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The Secret of Divorce Part 2

Click here for Part 1 of this article

Divorce and the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

This is the second part of a two-part article based on a class given by HaRav Ginsburgh. It is based on the introduction by Rabbi Shmuel of Shinova to the Tanna Debei Eliyahu which includes teachings primarily from his rebbe, Rebbe Simchah Bunim of Peshischa.

In the first part, we read his explanation on what is difficult with a woman being referred to with the word ishah (אשה) even after her divorce. He explained that despite being separated from her husband, from whom she received a large proportion of her vitality until the divorce, by connecting with the Torah, she is connecting with her source of life and preparing for marriage to her true husband. With this insight in hand, we turn to the second part of this article which will explore Rebbe Simchah Bunim’s comparison of divorce to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Here too, the question is presented of why Adam continues to be called by the name Adam, which is the loftiest Hebrew name of “man,” even after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

Consciousness in the Garden of Eden

The Ramatayim Tzofim writes,

According to this, we may understand [the words of Rebbe Bunim] that, in truth, when he [Adam] was in the Garden of Eden he had a revelation of Divinity, so much so, that his very being was nullified and he attained the level of “nothingness.”

Before the sin, man was in a state of self-nullification. This is the secret of his name, “Adam” (אָדָם) having the value 45, which is also the value of the word “naught” (מָה), which signifies self-nullification, like in Moses’ words, “And we are naught”[1] (וְנַחְנוּ מָה). Self-nullification means that he had no self-awareness. When he sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, he became aware of his spiritual state. This interpretation of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge being self-awareness is one of the most foundational concepts in our teachings; it is mentioned a number of times by the Alter Rebbe, and here it appears in the name of the Rebbe, Rebbe Bunim:

And as I heard in his name, the explanation of the verse, “Behold, man has become like one of us,”[2] the wording “from us” [which can also mean “from himself”] is precise, because he became aware of himself. Before the sin he was named “Adam” in reference to the dimension of thought, as it is said, “I will resemble the High one” and all this was without interruption, and therefore he was not conscious of himself at all because all his senses and vitality and soul were locked into this effort [to be similar to God], and this is what provided him with vitality, like a woman whose physical vitality and soul in holiness comes from adhering to her husband and she reaches nullification through him as our sages said, “Who is a kosher woman? One who performs [i.e., makes] her husband’s will.”

Before the sin, Adam had a constant and total Divine consciousness and therefore had no room for any self-awareness (self-consciousness). All of his intellectual faculties were focused on the “supernal man,” i.e., on the Holy Blessed One, like a woman cleaving to her husband.

But after the sin, Adam separated from cleaving [to God this way] because he became aware of [himself]. This is the symbol [for his changed mental state], as explained in the holy books. And it is likened to a woman’s divorce.

The self-consciousness that appeared in man after the sin serves as the symbol for the sin of separation from Divine consciousness, from his ability to cleave to God, and is likened to a woman separating her bond with her husband through divorce.

Rectification of the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

The loss of Adam’s ability to cleave to God caused his expulsion from the Garden of Eden, where the “service” or “work”[3] can only be done from a state of self-nullification:

Therefore, it was not possible for Adam to remain in the Garden of Eden to do his work there, as it is written, “to work it and protect it.” For there he fulfilled the 613 commandments spiritually. For in the Garden of Eden, the whole Torah was depicted. See in the book Zera Beirach, parashat Devarim and in Yalkut Re’uveni, parashat Bereishit, s.v. LeOvdah UleShomrah, quoting from the Midrash. It is written there [in Yalkut Re'uveni]: “And He [God] gave him [Adam] the book of medicine, i.e., the Torah that he gave us through Moses our teacher…. But because he [Adam] experienced himself as separate [from God], he needed to be rectified by fulfilling the commandments physically, for he had himself become attached to the physical.”

