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From Spouse to Sibling

When Your Relationship Faces Crisis, Tell Them She Is Your Sister

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

  • October 27, 2014
  • |
  • 3 Cheshvan 5775
  • Comment

Class Summary:

When Your Relationship Goes Sour... How do I stay connected when I am just not feeling it?

Dedicated by Ron & Shelby Kreisel in honor of Rabbi & Mrs. Pinchas Allouche & Family - Scottsdale, AZ

A Chassid related the following story:

The loyalty of Russian soldiers to the Czar was legendary. I once saw a Russian soldier being whipped. His crime? While standing watch on a Russian winter night, his feet had frozen to his boots.

"Had you remembered the oath you took to serve the Czar," his commander berated him, "the memory would have kept you warm."

"For 25 years," concluded the Chassid, "this incident inspired my service of G-d[1]."

A Self-Absorbed Husband?

This week's Torah portion, Lech Lecha, relates how a famine breaks out in the Land of Canaan, and Abraham and his wife Sarah head down south to Egypt. As they approach Egypt, Abraham voices his fears to his wife that the Egyptians, notorious for their immorality, might kill him so that they may lay their hands on the most beautiful Sarah.

"Please say that you are my sister," Abraham pleads with his wife, "so that they will give me gifts for your sake and my life will be spared[2]."

This is a difficult story to digest. Abraham, the founder of Judaism, considered one of the most spiritual humans of all times, the person who gave the world the gift of Monotheism and taught humanity the value of kindness, seems to be all-consumed by the fear for his life, and totally unconcerned with the fate of his wife.

What is even more disturbing is Abraham's interest that "they give me gifts for your sake," while his wife would be enduring abuse and humiliation.

No less absurd is the fact that the Torah finds it necessary to begin the biography of the father of the Jewish people with this episode, as though signifying that it contained the fundamentals of Jewish faith and practice...

Two approaches can be found among the commentators. The Ramban (Nachmanides, circa 1194-1270) writes that Abraham performed indeed "a great sin, inadvertently." The Zohar explains (Tazria 52a), that Abraham, who knew Sarah's superior spiritual quality, was certain that no harm would befall her. He was only fearful about his own fate.

Yet, as in every story of the Torah, this narrative contains a psychological and spiritual message[3].

A Tale of Two Loves

What is the difference between the sibling relationship and the spouse relationship? A spouse you choose; siblings you don’t choose. Your connection with your brothers and sisters is natural and innate. 

The bond between siblings is constant and immutable. Whether you love your brothers or not, he will always remain your brother; you are eternally connected by genes, culture, and soul connection.

Conversely, the bond with a spouse is subject to change and fluctuation; today you are married, but in a year from now you may sadly be divorced.

Yet paradoxically, the love of a sibling – even at its best -- is calm and placid; the love of a spouse, on the other hand, is capable of becoming fiery and passionate. Because the love of a sibling is inborn and natural, it can never die, but we also don't get too excited about it. It is part of who we are.

The love of a spouse is something created anew as a result of two separate individuals coming together at a later stage in life. The distinctiveness, rather than the sameness, of the two individuals linked in marriage, is what gives the relationship its intensity and drama, feelings that cannot be found even between close siblings. Yet this same quality is also the reason some marriages are short-lived. Passion can flourish, but passion can fade away. 

And when the marriage does fail, you fall back on the innate bond that exists among family members, who are, hopefully, always there for you. 

Tough Times 

The story of Abraham and Sarah is also allegorical.

When one is situated in the holy-land, a term symbolizing a psychological state of serenity and spirituality, he is her husband and she is his wife. They care for each other and look out for each other in a way that only a husband and wife can. Those are the days when you wake up in the morning and say, "Thank you G-d for giving me such a special person in my life."

But then a famine may erupt, starving your heart and dulling your senses, you end up in "Egypt," which in Hebrew means "constraints" and "limitations." You lose your passion for your spouse, barriers between you are constructed, and your love becomes a challenge. 

At these moments one must remember that his wife is, in essence, also a sister and that her husband is also a brother. Even if you don’t feel the connection, you remain connected innately; even if you don’t experience the romance consciously, you remain linked essentially. Because the shared bond between a wife and her husband is not only the result of a created union at a later point in their lives; rather the spouse relationship is innate and intrinsic, in the words of the Zohar, "two halves of the same soul[4]." A marriage, in the Jewish perspective, is not only a union of two distinct people; it is a reunion of two souls that were one and then, prior to birth, separated. In marriage, they are reunited.

