CONTENTS AT A GLANCE
THE FUNDAMENTALITY OF
BUILDING AND MAINTAINING TRUST
ENTER: THE MAHARAL OF
THE BEGINNING OF THE
THE MIDRASH ABOUT THE
WEASEL AND THE WELL
THE MAHARAL ANALYZES
THE MAHARAL'S GIFT TO YOU
TO REMAIN TOGETHER
VIEW EVERY FACET OF
MARRIAGE IN TERMS OF THIS MAHARAL
THE FUNDAMENTALITY OF
BUILDING AND MAINTAINING TRUST
Imagine if we had alive today a genius, a
holy and righteous tzadik whom knew all wisdom, a Torah giant whom the whole world
accepted as pious and authoritative. And, imagine that you personally had access to him.
You want to know, "What, in one word,
is the essence of the man-woman relationship? What is the foundation for 'doing marriage
You'll be glad to know that Jewry has
access to something quite akin to this.
ENTER: THE MAHARAL OF
Rabbi Yehuda Lowe, best known as the
"Maharal," and best known for the "golem" (the clay-man which the
Maharal animated with mystical power) which he built to protect the Jews of Prague from
brutal blood libel persecutions in the 1500's, stands as one of the greatest geniuses in
Torah history. Just about everything he taught and wrote evokes universal marvel and awe.
Think about it. Whom do you know, besides G-d Himself, who can bring clay to life?
In one of his books, Nesivos Olam, he
essentially answers the question, "What, in a word, is the essence of the man-woman
His starting point is studying the
1. the adjacency of two incomprehensibly
cryptic back-to-back statements in the Talmud [Taanis 8a] and
2. their relationship to a midrash (which
is alluded to in the second of the two cryptic Talmudic statements).
After citing these, he strings them
together and develops the material brilliantly, and establishes the "punchline"
as being the one bottom-line essence of marriage. He "really goes to town."
Let's have a peek. Get ready to have your
What follows is my free translation/digest
of the essay by the Maharal.
THE BEGINNING OF THE
The attribute of "faith" is
spoken of in tractate Taanis.
"Rabbi Ami said, 'Rains do not fall
except because of the people who have faith in G-d, as is written, "Truth will sprout
from the earth and righteousness will look down from Heaven (Psalms 85:12)."' Rabbi
Ami also said, 'Come and see how great are the people of faith. From where will we see?
From the weasel and the well. Whereas one can have faith in the weasel and the well, how
much moreso must one have faith in G-d!'"
What this means is that those of faith
[i.e. who are trustworthy, so that you may have faith in them] do not change. Heaven is
the source of moisture. Rain is in the power of Heaven and Heaven never changes because it
is for the provision of moisture and rain that G-d created the Heavens. Therefore, we
learn that one may have faith in Heaven for that which It was created [to provide]; and
that there is an unchanging, unending relationship between a Provider who is faithful to
provide and those who are to have faith in that provision, since the Provider is
never-changing. If ever one party changes, violating the relationship of one having faith
and the other being a dependable and faithful provider, this destroys the relationship,
causing commensurate change in the second party.
The verse in Psalms, brought as a
proof-text, demonstrates that this matrix stands on the principle of "faith,"
because Heaven provides moisture and the earth receives it - creating the model for 1. the
provider and 2. the receiver. The earth can have faith (there will be
"sprouting") and Heaven will be righteous (to reliably send down the necessary
sustenance). Through this, a non-changing relationship of mutual roles and of faith is
established which joins together, into a relationship, those on earth with Heaven. The
verse says, "Truth will sprout from the earth," to indicate that the earth can
have faith that Heaven provides the moisture that the earth needs to receive.
In order for the faith relationship between
Heaven and earth to operate, there must be the same never-changing faith relationship
between each person here on earth and the next person here on earth. Then, this will be
reflected in Heaven participating in its faith-relationship as Provider to earth. There is
no greater model of faith than this relationship between Heaven and earth and this is the
SAME as the RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MAN AND WOMAN, in the nature of which the man is a
provider, and the woman is receiver, like the Heavens provide and the earth receives. If
the relationship is violated, this is elimination of the faith which is its foundation.
When both a husband and a wife are
faithful, there is no greater relationship. When each is faithful, without end and without
change, to all the obligations of the relationship, each may have faith in the other at
This is the meaning when the Talmud states
that WE LEARN FAITH FROM THE WEASEL AND THE WELL and that there is no greater case from
which to learn about faith.