The trees in the Garden of Eden are essentially all 613 commandments, which are also referred to as “advice”[4] (עֵצוֹת), which stems from the same word as “tree” (עֵץ). Fulfilling the injunction “to work it and protect it” was essentially a spiritual fulfillment of the entire Torah. In fact, “to work it” refers to the fulfillment of positive commandments spiritually, and “to protect it” refers to the fulfillment of all the negative commandments spiritually. At first, God gave him the entire Torah spiritually, but after the sin, when man became corporeal, descended from his lofty level where he could see “from one end of the world to the other,” and fell into a state of separate self-consciousness, he was required to fulfill the commandments physically. All this was part of the snake’s plan to lower man to physical work.

Before continuing the explanation, a reservation needs to be raised against a possible “human error” in judgment that would argue that Adam’s descent was complete. In fact, he still had a lofty character, but not continuously:

Although he was indeed of great ascent and not in physicality, God forbid, as one who rises in human thought, only that it was not continuous, and therefore he became aware of it.

Here he begins to state the idea that even after man was drawn after his corporeal nature by sinning and fell from his lofty state, his repentance brings him a movement of ascent, allowing him to move from a state of “being in reality” to a state of “being above and outside reality.” In the future man will return to his lofty state completely, and there will be a real “descent for the sake of ascent.” But even now, in his state of having sinned, Adam remains connected to his root, as the mishnah states, “know from where you came.”[5] Since he is connected to the root, his name does not change. This is Rebbe Bunim’s teaching. How does the Ramatayim Tzofim state this?

Therefore, his rectification was that by fulfilling the Torah and the commandments in physicality, he would return to his original state.

Fulfilling the commandments in the world, “in welt,” will return man to his original state, “out of the world.” Upon his ascent, he will have reached an even higher level than the level he fell from,

Because he will have an evil inclination that entices and misleads him in the physical dimension and hinders all his actions and nevertheless, he will strengthen the powers of his soul and reach higher and higher. This is “the eternal glory of God. God will rejoice in that which He has created.”[6]

It is written[7] that the verse “God will rejoice in that which He has created” refers to the revelation of the essential recreation (שַׁעֲשׁוּעִים עַצְמִיִּים)—God’s “light that illuminates itself” that preceded the contraction (tzimtzum). Thanks to the tzimtzum, and the tremendous descent of the soul (to a physical world where there is an evil inclination that entices and misleads), in the end, the joy from essential recreation will also be revealed below. The first part of the verse, “the eternal glory of God” refers to the light (the revelation of God) that fills reality, also known as “the light that illuminates others,” but the second part refers to God’s essential joy in creation, “God will rejoice in that which He has created.” Of course, the word “will rejoice” (יִשְׂמַח), whose letters permute to spell “Mashiach” (מָשִׁיחַ), also hints at Rebbe Simchah Bunim.

The Ramatayim Tzofim continues,

And this is the service of all the tzaddikim, who will achieve in this world this type of cleaving to God. The Patriarchs—the fathers of the world—and Moses our teacher, and King David, and the like, were on this level. It turns out that by exiting the Garden of Eden as mentioned above, [Adam, i.e., man] reaches his primary rectification with an increase in spiritual stature and strength.

Therefore, we should “applaud” the primordial snake. In fact, he is referred to as the “primordial snake” (נָחָשׁ הַקַּדְמוֹנִי) because thanks to him, we return to our primordial state. And this is not just the primordial state referring to how God “envisioned in Himself all that would be created,” (שִׁעֵר בְּעַצְמוֹ בְּכֹחַ כָּל מַה שֶּׁעָתִיד לִהְיוֹת בְּפֹעַל) but what is known as the “primordial that precedes the primordial”[8] (קַדְמוֹן לְכָל הַקְּדוּמִים).

