Jewish Home and Family LifeKi Teitzeimain posts

The Secrets of Divorce

In honor of the yahrzeit of Rebbe Simchah Bunim of Peshischa

Click here for Part 2 of this article

On the yahrzeit of Rebbe Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, the 12th of Elul, 5779, HaRav Ginsburgh taught the first section of the commentary Ramatayim Tzophim on the Tanna Devei Eliyahu over the phone. This commentary was written by Rabbi Shmuel of Shinova, a student and attendant of Rebbe Bunim, who opens his commentary with a direct quote from him. The first sentence in the Tanna Devei Eliyahu compares the expulsion of Adam the first man from the Garden of Eden to the divorce of a woman, and Rabbi Bunim explains that surprisingly both Adam and the woman retain their original name even after the divorce.

To explain his teacher's words, Rabbi Shmuel elaborates on the secret of divorce and the concern for the woman’s wellbeing found therein. He also compares divorce to exile—the expulsion of the people of Israel from their land and an actual reference to the woman's connection to the Torah.

In a second part to be published separately, Rabbi Shmuel explains in-depth his teacher's intent regarding Adam’s sin, while explaining the essence of the sin (separate self-awareness) and the essence of its rectification (physical service of God that causes an ascent to spiritual heights, while still living in mundane reality, like the level attained by Elijah the Prophet, himself). In the second part, Rabbi Shmuel also touches on a fundamental principle in the Torah of Rebbe Bunim: "the literal is the essence of the secret."

Apart from being published on the anniversary of Rebbe Bunim’s passing, providentially it also relates to our weekly Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, in which the laws of divorce appear.


Rabbi Simcha Bunim: the Joy of Understanding

In honor of the yahrzeit of Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, on the 12th of Elul, let us learn something from him that is brought at the beginning of the commentary Ramatayim Tzofim on the Tanna Debei Eliyahu. This commentary was written by Rabbi Shmuel of Shinova and its title alludes to his name Shmuel, since the prophet Shmuel (Samuel) was “from Ramatayim Tzofim.”[1] His commentary includes teachings from the widest variety of tzaddikim, starting with his Rebbe, Simchah Bunim, who is the main one, and others, some of whom were his teachers. He also brings the Alter Rebbe, who he refers to as Rabbi Zalman of Liadi or simply “the Rav.”

Tanna Debei Eliyahu begins with an interpretation of the verse, "And He drove Adam out"[2] (וַיְגָרֶשׁ אֶת הָאָדָם):

"And He drove Adam out": this teaches that the Holy, Blessed One divorced him [Adam] as [one would divorce] a woman.

Ramatayim Tzofim begins his commentary with the words of the Rokeach, that every author should hint at his name at the beginning of his book. A prime example that he notes is that the gematria of the word, "And He drove out" (וַיְגָרֶשׁ) is exactly the same as “Tanna Debei Eliyahu” (תַּנָּא דְּבֵי אֵלִיָּהוּ). Now, let us note that the next two words in the verse, “the man” (אֶת הָאָדָם), have the same gematria as “Simchah Bunim” (שִׂמְחָה בּוּנֶם), the Ramatayim Tzofim’s rebbe.

The Seer of Lublin, Rebbe Simchah Bunim’s first rebbe was fond of saying about him that “His name is joy [Simchah] and he will spread joy to the world.” Bunim can be interpreted as related to the word for “understanding” (בִּינָה), “The mother of the sons is joyous” (אֵם הַבָּנִים שִׂמְחָה). Rebbe Simchah Bunim’s second rebbe was the Holy Yid (Rebbe Yaakov Yitchak of Peshischa). Their relationship was reminiscent of, “two friends who never part”—which describes the relationship between the sefirot of wisdom and understanding. The Holy Yid also means the holy yud (י), the first letter of God’s essential Name, Havayah, corresponding to sefirah of wisdom. Thus, he was the point of wisdom and Simchah Bunim was his expansion through joy and understanding. Simchah Bunim’s yahrzeit, the “12th of Elul” (יב אֱלוּל), whose value is 474, is also equal to “knowledge” (דָּעַת), the secret of, "If there is no knowledge, there is no understanding, if there is no understanding, there is no knowledge."[3]

Even though, "the mother of the sons is joyous", describes the sefirah of understanding, it is written that "from it [understanding] judgments are aroused." From the external dimension of understanding there is some arousal of judgments. Therefore, all the judgments need to be elevated and sweetened at their root, the root of loving-kindness, which is the inner aspect of understanding—joy. As we shall see, it is indeed Rebbe Bunim who sweetens the secret of the expulsion of man from the Garden of Eden and his comparison to the divorce of a woman.