[We could graphically chart the parallel
elements of the Maharal's exposition:
...so as to clearly show the
development and correspondence of the elements.]
In [a classic book called]
"Oruch," a midrash is brought which elaborates this cryptic, incomprehensible
reference to the weasel and the well (which, of course, provides linkage to the Talmudic
statements, which also refer to this same weasel and well). [It starts out sounding like a
children's story. But, the way the Maharal ends up weaving it all together is nothing
short of profound and fascinating.]
THE MIDRASH ABOUT THE
WEASEL AND THE WELL
Once there was a teenage girl who was
traveling to visit her father. She erred in her route and went to an uninhabited place.
When it got to midday it was burning hot. She became so thirsty that she was near
delirious. Finally, in the distance, she noted a pit and ran to it. She saw a bucket next
to it and understood that there was water down there. She rapidly lowered herself down to
the bottom of the well and drank to her heart's content.
When she finished and was restored, she
looked up and saw that, in her excitement, she had climbed such a long way down that there
was no way that she would be able to climb back up. She started screaming for help.
A man came by and heard her voice, which he
followed to the pit. When he arrived, she was so far down, that he was not able to discern
her or whether she was even human. He asked if she was a human being, and, after she said
she was, he asked her how she came to this predicament. She told him. He said that he is a
Jew and a Kohen, the holy people who serve in G-d's Temple in Jerusalem. He asked her
which nation she was from. She was also a Jew. [Jewish law forbids a man and woman from
touching when they are not married nor immediate blood relatives.] He said that a Jewish
man can't just shlep a woman on his back. "If I rescue you, will you marry me?"
"Yes," she replied.
When she had been saved, they each said
their name, family name, and the name of the town each lived in. They covenanted to be
married in full accordance with Torah law, and that he would come to her parents' home for
her. He asked, "Who will be the witnesses that we are committed to marry each
other?" Just then, a weasel went by. She said, "The Heavens, the weasel that
just ran by and the well which you just shlepped me out of will be the witnesses that we
will not cheat each other." With this pact in place, they both went home.
The young woman remained true to her
commitment FAITHFULLY. As it worked out, she was growing into a lovely young lady and
courters started to come, seeking marriage. To every man, she gave refusal. She was
"spoken for," so "nothing' doing." Young men kept coming and coming
and coming, trying to win her. It just wouldn't stop [she must have been an extraordinary
girl - both in character and in attractiveness]. When the suitors just kept coming and
coming, she conducted herself as if she went insane and tore her clothes, until the men
altogether stopped coming.
The Kohen, on the other hand, returned home
and promptly forgot altogether about this young woman and his commitment to her. "Out
of sight, out of mind." [At this point, the women in the audience say, "just
like a man!"]
He married a different woman who became
pregnant and gave birth to a baby. After the birth, a weasel strangled the infant to
She became pregnant again and gave birth to
a second baby. After the birth, this baby fell into a well and drowned.
The wife said to her husband, "If my
two babies would have died normal deaths, I would accept the deaths as G-d's judgement.
Since my babies both died unnaturally, this cannot be without sin! Tell me your deeds! Why
did my babies die through a weasel and a well?!"
It hit him and he remembered that the
Heavens, the weasel and the well were the enforcers of his marriage pact with the young
woman whom he rescued. He recounted the story. His wife said, "Go to this woman. She
is the mate destined to be given to you by G-d." He divorced his wife and left for
the other woman's town.
When he got to the town and asked to be
directed to this girl, every one told him that she had gone crazy and that he should
forget about her and return home. When he got to her father, he told his betrothed's
father the story and announced that he was here to marry the girl. "But my daughter
has 'lost her mind.'"
And his reply to the girl's father was,
"I ACCEPT HER WITH ALL HER FAULTS!" [He came around fully in his capacity to
accept responsibility and commitment. He learned his lesson. He became a relator in whom a
spouse could, from now on, have unbending faith.]
He went to his betrothed, and she started
her "crazy act." He reminded her of the story of the weasel and the well, and
her mind returned to normal [in the midrash's going out of its way to say that her mind
"returned to normal," this gives us the additional message that if one becomes
habituated or conditioned in any kind of crazy behavior, it actually adds craziness to the
mind - a profound message 1. in today's tough and complex world and 2. in the context of
serious or troubled man-woman relationships; she had to actively and consciously restore
her mind back to a normal state from a crazy state]. She said, "I was always
steadfast in our commitment."
They had many children, became wealthy and
were faithful to each other for the rest of their lives [end of midrash].