After the sin man’s ascent is not continuous, and therefore he cannot remain in the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of Eden, he had no self-consciousness, and he aspires and ascends at every moment to Divine consciousness. In the future, when the ascent will again be continuous, man will reach what we have been calling “natural consciousness,” which represents the fulfillment of a complete “descent for the sake of ascent”—descent from continuous Divine consciousness to self-consciousness in order to ascend to natural consciousness, as explained in a discourse by the Rebbe Rashab.[9]

Women’s Service: Connecting This World with the Next

Now, the Ramatayim Tzofim goes back to the comparison between the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to a woman’s divorce:

And this is what he [Rebbe Bunim] said, that He [God] gave him a divorce, like a woman. Just as the woman’s primary rectification comes through divorce, so does Adam’s.

The relationship between the man and the woman, which was explained above in general, receives a more definitive parable here with man corresponding to the World to Come, which was created with the letter yud, which appears in “man” (אִישׁ), and the woman corresponding to This World, our present reality, which was created with the letter hei, which appears in “woman” (אִשָּׁה).

For the woman was called by this name primarily because, “from a man she was taken.” The sages said, “yud in ‘man’ (and hei in ‘woman’). They also said, “This World was created with the letter hei and the World to Come with the letter yud.”[10] In addition, the World to Come is the intellect and the soul. And it is known that the woman is the primary helper in this world, as they said, “[Man brings wheat from the field. Does he chew raw wheat?”[11] And all the work that a woman does for her husband etc. In addition, she gives birth to children in this world. The chronicles of tzaddikim are their good deeds and therefore she is at the level of this world. Additionally, it appears in all the holy books that man corresponds to form, and woman corresponds to matter, and her consciousness is light, and if he can transform his own matter into form, she also greatly ascends with him, as is known.

The goal is the bond between the man and the woman. This same bond is needed with regard to This World and the World to Come. The verse reads, “Trust in Havayah forever, for in Kah Havayah the worlds were formed”[12] (בִּטְחוּ בָּהוי' עֲדֵי עַד כִּי בְּי-ה הוי' צוּר עוֹלָמִים). The word “trust” (בִּטָּחוֹן) in Hebrew stems from the “attachment.”[13] Thus, when the two worlds—woman representing This World, our present reality, and man representing the World to Come—are attached, they merit to bring the Divine Presence, the Shechinah to dwell between them. Specifically, when the commandments are performed physically—when the form of the man is connected with the matter and the light consciousness of the woman—they can reach the ultimate purpose. This connection and bond lead to the state of being “in welt, aus welt,” in reality and outside of reality simultaneously.

Without bringing it explicitly, the woman’s ascent alludes to the sages’ statement that, “she ascends with him, but she does not descend with him.”[14] The literal meaning of this statement is that if her husband is rich, she is also rich. Inwardly, according to what he writes here, if he is in a state of ascent, “she truly ascends very much.” It would also seem that her husband is in a state of spiritual descent into physicality, she too would descend with him. But actually, “she does not descend with him,” she keeps her place. However, it is of course not good enough that she remains static; she should ascend, and her ascent depends on his ascent brought about when he transforms matter into form, corporeality into spirituality.

In light of this explanation, the Ramatayim Tzofim repeats the question of why the name “woman” (אִשָּׁה), which she was given because of the relationship between her letter hei and her husband’s letter yud (אִישׁ) remains even after the divorce, and repeats his explanation on the meaning of the get, the divorce contract:

So, since she is separated from her husband and does not have the attachment she previously had, she certainly falls from her level and [every “fall”] is likened to death, as is known. So why is she called a woman, with a hei, now that she has no attachment to [the man’s] yud, which represents the supernal wisdom, as mentioned above?

Therefore, it follows that when she is released with a get according to the law of Moses and Israel and is tied to the entire Torah—where all exists in complete unity without any blemish—it is from the Torah that she receives the sanctity and the vitality anew, like any unwed woman.