Preserving the Names Even After the Sin

On the first words of Seder Eliyahu Raba, we saw above, the Ramatayim Tzofim writes:

[A] Speaks about the level of the first man. And as I heard in the name of the holy Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Peshischa, the interpretation is that even after the sin, he was called Adam.


There are four names given to man in Torah[4]: Adam (אָדָם), Ish (אִישׁ), Gever (גֶּבֶר), Enosh (אֱנוֹשׁ). “Adam” is the loftiest name, the name of virtue, and "Enosh" is the lowest of the names. Therefore, I would have thought that after the sin it would be appropriate to call him "Enosh", to change his name, indicating a change in his essence. Before the sin, the stature of the first man was from one end of the world to the other, and after it he was completely diminished and stood only a hundred cubits tall,[5] revealing a completely different essence (as we recently learned,[6] that the state of reality before Adam and Eve’s sin also refers to the state that preceded the contraction [tzimtzum], while the state of reality after their sin represents the state after the contraction), which should have been expressed in a name change. But, says Rabbi Bunim, his name—which indicates his essence—remains "Adam." Just as Adam gave names to all the animals and beasts, God gave him a name: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," the highest name of the act of creation, and that name remains his. Adam (אָדָם) equals 45, the value of the name mah (מה), representing the alef filling of God’s essential Name Havayah (יוד הא ואו הא), associating it with the World of Rectification (עוֹלָם הַתִּקּוּן). This adds even more surprise and wonder that the sin, which removed him from the World of Rectification whose essential quality is nullification before God, would not have been cause enough to refer to him by a different name. Yet apparently, he remains with the name “Adam” even after the sin because he still has some aspect of nullification, as alluded to by the phrase spoken by Moses, "and we are nothing (וְנַחְנוּ מָה)."[7]

Now the Ramatayim Tzofim writes,

Like a woman is still called a “woman” after the divorce.

From here it implies that there is a presumption that after a divorce, a woman should be addressed by another name, not “woman” (אִשָּׁה). Why? As he will explain, it implies that the word “woman” suggests a married woman, since the word’s derivation according to the Torah is, “for she was taken from man (אִישׁ)," a man's wife.

The Midrash here compares between the expulsion of the first man from the Garden of Eden and the divorce of a woman, and Rabbi Bunim infers that both in man and in woman there was a presumption to change the name after the divorce, but the name was not changed.

“Israel has sinned”

The apparent source for Rabbi Bunim's saying, which does not appear here is "Israel has sinned”[8] (חָטָא יִשְׂרָאֵל), about which the sages say, "An Israelite, even if he sins, is still an Israelite"[9]—he does not descend from being described as a part of “Israel” to the relatively lowlier name “Jacob,” as expected.

The phrase, “Israel sinned” appears in reference to the Biblical Achan, who violated the banned spoils of the war with the Ai, and yet he is still Israel. The fact that a Jew remains a Jew regardless of his conduct is the fundamental principle of Chasidut. It is related to the verse "For he will not cast off the banished"[10] that he will mention; the essential point of Israel always remains intact. The connection between retention oof the name “Adam” and retention of the name “Israel” is alluded to in the sages’ statement, "You are called Adam and the nations of the world are not called Adam."[11]

The idea presented here is that the preservation of the name stems from the power to return to the original status, and even to rise above it—the secret of "descent for the sake of ascent." The innovation is that the ascent in the end will not desert mundane reality. When he reaches his final goal, man will merit to be able to experience himself as being both “outside reality” and “inside reality.” We recently learned in an article by Rebbe Hillel of Paritch that the Edenic snake’s argument was that Adam and Eve were experiencing reality only from the “outside,” and he wanted (to tempt them in order) to bring them into the world. He succeeded. We may not have explained this, but the purpose of our spiritual ascent to return us to where Adam was, experiencing reality from the “outside,” but at the same time, without losing the “in reality” experience. To be both “inside reality and outside reality” (in welt, aus welt) is a summation of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s Chasidut in one sentence. This power is expressed in the fact that the name remains the same even after the sin, "Israel has sinned."

