant for the sake of achieving personal tikun by
caring more about the other person's happiness than one's own.
Her husband's heart relies upon her and he shall lack no fortune.
In the case of the Avos, there was more to it than this. Avraham
knew that he was to be the father of the future Jewish people, and
he knew that whomever he would marry was destined to be the
mother of the Jewish people, a partner in producing a nation of G-
d. That's why it was so frustrating that Sarah could not have
children, and why it was such a joyous occasion when she did.
This is also how the rabbis explain Yaakov's being so direct when
he told Lavan to give him his wife so that he could start building
his family. "Alright, Yaakov, we all know why you want to get
married, but maybe keep it to yourself!" Yaakov's whole intention
was to build the 12 tribes. He did not relate to the more personal
and private aspects of marriage. He was totally selfless about his
marriage, except that he gave himself over not only to his wives,
but also to the future of the Jewish people.
True, we are not Avraham Avinu or Sarah Imeinu, or even Yaakov
Avinu or Rachel or Leah, and therefore our marriages and the
families we create may seem far less important than those of
Biblical times. Nevertheless, we are still meant to learn from their
actions and apply them to our lives to the best of our abilities, and
that includes imitating at least a little of the single-mindedness
they had when it came to building a Bayis Neeman B'Yisroel.
We are not saying that, in some cases, divorce is not inevitable;
sometimes the tikun itself comes from such a sad ending to what
started off as a happy relationship. In some cases, divorce seems
to be b'shert.
Furthermore, we are not saying that one must become a doormat
for the other spouse, for that too can result in a disastrous
marriage. What we ARE saying is that when two people get married
and they are both committed, sincerely committed to a Torah
lifestyle and the path of life that the Torah mandates, then that
alone is the basis of a good Jewish marriage. That is the foundation
of the Bayis Ne'eman b'Yisroel.
With that devotion comes a certain level of selflessness, without
which good marriages lack meaning, and bad marriages become
hopeless. It is on the foundation of such a commitment to Torah
that a couple can then begin to build upward, adding "floor" to
their marital house as the years move on. Some of the bricks in
that home may be the result of happy and memorable moments,
but often the bricks that count the most are the ones that were
formed when one or the other spouse put the happiness of the
other one before his or her own.
When this occurs, not only does that spouse break a negative trait
(the more he or she does this, the more permanent the change
becomes), but it makes the house" stronger, and it produces
healthier children who will in turn, make good spouses.
Furthermore, it becomes a relationship that mirrors that of our
ancestors, and it becomes a cornerstone, in its own small way, in
the larger bayis that we call Bais Yisroel.
Have a great Shabbos,
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.