The relationship between spouses goes beyond feelings. We crave to always be husbands and wives, but sometimes -- for our marriages to survive and thrive -- we must become brothers and sisters. Whether you feel it or not, your wife is one with you, always[5]. Do not allow the loyalty and trust to wane, on both sides. Even if there are arguments, difficulties, and hardships, maintain the loyalty to each other, like healthy and functional siblings.

Abraham and Sarah taught us, that when the relationship becomes challenging, you cease to be husband and wife; now you become brother and sister. You fall back on the innate, intrinsic oneness which binds you in an eternal link.

This, in fact, brings an awesome benefit to a husband. When you are there for your wife even when you're not in the mood for it, an extraordinary energy of love is later returned to you. That's why Abraham told Sarah that by saying that she was his sister, he would not only survive but would also receive special gifts. 

G-d My Sister, G-d My Wife

"A sound! My beloved knocks! Open your heart to Me, My sister, My wife, My dove, My twin (5)." In these stirring words, King Solomon describes the Jew both as G-d's spouse and as G-d's sibling. 

There are times when the Jew is situated in the holy-land, inspired and motivated to live a spiritual and G-dly life. Like in a good marriage, the Jew is excited about G-d, yearning to be close to Him and fulfilled by having a relationship with Him.

But then come the days when you enter into a psychological "Egypt," where your inner spirituality is numbed, as you are overtaken by self-centered lusts, beastly cravings, negative impulses, and enslaving addictions. Your marriage with G-d seems all but dead.

The key to survival at those moments is to remember that G-d is not only a spouse but also a sibling. We are sacred and G-dly not just because we feel it and we love it, but because a person is inherently a sacred creature, and G-dliness is intrinsic to the human being's very composition. Whether I'm in the mood for it or not, when I behave in a moral and spiritual way, I am being loyal to my true self.

You are holy not because you feel holy, but because you are essentially holy – this is one of the most fundamental ideas of Judaism, expressed in the first narrative about the first Jew.

When the Russian winter threatens to freeze our souls, it's time to recall the warmth provided by G-d as a member of the family. It's time to remember the intrinsic bond existing between you and your sibling that will never fail[6]


[1] Once Upon A Chassid, p. 217.
[2] Genesis 12:10-13.
[3] Cf. Likkutei Sichos vol. 20 Lech Lecha. Based on the idea of the Baal Shem Tov (Baal Shem Tov Al Hatorah Lech Lecha), that as a result of descending to Egypt Abraham’s relationship with Sarah was compromised, for then he began seeing her beauty as autonomous of the Divine beauty, it is possible to suggest that the explanation in the essay is relevant on some level to the literal story as well.
[4] Vayikra p. 7b.
[5] Song of Songs 5:2.
[6] This essay is based on the writings of the Chabad Chassidic Masters (Or Hatorah Emor, pp. 149-151; Safer Hammamarim 5627, pp. 248-251; Likkutei Sichos vol. 20 Lech, and Tanya chapters 18 and 25).

Please leave your comment below!

  • Anonymous -4 years ago

    Wow. what a profound way to appreciate our relationships With our spouses. It is also very empowering in the idea that even when we feel like we cannot actually do anything to lift our spouse up if they are in their own pain and make a fiery or passionate gesture of love when they are in their own Egypt, our just being present and familiar can be enough to maintain that bond And bring them back to a sense of oneness and peace. 

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  • P

    Pessy -4 years ago

    Sarah did the giving and should be the one to get the gifts

    I learned much in your article about marriage. However iam confused by your statement that when a marriage is in its Egypt phase and we return to a sibling phase and much rewards, gifts, will come to the husband when he still does good things and is there for his wife. And so you sgated that Abraham said he would receive gifts if she said he was her brother. The confusion arises in that Abraham didn't do anything for Sarah, she was the one doing something for him and should be the one being given the gifts directly. 

    Reply to this comment.Flag this comment.

Essay Lech Lecha

Rabbi YY Jacobson
  • October 27, 2014
  • |
  • 3 Cheshvan 5775
  • |
  • Comment

Dedicated by Ron & Shelby Kreisel in honor of Rabbi & Mrs. Pinchas Allouche & Family - Scottsdale, AZ

Class Summary:

When Your Relationship Goes Sour... How do I stay connected when I am just not feeling it?

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