Divorce for the Sake of Rectification

To explain the words of his teacher, Rebbe Bunim, the author of Ramatayim Tzofim begins with an explanation of divorce. What he says is both touching and very relevant to our generation. He speaks on the equality of women, the love of a woman, and the rectification of women, which is why we enjoy quote it,

And to understand the matter to the best of my understanding, it seems that the essence of divorce is for the benefit of the woman and for her rectification,

He writes here that the husband who is forced to divorce his wife according to the Torah is setting her free. Deep down, this is the secret of exile: God expels the Jewish people from their land ("Because of our sins we were exiled from our land"), but in doing so He actually sets us free, as He liberates us from an external yoke, as we felt the yoke of the Torah and the commandments when we were in our land, which led us to rebel against God and to cast off His Torah. It's hard to say this, but by going into exile God takes us from slavery to freedom. God sacrifices the quantity of practical commandments we can perform,[12] to allow the strengthening of the inner quality of our faith, to achieve true cleaving to God, and to serve Him with self-sacrifice. Only in exile can one merit to serve God in truth, for God’s sake, not in order to receive a reward, in true freedom from the evil inclination of “selfish service” (as our teacher the Ba’al Shem Tov taught us, that in order to benefit another Jew, he was always ready to give up his entire portion in the World to Come)!

Divorce by Force (Prior to Rabbeinu Gershom)

Where does the author get that divorce is specifically for the benefit of the woman?

For [according to the Written Torah] a man can marry several women, and he can divorce any woman [he has married] with a get, even against her will and we do not weigh her opinion at all, even rabbinically. It is only because of the ban of Rabbeinu Gershom [that it is forbidden to marry more than one woman and to divorce her against her will]. And this seems to contradict reason. It must therefore be that divorce is meant for the rectification of her soul and body, even though she does not understand this, and the Holy, Blessed One plans to ensure that no soul is cast off.

According to the basic law, a woman can be divorced against her will—something that seems contradictory to reason, which would dictate that just as a woman marries only when she wants to, so she should be divorced only according to her will. Therefore, we must say that divorce is specifically for the benefit of the woman, in body and soul, even though she does not understand this. The Holy, Blessed One, who cares for her benefit, authorized the commandment of divorce in the Torah, and allows it to be done even against her will, when she does not understand that the husband who divorces her is actually benefiting her.

The author notes that this is the basic law, upheld by both the Written Torah and the rabbis, until Rabbeinu Gershom’s decree that one may not divorce his wife against her will, and that one may not marry more than one woman. His decree was originally intended to last only until the end of the fifth millennium (c. 1240 CE) and was limited in its scope to mostly Ashkenazic Jews. Nonetheless, the ruling among all Jews today is to adhere to Rabbeinu Gershom’s decree, even today, as we approach the end of the sixth millennium.

Rabbeinu Gershom is famously known as "the light of the exile" (מְאוֹר הַגּוֹלָה), a connotation no one else has. The reason for this is that he illuminated our exile with his two decrees regarding man and woman. The man and the woman symbolize the Holy, Blessed One and the Congregation of Israel, and what is decreed below God must fulfill above. Because every Jew, in his innermost point, "does not want and cannot be separated from God," in essence no Jew agrees to be divorced from God. Therefore, whatever happens, whatever state we reach, no matter how low we sink, the Holy, Blessed One cannot divorce us against our will. Conversely, if God says, in a manner of speaking, “Okay, I'll marry someone else [i.e., another nation],” He cannot, because He is forbidden to take another wife on top of His first wife—i.e., us, the Jewish people. Therefore, the ban of Rabbeinu Gershom sustains our relationship with God during the exile, until the coming of the righteous redeemer, speedily in our days.

The Woman’s Lifeforce

In order to explain how divorce is for the benefit of the woman, the author first states a great principle, in light of which it would seem that divorce should not have been allowed:

For a woman has no life, neither in body nor in soul, except from her husband, and if she is rejected from her husband for whatever reason, she finds herself attached to impurity.

To use Kabbalistic nomenclature, a husband and wife correspond to the union of Ze’er Anpin and Nukva, and the separation of the Nukva (kingdom) from Ze’er Anpin (beauty—tiferet) is described as a severing of the shoots, something performed by Elisha ben Avuyah—causing the Nukva’s “feet to descend down to death.” Hence, kingdom (malchut) by itself is called the “tree of death”[13]). The Nukva, i.e., the feminine, must be connected to Ze’er Anpin, the masculine. Considering this, he writes here something very beautiful:

Therefore, he [a husband] must love his wife as his body in order to attach her to life.