THE MAHARAL ANALYZES THE
You must know that these two things, the
weasel and the well, correspond to male and female.
The weasel corresponds to the male. This is
corroborated by the fact that weasel [in Hebrew, CHuLDaw] is from the same root word as
thrusting [in Hebrew, CHaLawDaw], and by the related fact that the nature of the weasel is
to dig. The digging, thrusting, active connotation represents the male.
The well is the opposite, being an open
receptacle, corresponding to the female.
The male-female relationship is the same as
the relationship of Heaven to earth. In each case, there is an active provider (Heaven,
or, the male) and a receiver (earth, or, the female). Both are relationships of faith,
* that each (the provider and the receiver)
must be entities of total, unchanging, unending faithfulness, so much so
* that either one may always have total,
unchanging, unending faith in the other.
When the weasel and the well were the
witnesses enforcing the sacred covenant to marry, they were each designated to be witness
to their corresponding corollary:
* the weasel - male, and
* the well - female,
towards the end that the faithfulness
between the man and the woman be ensured so that this faithfulness would endure
You must know that the man and the woman
have a relationship together exclusively based on faith. Any falsity, breach of integrity,
is antithetical to the union of husband and wife. Marriage and violation are mutually
When the weasel and the well were
designated as witnesses to enforce the union of the man and woman, it constituted
designation of the marriage relationship as a relationship of trustworthiness; with each
* to be faithful and
* permitting the other partner to have
mutually and together. Therefore, the
children born to the first wife had to be lost specifically through a weasel and a well,
precisely because the weasel and the well were the enforcers of man-woman faithfulness
[the first marriage was a breach of faith to the first young woman].
Understand that the reason that the young
woman remained faithful is that the female is naturally inclined to more faithfulness than
the male. We see that the female corresponds to faith by virtue of the fact that
"faith" [in Hebrew, "emuna"] is a feminine-gender word. The male
corresponds to "truth" [in Hebrew, "emess"], a masculine-gender word.
The female is less inclined to truth than to faithfulness, and a male is less inclined to
faithfulness than is the female [end of Maharal's essay].
THE MAHARAL'S GIFT TO YOU
How do we tie this to practical, concrete
For example, in a traditional Jewish
family, a husband is responsible for earning a livelihood, learning Torah regularly,
teaching the sons Torah, etc. A wife is obligated to keep the house, raise the children,
cook, sew, clean, etc.
Regardless of whether you have any
variations in your individual case (e.g. two-income family, whatever), there are other
roles that go into your relationship, besides technical activities and prescribed
For example, chapter one brings out
fundamentals of making a marriage work, of making a marriage peaceful, and of giving it
the capacity to endure. Among the things in which the partners have this obligation (to be
unchangingly faithful) are practical exchange of:
* active and targeted giving
* active maintenance and pursuit of peace
* relating heart to heart
* providing happiness to each other at
every possible moment
* keeping the "goodness flow"
mutual ("even steven"),
at all times, and such that your partner
can have unswerving faith in you and your nonstop provision of these to your partner. The
test is passed when both partners steadily:
* can know and
* can be secure, trusting and reliant;
* has the other's love, respect, loyal
devotion, support, alliance; and
* has fulfillment of all of the roles,
emotions, needs and obligations, that the relationship requires from the other.
Faith and trust in marriage must be
complete, or else there will be doubt, worry, suspicion, insecurity, tension,
divisiveness, misery and degeneration of the marriage. I tell audiences that trust is like
"kosher"...if a food is 99% kosher, it is 100% traif! ANYTHING less than 100%
won't work. Same, too, in the marriage bond. A partner is not fulfilling his/her
responsibility to the marriage until he/she gives the other the ability to have 100%
faith, security, confidence, reliance and trust in him/her...without change or end.
There are also, for example, midos
(character traits: both elimination of bad and abundance of good), communication,
compromises, expressing appreciation and compliments, buying presents, acts of
thoughtfulness, patience, self-control, keeping promises, punctuality, all forms of
reliability and honesty, provision of emotional security and emotional support, accepting
your partner's faults graciously and without destructive nagging or criticizing, stability
and consistency, fidelity, helping each other to grow and to bring out each other's
potential, constantly treating each other as important and as valuable, gentle and
constructive criticism, halachic resolving of differences, working TOGETHER to raise and
to train the children with a uniform and effective approach, creation and maintenance of a
loving and respectful home atmosphere, allowing for male-female differences (e.g.needs,
nature, temperaments, priorities, relating styles, etc.), spending "quality
time" together regularly (and, enough of it! - quality without sufficient quantity
won't work) for the development and enrichment of your relationship, paying attention to
your spouse, ongoing courtesy, etc. We'll come back later in more detail to such topics on
how to constitute a successful relationship.