At the moment of divorce, the woman marries the Torah, until she finds her partner again. We can learn from here a principle regarding the “third revolution in Torah study”—Torah study for women—that Torah study for girls is related to marriage. In the past, girls were married in their youth, before maturity, at the age of 12. In our times, women marry later, but a woman should still strive to be “married,” even before she finds her spouse. She can achieve this by being married to the Torah. For this reason, mature girls who are not yet married require a lot of Torah study; Torah study is a woman’s connection to life, “Torah of life”[15] (תּוֹרַת חַיִּים), the connotation used to refer to Torah in liturgy, which is itself the feminine aspect of Divine service.

The Gift of Freewill

Through the get, the woman has the choice to marry whoever she wants, and if she merits it, God will arrange the match that is suitable for her.

The woman who receives a get returns to being a “maiden” (בַּחוּרָה), which in Hebrew stems from “choice” (בְּחִירָה). There is a virgin-maiden and there is a non-virgin maiden who is already mature. But by divorce, she receives a choice, she returns to being a maiden. While she is a divorcee, she is able to strengthen her power of choice and her will.

Choice also appears in relation to Adam, the first man, and his expulsion from the Garden of Eden:

So it was with Adam, who was tied by a strong bond, through supreme sanctity, to the life of all life and received choice and will.

One should not think that Adam simply fell into the depths of the great abyss. He instead fulfilled from where he had sunk to the commandment to, “you will seek Him [God] from there,” i.e., from your place of exile. By repenting and returning to God from where he found himself, he merited the stature of being in welt, aus welt and immediately “tied a strong bond” with holiness, and merited to have choice and will, which are the greatest virtue:

For this is the essence of the Divine, and no creature has the power to grant it, and it is a great gift, as it says, “You open your hand and satisfy every living thing with will”[16] (פּוֹתֵחַ אֶת יָדֶיךָ וּמַשְׂבִּיעַ לְכָל חַי רָצוֹן). “Every living thing” specifically refers to man, who is called “all life”[17] (כָּל חַי), since he includes all animals within him. This is also the reason we say, “the soul of all life”[18] (נִשְׁמַת כָּל חַי), and deep secrets are alluded to in this phrase. By corollary, Uzza and Azael [the two angels who descended from heaven] were expelled, for they cannot be rectified, since they were angels and have no choice.

The essence of will is a gift that God gives to all life, referring to man, within whom is included all the Divine vitality of all worlds, which is why his soul is called, “the soul of all life.” Choice is what allows even those who have fallen and been rejected to rectify. Angels have no choice, which is why when Uzza and Aza’el “fell” from heaven[19] they were not able to recover. But man has choice, thus even after he has fallen and has been rejected, he can contemplate his situation, correct what needs correction, and can recover from his fall. As the verse says, “[even] a righteous man falls seven times and recovers.”[20] Free will particularly relates to Israel. Therefore, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem is called the House of Choice (בֵּית הַבְּחִירָה). It is the place where one can intensify one’s choice and choose to follow God, which in rabbinic literature is described as, “I marry God”[21] (אֲנָא נְסִיב מַלְכָּא)—only Israel has the ability to choose God in this manner.

Israel’s ability to choose God’s very substance is related to definitions of God, the soul, and faith attributed to the Alter Rebbe:

  • God, he says, is “that which clearly exists and nothing else exists clearly but Him.” In other words, this is an expression of the fact that “God’s being is a given” (אֶלֹּקוּת בִּפְשִׁיטוּת) and everything else must be brought into being (עוֹלָמוֹת בְּהִתְחַדְּשׁוּת). God’s being is certain and everything else is tenuous.
  • The soul, says the Alter Rebbe, is that which is excited by the thought that there is one thing whose being is certain (and everything else’s being is not).
  • Faith, he defines as the natural, instinctive, super-rational attraction of the part to the whole. This is similar to someone who is drawn and connected to a tzaddik, who is part of the tzaddik’s soul. Likewise, we are “a part of God above.”

The soul is the fervor or passion that there is One who clearly exists and everything else does not, that the is One whose being is necessary and everything else has only possible being to borrow the Rambam’s language. It is the soul that chooses God’s substance, which is the only thing that clearly is.

