The hope of every couple standing under the marriage canopy is that their marriage will be for life. It is a sacred bond joining their two souls together as one. Through a combination of good will, consideration for the other, respect and appreciation, they will create a love together which indeed will be eternal.
However, unfortunately, this sometimes does not work. In the Book of Deuteronomy, the Torah gives us a number of rules about marriage. Among them are the laws of divorce.1 It is tragic, but sometimes it is part of life, and when it has to take place the Torah affirms that this is the right thing to do and gives the exact rules of how to go about it. An entire tractate of the Talmud is devoted to this subject.
Among the discussions of the Sages is the question of a temporary marriage. Can a man and woman get married temporarily just for convenience--for example, to grant one of them an exit permit from a totalitarian country?
The Sages say that a man may not marry a woman with a hidden intention to divorce her. However, if both of them understand and agree that this is the plan from the very beginning, then such a temporary marriage is possible.2
Nonetheless, one would only do this in dire circumstances, such as the case above. The concept of marriage is defined at the very beginning of the Torah: a man "cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). The very nature of the marriage bond is with the hope that it will be permanent. The casual approach to marriage common today -- for example, to get a work permit -- should be avoided.
If so, asks the Lubavitcher Rebbe, what about the relationship of the Jewish people with G-d? This is compared to marriage. The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was the wedding, the Torah itself was the marriage agreement, and when the Jewish people were in the Land of Israel with the Temple in Jerusalem, it was like a healthy and harmonious marital relationship.
Unfortunately, the Jewish people did not keep their side of the marriage contract: they did not keep the laws of the Torah properly, and in particular, they worshipped other gods, an act which the prophets compare to adultery. So the Temple was destroyed and they were sent into exile. This is like divorce.
The Rebbe asks: How could G-d do this? G-d knew from the beginning that the Jews would not keep the Torah and would serve idols, and that therefore He would have to "divorce" the Jewish people and send them into exile. This means G-d was entering into a marriage knowing that it would end in divorce. And even though He warned the Jewish people about this possibility -- surely this is not the best way to act! Isn't marriage sacred?
Of course it is. Long ago the prophet Isaiah told us that G-d is not divorcing the Jewish people at all.3 G-d is with us, and we are with G-d. The fact of exile is merely a temporary concealment: soon the redemption will come, and G-d and the Jewish people will openly be together again. The exile is temporary; G-d's marriage to the Jewish people is permanent.4
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