The husband does not just love his wife, but his love for her is the greatest benefit, the most significant act of kindness towards her (hence love is the inner aspect of kindness)—through his love he gives her life. In light of this, the verse, "See life with the woman that you love"[14] is explained as follows: if you love a woman you draw lifeforce to her; the average value of each letter in life (חַיִּים), 68, is good (טוֹב), 17, alluding to another verse, “One who has found a woman has found good.”[15]

The Woman’s Connection to the Supernal Wisdom

When we understand that a woman receives life from her husband's love, we can understand why the Torah gives a commandment that guides how to separate in a case where, God forbid, the husband stops loving the woman. First of all, it can be understood that if the husband does not love his wife as his body, he is depriving her of life, and if there is a real reason for this (as the Ramatayim Tzofim will explain) and it cannot be corrected—it is necessary to offer the possibility of separation. Secondly, it is understood that the Torah must give detailed instructions on how to divorce without, God forbid, the woman's life entirely being cut off. This is the point he will explain now:

She does not separate from him except by a get, which is called a “book.”

The commandment of divorce is "And he shall write her a book of cutting-off"[16] (וְכָתַב לָהּ סֵפֶר כְּרִיתֻת). Colloquially, the divorce document is called a get (גֵּט). But in the Torah, it is referred to as “a book.” As Maimonides writes, before the giving of the Torah, both entering a marriage and leaving it were not governed by conditions and limits; the entire order of betrothal and divorce was set only after the Giving of the Torah. The author of Ramatayim Tzofim adds that the giving of the "book" from the man to his wife is similar in itself to the giving of the Torah (and there are similarities mentioned between a get and a Torah scroll):

And in many ways, it [giving the divorce document] is similar to the Giving of the Torah itself, and by this she is bound in the Torah in the supernal wisdom and in the all-inclusive intellect.

If the woman separates for a moment from her source of life that her husband provides her with, she immediately falls to attach to impure forces. But when the man divorces her with a divorce-document, a “book of cutting-off,” there is not even a moment in which she is in a state of separation, because the moment she ceases to be his wife, she becomes connected to the Torah, receiving the Torah. The giving of the get is for her like the Giving of the Torah and she becomes connected to the Torah, which is, as he described it here, the "supernal wisdom"—"Torah emerges from wisdom"—and it is the "all-inclusive intellect" (שֵׂכֶל הַכּוֹלֵל). The gematria of “all-inclusive intellect” (שֵׂכֶל הַכּוֹלֵל) is 441, also the value of “truth” (אֱמֶת)—it is the point of truth, and as the sages say, "there is no truth but Torah" (אֵין אֱמֶת אֶלָּא תּוֹרָה), and "Moses is true and his Torah is true" (מֹשֶׁה אֱמֶת וְתוֹרָתוֹ אֱמֶת). The moment the woman divorces, she marries the inclusive intellect of the supreme wisdom of the Torah.

Marriage, Divorce, and True Compatibility

The connection the divorced woman makes with the Torah also serves as a preparation for her next marriage:

And from there her correction that she can marry and connect to her true spouse.

The Torah provides the woman with the spiritual backing and rectification she needs during the time she is divorced, so that she can find the true soulmate that suits her. The word for “true” (אֱמֶת) is made up of the same letters as the word for “twin” (תְּאֹם), which indicates the highest level of a marital bond between two people. As it turned out, the first husband, who divorced her, was not her twin—they were not compatible, as they say today. A true match is true, and one can merit to find it by virtue of the true Torah.

How do we know that the first husband was not the woman's true match? The author here explains that the divorce was not simply the result of domestic strife, which stems from the husband's evil heart because in that case the court would have taken steps to restore the domestic peace and prevented the divorce.

For he [the divorcing husband] is certainly not her match since he wants to divorce her. The Torah did not speak of the dead, God forbid, who divorce because of the evil inclination, God forbid.

One who divorces because of his evil inclination is called "dead" (as the sages relate that, "the wicked, already during their lives are referred to as ‘dead’”), and “the Torah did not speak of the dead.” To explain this further, the author expands on various aspects that exist in justified divorces according to the Torah:

On the one hand, the divorce sanctioned by Torah may occur even if the husband did not find in his wife "a lewd matter" that requires divorce or arouses repulsion, for according to Rabbi Akiva a divorce is a possibility, "even if he [the husband] has found another [woman] more beautiful than her":

What the sages said in Gittin, that “even if he did not find in her a lewd matter, but found another…,” should be understood in the manner explained by the Or HaChaim in parashat Ki Teitzei regarding the beautiful maiden.