A Gift Against Her Will

Therefore, after the divorce, the woman is still called a woman (including the letter hei). Why? Because she is certainly still bound and connected to holiness, represented by the letter yud, which is still relevant to her.

Even after being given the get, the woman is still “married” so to speak, to God, to the Torah and its path. That is why she is still referred to as “woman” (אִשָּׁה).

Similarly, with Adam [the first man], when God gave him his “divorce” [i.e., expelled him from the Garden of Eden], it was an irrevocable gift (מַתָּנָה גְּמוּרָה) given with great love, so that through it he would experience a great rectification.

This is a wonderful interpretation: All of God’s punishments are an “irrevocable gift given with great love.” The idea echoes what the Alter Rebbe writes in the Tanya.[22] The Ramatayim Tzofim connects the insight that being expelled from the Garden of Eden was a gift (מַתָּנָה) to a woman’s divorce contract, which must be “given into her hand” (וְנָתַן בְּיָדָהּ):

And what is the gift? Like a woman, as mentioned above, of whom it is said “he [her ex-husband] shall give it [the get] into her hand.” This is seemingly difficult, because according to what we have established in Gittin (75a), “giving against one’s will is not considered giving.” Thus, if the woman does not want this “gift,” why should she be divorced?

But according to our understanding that it is good, because in truth it is a great gift for her, and he is giving her spiritual and physical vitality, according to our holy Torah, only she does not discern this. Therefore, the ruling is that he should give it to her [even] against her will, because if she knew the benefits, she would consent.

This is similar to one who forces his sick son to take his medicine. And we find a similar idea regarding the Giving of the Torah, as explained in [tractate] Shabbat, “He [God] held the mountain over them like a barrel.” [See the introductions to the Hafla’ah and the Maknah for more on this].

From the fact that the Torah’s language implies that a woman can be divorced against her will, the author learns that the divorce is for the woman's benefit, and here he explains according to the same logic why the Torah uses the verb “to give” (וְנָתַן), which paints the divorce as a gift. The principle is that “Whoever gives [a gift], he gives it with a good eye” and this is a gift whose goodness is immense. But because the recipient does not discern this, sometimes the get is given against her will, but the Torah knows the truth and that it is a merit for her.

The relation to the inner will follows the Rambam’s explanation regarding the coercion that a court can coerce a person to divorce his wife. He writes, “we force him until he says ‘I agree [to give the get].’” Meaning, that when coercion in extreme circumstances follows the Torah, it reveals one’s inner will.[23] Both the giving of the get (“the book of cutting-off,” which cuts her off from her husband but connects her to the Torah) and the Giving of the Torah itself contain an element of coercion (for the benefit of the recipient).

The Torah’s Plain Meaning is its Concealed Dimension

The author concludes his lengthy explanation of Rabbi Bunim’s brief comment on the opening of the Tanna Debei Eliyahu with a general note about the method of Torah learning in Peshischa:

Our teacher [Rebbe Simchah Bunim] of blessed memory regularly said that the plain meaning [of the Torah’s text] is the dominant concealed teaching (הַפְּשָׁט הוּא עִקַּר הַסּוֹד).

This idea very much characterizes the Ramatayim Tzofim. In general, if we want to distinguish the unique way of serving God in Peshischa—from the Holy Yid onwards—it is serving God through the intellect. Therefore, there was so much opposition from the elder tzaddikim of the generation, who suspected that in Peshischa they had abandoned the original path of Chasidut, the path of simple faith; it seemed to them that the way of Peshischa was too intellectual. Similarly, they also opposed Chabad, characteristically intellectual as well. Still there is a difference. In Chabad stating the Torah’s secrets with openly Kabbalistic language and the language of the Arizal was common, all while engaging in deep contemplation meant to abstract above and beyond materiality. In contrast, in Peshischa, the Torah’s simple meaning was considered the Torah’s secret dimension. This is the unique foundation of Peshischa.

