Marriage vs. Angels and Popes

What is the Jewish perspective on marriage? Why does Judaism put such an emphasis on marriage and family? When looking at different religious icons, contemporarily and historically, we realize a behavior of abstention of physical engagements and celibacy. The obvious explanation being, that spiritual people should spend their days in prayer, meditation and elevated activities. An intimate relationship would not only be a distraction from all the above but a direct involvement with the earthy world they are so desperately running away from. So why is it that all great Jewish teachers, prophets, priests[1] and sages, married and bore children? Would they not be better off spiritually if they would live like their non-Jewish counterparts?

First, perhaps, let us examine the role and purpose we see ourselves fulfill in the world so we can determine what would be the ideal manner of conduct to execute that important task. The Midrash in explaining our patriarch Abraham’s first revelation of God offers a parable. There was once a man standing nearby a magnificent palace caught in flames, he wondered to himself, is it probable that there’s no one in charge of the palace that he would care to protect his property? The owner then revealed himself saying, “I am the architect and builder, I designed it for the pleasure and benefit of my town’s people, but they abused it, so I decided to take it away from them.” So too, Abraham looked back at the Great Flood and the destruction of the Tower of Babel, he thought to himself, can it be that there’s no Creator that cares for his handiwork and stands idly by when its threatened by destruction? Then, God reveled Himself and told Abraham: I am the Creator; I designed the world that people should utilize its natures and opportunities in moral and righteous ways, but they abused it and corrupted themselves and my beautiful creation. (Genesis Rabbah 39:1)

It was that revelation that triggered the monotheist revolution in a very pagan world. For, living without the knowledge and consciousness of a Divine Sovereign, nothing makes a difference. There is no one that can judge right from wrong and no scale to measure it by. That is why the pagans were such barbarians and lawless peoples[2]. Cannibalism, rape and theft were norms, burning children as offerings to idols or gladiatorial sports were perfectly sensible. Abraham preached and taught of a God that created and runs the world, and cares that we its inhabitants should live by His ideals and morals. Abraham passed it on to his son and grandchildren, and they to theirs, eventually evolving to the nation of Israel. Throughout the nearly four millennia since, we carried that vision of Abraham and lived by its message, in the words of Isaiah: therefore, you are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God (43:12). This testimony is the mission statement of Judaism; we transmit it by living up to the ethical standers of a people with responsibility to God and His world.

Angels are pure spiritual creatures that have no bodily form and no physical cravings, they are messengers of God that have no free will and hence don’t sin or err. People, however, are quite the contrary; we are physical beings with inclinations to go against the Will of God, and inevitably fail occasionally. As the wise King Solomon said: For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not (Ecclesiastes 7:21). If we were meant to be flawless God would have created a world of angels, but He didn’t. The reason why not is in another of Solomons teachings, “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again” (Proverbs 24:16). God Created humans with free will, and an appetite for physical pleasures, so we can experience and appreciate the test of living with honor and dignity rather than the likeness of an animal[3]. Yes, we fall and stumble. Yes, we make mistakes and sometimes even great ones, but we get up, stand straight and try to remember who we are and what we live for. We reside in this spectacular palace to enjoy its beauty and pleasures and always to remember of the Architect who cares that we take advantage of its luxuries and possibilities for the ultimate good and positive.

When the Israelites crossed through the dessert en route to the Promised Land, God commanded Moses: And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8) Commentators take note that God didn’t say “I shall dwell in it” but rather I shall dwell “among them”, thus implying, the command doesn’t only apply to that very sanctuary but wherever and whenever a Jew lives he should always build his home in a way that God’s Presence would find it a comfortable place to rest. Just like the Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem served as God’s Home, and there were rituals and practices appropriate to its Holy purpose and Inhabitant, so too, our homes are not only for us to reside but it serves as a Temple where God’s morals and values are respected and His testimony is preserved and practiced.

Thus, to a Jew the idea of celibacy is as wrong and absurd as being totally immersed and involved in physicality. For we are here, given the great and wonderful merit and opportunity to invite the Master into His Own palace and make Him feel comfortable by living true to His Presence. We are not here to play angels.

[1] As is very explicitly clear from the Mishna (Yoma 1:1) stating that the High Priest would marry a second wife in the week prior to Yom Kippor to ensure his sacrifices and services would not be nullified by being widowed.

[2] It should not come as a surprise or coincidence to anyone, that in a Germany where Nietzsche “killed God” and in a Russia where Stalin “was” god, gave ground to the two most murderous and brutal dictatorships of all time. For where God is absent, replaced or dead, chaos and cruelty take His place.

[3] It is for this logic that Judaism does not prohibit the drinking of wine, as we see in different faith systems. Although excessive drinking is shunned by the Torah as is evident by the cases of Noah, Laban, Pharaoh and Ahasuerus, still the Torah commands us to drink wine occasionally and trusts us that we can be responsible to drink appropriately and not lose our humanity. See Maimonides Foreword to Avos ch. 5 using this idea to explain the laws of Kosher and Niddah.

4 Replies to “Marriage vs. Angels and Popes”

  1. Great article, thank you for taking of your time to post it for others to get to see. I am going to reblog this one for you. I try to choose about 30 or so of the best articles I see each day in an attempt to get the owner a few more followers and readers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Blogging Theology and commented:

    Shalom, Salam,
    I wrote this on my blog some time ago. When I was asked by someone what the purpose of marriage is. I think it would be interesting for Muslims too, for to the best of my knowledge in Islam there’s an emphasis on marriage. In contrast to the Church and other Eastern sects who discourage marriage for spiritually elevated people.
    Here it is, enjoy!


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