The first daf of Sota has an interesting piece of shakla v’terya which is hard to understand because there seems to be too many pieces in the jigsaw puzzle. The gemara presents a statement of Reish Lakish saying that one’s choice of spouse is influenced by one’s personality; a righteous person will have a righteous spouse, while a wicked person will end up with a wicked spouse. This is followed by R’ Yochanan’s declaration that arranging zivugim is as difficult as splitting Yam Suf. The gemara then asks a kashe: we learned that before a child is born, there is a declaration in Heaven announcing “bas ploni l’ploni”, whom that child will marry. Who is this teaching meant to challenge? Is it a question on Reish Lakish who says that zivugim depend on a person’s deeds and personality traits which cannot be pre-ordained? If so, why does the gemara mix in R’ Yochanan? Is it a question on R’ Yochanan, i.e. why is it so hard to make zivugim when things have been set up beforehand? If so, why mix in Reish Lakish?
Rashi d”h zivug sheni solves this problem by merging the statements of R’ Yochanan and Reish Lakish so the question challenges both: because zivugim must be tailored to each individual’s evolving personality, their occurrence is as miraculous as the splitting of Yam Suf.
Interestingly, the same shakla v’terya appears in Sanhedrin 22a, yet there the statement of Reish Lakish is omitted entirely. R’ Elazar Landau (his comments are right under the Gilyon Maharasha in the back of the gemara) suggests that Reish Lakish appears in our sugya because he was presenting an introduction to the topic of sota, but his statement has nothing to do with the ensuing shakla v’terya that relates only to R’ Yochana’s statement.
There a subtle philosophical point to the chiddush here aside from the textual diyuk. R’ Landau explains that there is no contradiction between Reish Lakish’s statement that zivug is determined based on deeds and personality and the statement that zivugim are declared in Heaven beforehand. Put another way, there is no philosophical contradiction between the Divine foreknowledge of who a person will marry (yediya) and that person’s free choice to select a fitting spouse (bechira). Since man remains blissfully unaware of what has been foretold, his actions are not performed under compulsion or duress.
By way of analogy, if someone had ruach hakodesh and yesterday afternoon knew that I would eat Cheerios for breakfast this morning, that would in no way influence my behavior when I entered the kitchen and selected the box of Cheerios from the others sitting in the breakfast cabinet. As far as I was concerned, foreknowledge did not deprive me of the right to choose the cereal I like best.
This issue is another deep well with lots of good torah. Maybe more down the road…
(My first article for Kallahmagzine touched on the Rambam's approach to this issue - article is archived here.)