A famous gematria is that the sum of “plain meaning” (פְּשַׁט) and “secret” (סוֹד) equals the gematria of “Ba’al Shem Tov” (בַּעַל שֵׁם טוֹב). The Ba’al Shem Tov himself is the simple meaning that is a secret. When we correspond the four methods of Torah interpretation—plain meaning, allusion, homiletic, and secret (פְּשַׁט רֶמֶז דְּרָשׁ סוֹד)—the Pardes (פַּרְדֵּס) of Torah to the four letters in God’s essential Name, Havayah, the connection between the secret (the yud) and the simple meaning (the lower hei) is in the secret of the Zohar’s phrase, “Abba founded the daughter” (אַבָּא יָסַד בְּרַתָּא)

The meaning of [the principle] “the text does not void its simple meaning” (אֵין מִקְרָא יוֹצֵא מִידֵי פְשׁוּטוֹ) means that the plain meaning is the true secret.

There were tzaddikim, like Rebbe Nachman, who instructed their disciples to not study the Ibn Ezra. But one who loves the plain meaning and knows that the secret is the plain meaning and that the plain meaning is the Torah’s secret, will love to learn the Ibn Ezra more than all the commentators. And indeed, Rebbe Bunim expressed[24] his amazement at the Ibn Ezra’s fear of Heaven and said that he wrote a commentary that no one would be able to understand, but in the end, we have understood him.

And all that he [Rebbe Bunim] said and taught followed this method, just like the holy Torah itself, which speaks about plain matters and includes in them all the infinite secrets, as is known.

With these words, the Ramatayim Tzofim justifies the lengthy explanation he has based on the few words he heard from his teacher on the teaching from the Tanna Debei Eliyahu.

Click here for Part 1 of this article

[1]. Exodus 16:7-8.

[2]. Genesis 3:22.

[3]. As the Torah states, “[God] took Adam and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to protect it” (Genesis 2:15).

[4]. As in the Zohar (2:97b) that describes the commandments as 613 pieces of advice.

[5]. Avot 3:1.

[6]. Psalms 104:31.

[7]. Rabbi Yisrael Srug Shever Yosef, 2. See Addendum to Pelach HaRimon, Bereishit, s.v. Chanoch LaNa’ar. Ibid. Tishrei, p. 82. Rebbe Rashab’s essay VeYitzchak Ba MiBo 5663. Sod HaShem LiYerei’av, Ta’am HaBeri’ah ch. 5, and more.

[8]. Tikkunei Zohar 19 (42a), 70 (120a and 133a).

[9]. Torat Shalom, Simchat Torah 5672 (see shiur from 2-3 Nissan, 5780, published in Nifla’ot Ki Teitzei 5780).

[10]. Menachot 29b.

[11]. Yevamot 63a and Ketubot 59b.

[12]. Isaiah 26:4.

[13]. As in “He shall plaster the home” (וְטָח אֶת הַבַּיִת), Leviticus 14:42. See Lev LaDa’at, pp. 56ff.

[14]. Ketubot 48a.

[15]. Amidah, Sim Shalom.

[16]. Psalms 145:16.

[17]. Genesis 3:20.

[18]. Shabbat morning liturgy.

[19]. Tanna Debei Eliyahu Rabbah, ch. 25. Pesikta Rabbati, ch. 34. Zohar 1:23a, 1:37a.

[20]. Proverbs 24:16.

[21]. Eichah Rabbah 3:8. See in depth in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s essay BeYom Ashtei Asar Yom 5731.

[22]. Iggeret HaKodesh 11, titled “To teach you understanding” (לְהַשְׂכִּלְךָ בִּינָה), relating once again to Rebbe Bunim.

[23]. In this case, the woman does not have to actually voice the words “I agree,” just as during the wedding ceremony, she is not required to voice her consent to the betrothal, even though it certainly depends on her consent.

[24]. Passed down by many of his disciples. See for example Yismach Yisra’el on Terumah 1. Shem MiShemu’el, Bo 5674, and more.

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