The Or HaChaim explains the secret of "the beautiful maiden" with respect to the root of the soul (and this is also explained in detail in Likkutei Torah[17]). The seeming physical lust and attraction that a warrior feels to the beautiful maiden taken prisoner in battle stems from a true soul connection between the two, and not just from physical desire. Similarly, regarding the laws of divorce, which also appear in parashat Ki Teitzei (which opens with the law of the beautiful maiden), there is the issue of the true soul connection between a man and a woman. Thus, when a divorce is a result of the husband feeling that he has found someone whom he is attracted to more than his wife—and we are of course speaking here of a true connection, when the husband is absolutely free from suspicion of catering to his evil inclination (a very rare event indeed)—such a divorce and a subsequent marriage to another woman also testifies to a true match between the two, unlike the connection between the man and his first wife.

However, even though the divorce that is permitted by Torah stems from a lack of true compatibility between the couple, the first marriage was also ordained from Heaven, and there is sorrow over the separation of the two through their divorce:

Therefore, the sages said that the altar sheds tears on it [the separation].

Divorce and Remarrying

And just as certainly as her match is from heaven, so is the divorce.

Just as God matches couples in their first betrothals, so it is He who brings about divorce. Why did Divine Providence decree that a woman would marry someone who would eventually be revealed as the wrong match for her—not her true match? Apparently, the process causes some specific rectification in her life. Indeed, it is not only marriages that end in divorce that act towards this end. It is written that even a shidduch [matchmaking] proposal that never materialized, brings about some rectification. In a very colorful description, Rebbe Nachman tells us that every match is a proposal held by a particular angel, and a match that has reached the general marriage is entirely from God, therefore every proposal brings about a rectification, even though the proposed man is not her true match; that is the reason that Divine Providence so decreed.

Indeed, just as there was a certain rectification attained by means of the marriage, there is also a rectification that happens by means of the divorce, and in the end, it serves as a preparation for the true marriage that will come later:

Therefore, it indeed serves her lifelong rectification to connect her [with the divorce] to the Torah from which all details emerge. And therefore this is done specifically with a “book of cutting-off.”

Divorce provides a woman with her lifelong rectification by bonding her with the Torah—the "book" that is alluded to in the concept of “the book of cutting-off.” We see here that the bond with the Torah acts like an intermediate. Immediately upon receiving the divorce, without a moment's delay, the woman connects to the Torah, for the purpose marrying her true match. The woman's connection to the Torah, "the supernal wisdom,” serves as the intermediate state of nothingness (“wisdom emerges from nothingness”) that connects every two states of being. It is the connection with Torah that set the stage for the emergence of her true match like the emergence of creation ex nihilo—being out of nothing. The Torah is all-inclusive ("the all-inclusive intellect," as noted earlier) out of which all the specific details emerge. Yet this all-inclusive state appears like a state of nothingness in relation to all the details that will emerge from it but which are not yet identified within it. In the end, from the general connection to the Torah in divorce, the woman will get the detail that suits her for her true marriage.

The tight transition between being divorced and being connected to the Torah that leads to a second marriage is further alluded to in the Torah’s wording, “She will exit [her first marriage]… then she will be [wed].” Even if it takes time until the woman finds her second, true match, the Torah’s wording implies that spiritually it happens immediately, because she immediately connects and bonds with the Torah:

Therefore, our sages said, “her divorce is juxtaposed with her marriage,”[18] specifically at the moment of leaving her marriage, she acquires her future marriage, as long as she was included and connected to the Torah and the supernal wisdom.

Click here for Part 2 of this article

[1]. 1 Samuel 1:1.

[2]. Genesis 3:24.

[3]. Avot 3:17.

[4]. See Hayom Yom for the 4th of Elul.

[5]. Bereishit Rabbah 12:6.

[6]. Shiur from 15 Av 5780 (printed in Nifla’ot for Shoftim 5780). See Rebbe Hillel of Paritch’s essay, LeDavid HaShem Ori VeYishi.

[7]. Exodus 16:7-8.

[8]. Joshua 7:11.

[9]. Sanhedrin 44a.

[10]. 2 Samuel 14:14.

[11]. Yevamot 61a.

[12]. Since most of them apply only when the majority of the Jewish people reside in the Land of Israel

[13]. See Zohar 1:35b.

[14]. Ecclesiastes 9:9.

[15]. Proverbs 18:22.

[16]. Deuteronomy 24:1. The value of these words is 1833, or 3 times “Torah” (תּוֹרָה), and 13 times “mitzvah” (מִצְוָה). The words, “Book of cutting-off” (סֵפֶר כְּרִיתֻת) equals 1370, or 10 times the fine-structure constant, 137, also known amazingly as the “coupling constant” of the electromagnetic force, which is responsible for “bonding” particles together.

[17]. Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi’s Likkutei Torah, Ki Tetitzei, 34c and ff.

[18]. Kiddushin 41a.

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