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Husband and Wife

If a husband and wife are worthy, the Divine Presence dwells between them. They merit greater spiritual perfection than when they are separate, and their entire Divine service, both prayer and practice, achieves greater perfection.
Dedicated to the memory of
Hana Bat Haim
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The Talmud teaches (Tractate Sotah 17a): "Rabbi Akiva expounded: If a husband (‘Ish’) and wife (‘Isha’) are worthy the Divine Presence dwells between them; if they are not fire consumes them." Rashi explains that the Divine Presence rests between them because God apportions the letters of His own name such that they "dwell among" the letters of the words husband and wife: The letter "Yod" is taken from God’s name and placed in the word "Ish"; the letter "Heh" from God’s name and placed in the word "Isha." If, though, they do not merit such "fire consumes them," for God removes his name from their midst and all that remains is fire (when these same letters are removed from the words "Ish" and "Isha" one ends up with "Esh" and "Esh" - fire and fire).

What is meant by the expression, "the Divine Presence dwells between them"? We are aware that regarding the establishment of the Temple it is written, "Make me a Sanctuary and I will dwell amongst them" (Exodus 25:8). In other words, via the Sanctuary and the Holy Temple, the Almighty dwells within each and every member of the Jewish people. In a similar vein, we are told regarding Solomon’s Temple, "I will dwell within the Children of Israel and I will not abandon Israel my nation" (I Kings 6:13).

The "Sforno" Torah commentary explains: "I will dwell among them in order to receive their prayer and service..." In other words, Divine dwelling implies that the prayer is more readily received by the Almighty. This means two things: Firstly, prayer is both a request for the needs of Israel generally, and a personal supplication; secondly, true prayer constitutes submission before the Almighty and dependency upon Him. The supplicant must bow before the Creator and recognize that no man possesses the capacity to attain anything without the assistance of the Almighty. When one recognizes that this is the case, his prayer is accepted and he merits its fulfillment. This is what is written, "You will direct their heart, You will cause their ear to attend" (Psalm 10:17) - when you direct your heart to focus upon your prayer, the Almighty also attends and answers you.

In addition, Sforno explains that their service is accepted. This does not refer necessarily to the sacrificial service. Rather, it encompasses all service: the fulfillment of the commandments in general. From here we learn that when the Holy Temple stands, the service of God is more refined and more acceptable before Him than when the Temple does not stand. The reason for this is that when the commandments are carried out by Jews, their significance is greater than when carried out by non-Jews. This explains the meaning of the blessing which one recites before carrying out a commandment: "Who has sanctified us with his precepts, and commanded us to...." In other words, when a Jew who has been sanctified by the Almighty performs a commandment, the commandment makes an impression upon its performer and upon the entire universe.

This is not the case when it comes to an individual who has not been sanctified and is not fit to be a spiritual person. Not only do the commandments which he performs not make an impression upon the spiritual realm, they barely make an impression upon him. To what may this be likened? If a human being eats food meant for a human being he subsists and remains healthy. If, though, an animal consumes the same food, it will damage his digestive system and lead to general health disorders because it is not meant for him.

God’s commandments, while they are the vitality of a spiritual person, do not have an impact upon one who leads an entirely material existence. When the Temple stands and the Almighty is nearer to us, each Jew experiences greater spiritual uplift - uplift which causes the commandments which he performs to be more complete, and to bring him and the entire universe to an even higher level of sanctity. When, though, the Temple does not stand, it is as if there is a partition between Israel and the Almighty. Man is of course more distanced from God, and therefore the commandments which he performs are less perfect and, hence, have less of an impact upon the universe.

This is the meaning of rabbi Akiva’s statement regarding husband and wife. If they are worthy, says Rabbi Akiva, the Divine Presence rests between them. They merit greater spiritual perfection than when they are separate. It follows that their entire Divine service, whether prayer or the performance of commandments, achieves greater perfection. Therefore, initially, the names of both husband and wife contain the word "fire" which is a propellant force in the world. Attached to this ‘fire" is the Divine name which is numerically equivalent to fifteen, a number which represents the fifteen rungs upon which the Divine bounty descends from the celestial realms to earth. This teaches us that the power of earthly actions is connected to the higher spiritual world. This order affects all aspects of life, physical and spiritual, and allows each partner to approach the Creator and to fulfill His commandments all the more avidly and flawlessly.

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