The Kabbalistic Basis for Four Types of Marital Harmony
In this article’s first part we saw that Judah’s name (יְהוּדָה) can be permuted into the “filling” of God’s Name, Yud-hei (י-ה), Kah, the Name that is associated with marital harmony according to Rabbi Akiva. We then proceeded to look at all the other possible fillings of the Name Yud-hei and detailed how they represent 4 different states of marital harmony. We ended by explaining the husband and the wife’s dispositions in each of these states.
What all the states seemed to have in common was that the husband’s disposition remained the same—the husband was expected to come down from his aloof state to meet his wife wherever she might be. But though this is a consistent expectation from the husband, and he is responsible for initiating the state of marital harmony by doing so, in practice, the way in which he comes down is different depending on his wife’s disposition. We encourage reviewing that first part in order to continue with our second level analysis that follows.
The Husband’s Role As Captured by the Yud’s Filling
The four possible fillings of the Name Kah (Yud–Hei) that we reviewed in the first part correspond to the sefirot and the partzufim in the following manner:
|ab (עב)||יוד הי||wisdom (chochmah)||Abba (Father)|
|sag (סג)||יוד הי||understanding (binah)||Ima (Mother)|
|mah (מה)||יוד הא||beauty (tiferet)||Ze’er Anpin (Small countenance)|
|ban (בן)||יוד הה||kingdom (malchut)||Nukva (Female)|
In each of the fillings, the filling of the yud—which is always יוד—corresponds to the husband, while the filling of the hei—which might be either הי or הא or הה—corresponds to the wife.
We said that the husband seems to be constant through all the levels, and indeed his only task is to come down, to meet his wife where she is, at her level. But, in practice, depending on where his wife is, the husband has to come down in different ways in order to enjoy marital harmony with her. In effect, each level of marital harmony also projects a different meaning onto the two filling letters of the yud (י)—vav and dalet (וד). Let us see how this works.
When Descent Becomes An Ascent
The filling of the yud is always yud-vav-dalet. The letter dalet in this filling represents the woman. The meaning of the name of the letter dalet can mean “to elevate,” for example in the verse from the beginning of the Book of Exodus (and our weekly Torah portion, this week, parashat Shemot), “They [Jethro’s daughters] said, ‘An Egyptian saved us from the shepherds and he also brought up water for us and he watered the flock” (וַתֹּאמַרְןָ אִישׁ מִצְרִי הִצִּילָנוּ מִיַּד הָרֹעִים וְגַם דָּלֹה דָלָה לָנוּ וַיַּשְׁקְ אֶת הַצֹּאן). Another example is in a verse we say daily during the morning prayers, “I exalt you God, for you have lifted me up….” (אֲרוֹמִמְךָ הוי׳ כִּי דִלִּיתָנִי וְלֹא שִׂמַּחְתָּ אֹיְבַי לִי). In addition, the sages tell us that in principle a woman ascends when her husband ascends, but she does not descend with him when he does (עוֹלָה עִמּוֹ וְאֵינָהּ יוֹרֶדֶת עִמּוֹ). Thus, although the husband is descending, this does not cause his wife to descend but rather as we shall see, his purpose in descending is to elevate her.
Descent and Ascent When the Wife Nullifies Herself to Her Husband
In the first type of marital harmony, the wife feels entirely nullified to her husband. In such a case, the letters vav dalet in her husband’s filling signify that he gives himself entirely over to her. To better understand what this means, let us take as an example the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. There, we, the Jewish people, played the role of the wife, and because we were entirely nullified before God, playing the role of our husband, He gave His very essence to us in the form of the Torah. The sages explain that the first word of the Ten Commandments (which we heard directly from God), “I am” (אָנֹכִי) can be read as an acronym for the phrase, “I wrote Myself and I gave Myself [to you]” (אֲנָא נַפְשִׁי כְּתַבִית יְהַבִית). In other words, God did not just give us a glimpse, a reflection of His essence; He gave us His very essence. At this level of marital harmony, the husband’s descent is dynamic. It is meant to result in an ascent of the couple together, in harmony. At the very end of this ascent, the woman actually rises higher than her husband, the secret of the verse, “a woman of valor is her husband’s crown.” So the vav signifies that his essence descends to her and the dalet signifies their united ascent up to infinity.
In the sag‐filling (which is identical to the ab-filling and the difference between them was explained in the first part of this article) the vav‐dalet signify a different type of descent. Whereas in the ab-filling the husband gave his wife his entire essence, in the sag‐filling he gives all his attention, all his understanding to his wife. His descending to meet her where she is focuses on understanding her as much as he can. This is not unlike a psychologist who, given a certain situation, has to try to reconstruct where it came from. So, in this state of marital harmony, the husband offers his listening and empathic skills to his wife. However, it is important to remember that the sages tell us that a woman has more understanding than does a man, so the husband can never fully understand his wife, but he must do his best. This is the meaning of the vav, the descent. Both here and in the next level—the mah‐filling—the dalet signifies the husband filling his wife’s needs to the best of his ability.