Incidentally, it is also vital to spend
sufficient, warm and nurturing quality time with each of your children individually.
View the Jewish marriage as having three
partners: husband, wife and G-d. For a marriage to have blessing and success, each one
must be true and devoted to the other two.
TO REMAIN TOGETHER
When G-d took the Jewish people out of
Egypt, He saved us in order that, at Mount Sinai, we would become His people, the people
of the Torah. The giving of the Torah is the marriage of the Jewish people and G-d.
Revelation was commitment.
Egypt was idolatrous and incestuous. It
stood for everything that Torah - and marriage - don't. The Torah couldn't be given
immediately after leaving, nor near the boundary of, ancient Egypt. The Jewish people were
not yet utensils which could contain the Torah. The 50 days between the Exodus and
Revelation were days of cleansing from slavery in a depraved environment. The Torah wasn't
given until completing 50 full days of purification, and developing the ability to fear
violating the Torah (Be'er Haitiv #1, Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 494).
The journey from Egypt to Sinai is
analogous to the journey from singlehood to marriage. After leaving Egypt, the Jewish
People came to Pi HaChirus, which means "the beginning of freedom."
The Talmud (Avoda Zara 20b) says that
humility leads to fear of sin. Pirkei Avos (chapter three) says that wisdom which is
preceded by fear of sin lasts permanently. The Maharsha says that Israel went through a
three step preparation for receiving the Torah. 1. Upon leaving Egypt, the Jewish people
had to attain to the trait of humility. 2. Then they had to attain to the trait of fear of
sin. 3. Only then were they able to receive the Torah. Lets's study why.
What are humility, fear of sin and
receiving the Torah? Humility is the cancellation and the elimination of ego. To the
extent that one is humble, one has "cleansed self" out of oneself. The more one
is humble, the more "room" there is in one for any other person or G-d.
To have a relationship with a person
requires the emptying out of ego/sense of self to allow realization of the existence of
and obligation to another entity outside of oneself. The Torah, which was brought from
Heaven to Earth by Moshe, referred to him as the most humble of all who would ever live.
Since he had cleaned himself out of ego, he was a container for the Torah with no
contamination or distortion that could arise from personal sense of self or self-interest.
Torah could exist in him the way it was given by G-d. His Torah was pure because he was
The Jews started, under Moshe's
instruction, to purify and to humble themselves. They slipped and were attacked by Amalek
at Refidim. The midrash (Mechilta) tells us that Amalek attacked because the Jews weakened
their hold on the Torah. They won the war by looking up during the battle, remembering to
look to Hashem.
After finally instilling the trait of
humility, the Jews were able to comprehend an Entity outside of themselves to Whom they
had obligations. But, it was not enough that they come to such realization of G-d and
commitment to His will. That commitment had to be real. How do we determine that
recognition of another and commitment to another is real? One truly understands a
commitment to an Entity outside of oneself when one is afraid of violating that commitment
to the other. Only then is the person serious. Only then is the capability of committing
real. When this is achieved, one can make a commitment that will last. The Jews had to go
through humility, fear of violation and then they were capable of making a commitment to
receive the wisdom of the Torah such that it would endure.
When G-d created the universe, He created
it on condition that Israel accept His Torah (Avoda Zara 3a). When the Jews came to Mount
Sinai, the Torah makes a point to say that the Jews travelled from Refidim (Shmos 19:2)
and encamped with the unity of "one person with one heart" (Rashi and Mechilta
on this verse). The next verse tells us that Hashem instructed Moshe to "say to the
Jewish women and tell the Jewish men" to get ready for the giving of the Torah. Why
did the Torah add separate instruction for the women and the men? Because men and women
have different natures and should, accordingly be spoken to differently. Speak to the
women in a soft, sensitive, intuitive, emotional manner; speak to the men in a logical,
tough, direct, analytical manner.
Let's go back to our marriage analogy.
When departing from the "Egypt of
singlehood," one proceeds to "The Beginning of Freedom." In the analogy,
leaving singlehood is the beginning of freedom - freedom to be one's complete self and
potential as a human being. The Targum Yonason there tells us that the Jewish people found
jewels strewn all over the desert floor, and they became wealthy. In our analogy,
readiness to marry means being able and value a spouse as a jewel, to see another human
being as precious, the way one sees jewelry. Then, Hashem miraculously brings the mate
(Beraishis Raba 64:8), just as He miraculously opened the Yam Suf (Reed Sea).
