Friday, August 29, 2014

some day my prince will come

I was at a sheva brachos this week and was surprised that more than one speaker stood up and prefaced their divrei Torah with the remark that this parsha is a difficult one to relate to the theme of marriage.  In actuality, this parsha contains a pasuk that reveals a tremendous yesod as to what getting married is all about.  If you want to find one word that sums up all the preconceptions and misconceptions about marriage, it’s the word “bashert.”  Chazal tell us (Sotah 2) that even before a child is conceived an announcement is made upstairs that says, “Bas Ploni l’Ploni.”  Everyone has a soul mate, a special he or she that is Mr. or Mrs. Right, as predetermined by Heaven.  The challenge is finding this specific bashert.  It’s a romantic idea, it’s mystical, you hear the violin music in the background.  People spend years investing tremendous emotion and energy in their quest for The One, wringing their hands lest G-d forbid they make an error and end up with the wrong Ben or Bas Ploni, never mind the Maharal’s question of why make any effort at all when the outcome is predetermined anyway.  Too bad on them that the Rambam tells us that it’s nonsense.  Mi ha’ish asher eiras isha v’lo lekacha yeilech v’yashov l’beiso.”  Our parsha says that someone who is engaged is exempt from army service lest he die in battle and someone else marry that girl.  Maybe it's not the nicest thing to say at a sheva brachos, but the point, says the Rambam (in a letter to Ovadya the Convert), is that marrying Mr. or Mrs. X is not inevitable and predetermined.  Were that the case, there could be no possibility of the chassan dying in battle his Bas Ploni ending up with someone else! 

The Rambam advances a philosophical argument against this concept of “bashert” as well.  The Rambam holds that getting married is a mitzvah.  Without the ability to choose whether to do a mitzvah or not, fundamental ideas like schar v’onesh make no sense.  Free will is Judaism 101.  If it was predetermined that “Bas Ploni l’Ploni,” it would mean a person had no free choice whether or not to fulfill the mitzvah of marriage. 

When a statement in Chazal like “Bas Ploni l’Ploni” contradicts a pasuk or a basic tenet of hashkafa, it means (in the Rambam’s view) that statement is not meant to be taken literally.  We may be born with a predisposition to enjoy the company of one type person over that of another and that may direct us toward choosing one individual over another as our spouse, but by no means is there one specific Mr. or Mrs. Right out there for anyone.

Now for the most important point that's the take away lesson.  The Rambam says that it’s mefurash in Chazal that your spouse it not determined by Heaven, and he quotes a gemara that we would probably interpret exactly the opposite of the way he does: “Hakol b’ydei shamayim chutz m’yiras shamayim.”  Doesn’t that mean that who your spouse is and most everything else in life – “hakol b’ydei shamayim” --  is in fact predetermined?  No, says the Rambam.  Your marriage, your job, where you live, etc. are all parts of the exception.  Who we choose to marry and how we live our married lives is all about finding the means to grow in yiras shamayim.  It's all part of the "chutz..." part of the equation that is in our hands alone.

Based on this Rambam perhaps we can read Adam’s response to Hashem when he is accused of eating from the eitz hada’as a little differently than the usual pshat. Adam blames his mistake on, “Ha’isha asher nasata imadi…,” the wife that you, Hashem, gave me.  Adam was perhaps saying that because Chavah was given to him – he had no choice – he was deprived of an opportunity to grow in yiras shamayim and that contributed to his downfall. 


  1. Anonymous12:44 PM

    Rav Feivel Cohen pointed out (in his article on marriage in the RJJ journal several years ago) that the same meimra that says bas ploni leploni, also says sadeh ploni leploni and bayis ploni leploni. Yet no one invokes the concept of bashert regarding their house, rather they put in significant hishtadlus, which is certainly necessary. The same hishtadlus and level of bashert as we would expect in buying house is the level of bashert in finding a spouse, iow this meimra doesn't pater your hishtadlus, and doesn't tell you that your spouse is set any more than your house is set.

    1. It seems like people put in too much hishtadlus, not too little, irrespective of things being bashert, and whatever hishtadlus is done seems to come at the expense of yiras shamayim, not as an enhancement to one's yiras shamayim. Just my biased opinion.

  2. Just because a passuk in the parsha is on point doesn't mean that it is an appropriate topic for a speech at a Sheva Brachos, any more than Ben Sorer is for a Bar Mitzva or Naara shenispatsa for a vort. Maybe this is not that bad- that a soldier would be fearful of dying in battle because he would miss his wedding day. But I like your "take away," that this falls under chutz miyiras shamayim. May not shtim with sadeh ploni, but that's the Rambam's problem.

  3. To highlight the difference of opinion- I just saw the last Ramban on the passuk of Som tasim by a king, where he talks about a king's divine mandate, the "doctrine" of the divine right of kings. You may pick the king, you may pick the local water commissioner, but the truth is that his authority was divinely granted and predestined.