An example of how this works can be found in the “meiner zogt” story, wherein the Alter Rebbe’s wife, when speaking to some of her friends, once referred to him as, “meiner zogt,” meaning, “mine says.” She referred to her husband by the possessive pronoun “mine,” which could theoretically be seen as objectification. However, the Alter Rebbe understood her true intent, which was to show her deep sense of connection to him. He said, “if with the one commandment that I perform for my wife, I become hers, how much the more so am I God’s due to the many commandments that I perform for Him.” To understand what his wife meant, the Alter Rebbe had to come down (from his Divine meditation). The excitement that he experienced when he understood what this statement means in terms of his own Divine service is typical of the Alter Rebbe, whose excitement in general originates in the sag‐filling of Havayah, which corresponds to “with all of your might.”
The husband’s descent captured by the mah‐filling is somewhat similar to the sag‐filling. Again, the husband’s descent, symbolized by the letter vav, is in order to understand and empathize with his wife. But here the vav takes on an additional meaning. The Name Havayah is broken up into two halves, the first half (the first two letters, yud and hei) signify the concealed aspects of God. The second half (the last two letters, vav and hei) signify His revealed aspects. The revealed aspects thus begin with the letter vav. Here too, the vav does not signify a concealed descent, i.e., a descent that is entirely psychological or spiritual. Now the vav signifies a descent that has a revealed effect—with the husband giving something concrete to his wife.
What the husband now gives can be divided into two parts, just as the vav signifies the six sefirot from loving‐kindness to foundation, which are divided into two triplets. The first part, corresponding to the emotional sefirot lovingkindness, might, and beauty (known by their initials chagat, חג"ת), means providing her with emotional support. The second part, corresponding to the habitual sefirot victory, thanksgiving, and foundation (known by their initials nehi, נה"י), means providing her physical needs, to which the husband committed when he signed the ketubah (marriage contract). In short, we can describe this type of descent as taking responsibility for his wife’s needs.
Now, obviously the final level, the ban‐filling, must be something more. Here the husband’s vav‐dalet signifies more than just taking responsibility for what he is required to do according to the ketubah and according to Jewish law as elaborated in the Shulchan Aruch. A husband whose wife treats her relationship with him as that of a queen with her king (see the first part of this article for a full discussion), such a husband wants to give his wife that which is fitting for a queen. In short, he wants to give her everything, infinitely beyond that which he is responsible for giving. In the time of the sages, this meant providing her with thousands of servants. Today, this would be translated as giving her thousands of whatever else might fit the bill.
An important point to make is that a man may think that if he gives his wife too much, she will begin to spend it on the wrong things, but this is a very non‐regal thought. When marital harmony is that of a king and a queen, then the wife deserves everything. Indeed, this does not mean that I (as a king) also deserve the same (or, perhaps even more)—on the contrary, exactly the opposite is true.
The attitude a “kingly” husband should adopt is described in the classic anthology of wise idioms called Mivchar Hapeninim. The sage who wrote that book writes that “despair” can be a positive quality. How so? He writes that a person should despair and give up on the world. What he means to say is that a person should feel that he does not deserve anything in this world—because nothing belongs to him. He should despair from “being wealthy,” from “making the world his oyster,” so to speak. But if nothing belongs to me and I am a king, then who does it all belong to? It belongs to my wife! Therefore, she is entitled to everything I can give her, not because she is lacking anything. This is like the prayer of a rich man who continues to beseech God and ask for more—not for himself, but for the Congregation of Israel, as explained by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
In any case, the vav‐dalet of the ban‐filling implies giving your wife an infinite amount. This itself will reveal in her the hei filling of her hei, the secret of the Double Cave, the Cave of the Patriarchs, as above. Now the dalet, in this case, is like the famous kavanah (or intent) of the dalet when we say the Shema’s final word “one” (אֶחָד). We know that there it means that God is king all around the world, in all 4 corners. The value of the dalet is 4. Giving your wife an infinite amount is what it means to make her the queen of the entire world.
. See Wonders, Issue 52 for parashat Vayechi 5783.
. Exodus 2:19.
. Psalms 30:2.
. Ketubot 61a.
. Shabbat 105a.
. Proverbs 12:4.
. Deuteronomy 6:7.
. See Ma’amarim Melukatim, vol. 4, ma’amar Vayedbar Hashem El Moshe (12 Tammuz 5769), and elsewhere.