The single must also go through the three
steps of preparation. First, the individual must cultivate humility to allow recognition
of another, and the obligations of marriage. One must be sufficiently empty of ego and
sense of self to attribute reality to another person and his or her needs. Only when
enough humility is in place, will the person assimilate what another person and commitment
to him/her mean. What is the measure of sufficient ability to recognize and to identify
with another person and commitment to this person? What is the measure of sufficient
humility? When one has developed fear of sin - fear of any and every violation of the
relationship and of its responsibilities. When one has fear of violation of commitment -
fear of hurting another, fear of failing to fulfill all of one obligations - then the
person is ready to take commitment seriously, so that one's commitment will last.
If one "weakens one's hold on the
commitment," just as Amalek attacked the Jews, one in the marriage context will
suffer. By looking up to Hashem, obeying the will of Hashem, one may be saved. For this to
be real, one must "travel away from Refidim" - away from being one who weakens
one's hold on one's obligations, from being one who slips from the purity necessary to
come to faithful commitment.
Rather, the couple should be two separate
people, the emotional woman and the cerebral man, who, regardless of their differences and
separateness, are as "one person with one heart." Then the two can be together
in a permanent commitment relationship, just as Hashem "married" the Jewish
people at Sinai.
The giving of the Torah is an analogy to
marriage (Taanis 26b). Just as a groom marries his bride, G-d married the Jewish people.
The Torah is the holy commitment which bonds the Jewish people and G-d the same way that
marriage is the holy commitment which bonds man and wife.
The Torah was given ("matan
Torah"). It is up to the individual to receive it. Marriage is an analogy to Torah.
It is given, but it is up to you to accept and fulfill what is presented beginning when
you are under the chupa.
In the marriage of husbands and wives, each
must also distance and cleanse from the self-slavery and impurity in which a single or
immature person might indulge. The culmination of the greatness of one's self-creation is
when one may conduct marriage in the way of the righteous, and in the way of G-d.
King Solomon wrote (Proverbs 5:19),
"You will always be engrossed with your love for her." The Yalkut, commentaries,
Rambam, and Talmud (Eruvin 54b) explain this verse to refer to Torah with some citing
analogy to the love between male and female. Two of the nice ideas that fit our parallel
is that when one is really devoted to one's love, one constantly renews that love by
ongoing devotion to it and it remains dear at every moment to the one who truly loves. In
love for Torah and for one's wife, one can keep that love going at all times, continually.
By being engrossed in and attentive to that love, one plays a constant and active role in
the maintenance of the permanent love-commitment to a wife. This parallels the Jewish
nation's permanent love-commitment to the Torah.
By attaining the permanent bondedness of
marriage, one also parallel's the fulfillment of the condition for which G-d created and
maintains the universe (that the Jews accept His Torah).
By viewing marriage as requiring the three
steps of 1. humility leading to 2. fear of sin and 3. permanent commitment, the marriage
can be approached so as to have the potential to last.
By adding the element of trustworthiness;
by each keeping all commitments; by each being unchanging and faithful; by each fulfilling
all duties required by the marriage; by treating each other as a precious jewel; by
conducting the marriage according to the Torah; the marriage is able to actualize its
potential to endure and to remain for a lifetime.
VIEW EVERY FACET OF MARRIAGE
IN TERMS OF THIS MAHARAL
Everything in marriage fits into the
Maharal's all-encompassing message. This includes all the roles, the responsibilities, the
standards, the commitment and the exclusivity which the relationship demands. I tell
couples, from this treatise by the Maharal, to view every single facet and function of
their marriage as the object of "faithfulness" such that, in regard to each
facet or function, YOUR PARTNER CAN HAVE FAITH IN YOU. This means faith that is FULL, WITH
NO CHANGE AND NO END. Faith is a fulcrum upon which the stability, endurance, quality and
happiness of marriage hinges. Marital roles and responsibilities come in "many
flavors." You have to have all of them available in your "inventory," your
repertoire, at all times steadily. Thank you, Maharal.
In marriage, the single most important:
* emotion in the heart is
* form of actions in the ongoing practical
relationship is "kavod," and
* state prevailing is
in EACH partner, at ALL times.
A marriage whose character, atmosphere and
behaviors are defined by ahava (love) and kavod (honor/respect) FOR each other and by
faith (emuna) IN each other, will avail the highest possible quality of relationship,
inner-fulfillment and all 'round success.