The Beautiful Truth about Remarriage
Why is it that when Yitro heard about Hashem taking the Jews out of Egypt and splitting the Sea did he decide to take his daughter and grandsons to their husband and father?
The Kli Yakar quotes Sandhedrin 22a:
“Unification [between two people in marriage] is as difficult as the splitting of the Reed Sea”—and this means a second marriage. And it appears that this second marriage means to bring back his divorcee because the separation and unification resemble the separation and unification of the waters of the Sea because at the beginning, the waters joined in a natural bond. And when Hashem’s Zealous Wind passed over them [the waters] to enable an expanse between that which was joined together, that makes it difficult to join them together [again]. Even so, he [Yitro] saw that when Hashem wanted their “rejoining,” their unification came about beautifully.
There is no way to return it to the body as it once was.
Up until the parting of the Sea, Yitro assumed that there was no way to, in the words of the Kli Yakar, “dwell in love and friendship as before.” But when he heard how the waters split and rejoined in perfect harmony, then he realized that remarriage—with the initial harmony—was also possible.
How Jewish Exile in Egypt, the Exodus & the Splitting Sea Refute Polytheism
But the reason Yitro came in and of himself was because Hashem’s actions proved something to him.
Previously, many people of that time followed Mani, who preached that there were two opposing forces (Good and Evil) in the world represented by two gods. And the good god can’t do any evil—including to stop or hurt in any way those who persecute his followers—so people felt that there was no point in worshiping the “good” god because the “good” god could not protect them in any meaningful way. Yet because the bad god cannot do any good, it was also useless to worship him because while he could protect his followers by destroying their persecutors, the bad god could not really do much else for them because he is incapable of doing anything nice that would benefit them.
So the sincere polytheist was stuck.
Then Yitro heard about Hashem, and how Hashem did amazingly good things for Moshe and Yisrael, while doing some pretty bad things to the Egyptians. He also realized that it wasn’t a matter of a Jewish power merely being stronger than an Egyptian power because Hashem also did some unpleasant things to the Jews (like slavery) and some nice things for the Egyptians (like being a world superpower).
The Kli Yakar explains it more in depth, but in a nutshell, the above is what convinced Yitro that there is only One Source for everything.
The Importance of having a Man in the Home
The Kli Yakar starts off by quoting Yitro: “Go out for your wife Tzipporah because ‘a man who wanders from his place is like a bird that wanders from his nest’ (Mishlei 27:8),” adding that Yitro came to remind Moshe of the suffering (tza’ar) of Moshe’s wife all the time she was “wandering” from her house. [This seems to be a metaphorical description of how a loving wife feels when she doesn’t have her husband around—unanchored, per se.] Yitro continues, “And if not for her”—and the Kli Yakar interjects, “Because perhaps a person doesn’t feel so much the tza’ar of his wife”—“then go out for the sake of your son....” Yitro came to remind Moshe of the “suffering of children who are not seated at the table of their father” [because the father isn’t there].
The Kli Yakar points out that the Torah’s mentioning of the names of Moshe’s wife and sons contains a message:
….he [Moshe] should come for the sake of his wife, who was like a bird [tzipor] wandering from her nest; because of the anguish she suffered, it is fitting to honor her and go out to meet her. And thus, for his son [Gershom] because he [Moshe] was a stranger [ger] in a strange land, and so on for the name Eliezer because in this it is as if he went out at Hashem’s call [because the name Eliezer contains a Name of Hashem—El].
Daughter, Sister, Mother—The Different Relationships Possible with Hashem
- My daughter—Hashem loves us like a father loves his daughter, but the relationship is one of Hashem’s dominion over us (which is still pretty nice).
- My sister—Hashem loves us like one loves his sister. Of course, the Kli Yakar points out, the love for a daughter is greater than the love for a sister. But here it implies a certain equality because in a sibling relationship, one does not have authority over the other. This is level implies that we are partners with Hashem. The Kli Yakar notes that tzaddikim reach this level of Hashem’s Love.
- My mother—This is an incredible concept because it implies a dominion on the part of the human being. However, this is the level in which the concept of “A tzaddik decrees and Hashem carries it out”—or as the Kli Yakar describes it, that the Jewish people possesses the potential to be as “….kings for Me, in that I establish a decree and the tzaddik annuls it.”
The Why and How of Communicating Differently based on Gender
The Kli Yakar references 19:3, acknowledging the well-known differentiation between dibur as a harsher form of speaking—as Hashem instructed Moshe speak to the Jewish males—and amira as being a softer form of speaking—as Hashem instructed Moshe to speak to the Jewish females.
The Kli Yakar offers an example of a harsher form of speaking with the statement of Rashi quoting Sifra on Yayikra 20:26: “A person should not say ‘It is not possible for me to eat pork because my soul abhors it,’ but instead, ‘It’s possible, but the Holy One Blessed Be He has made a decree upon me’.”
But then he says,
But nevertheless, for women—who are weak of intellect—it is necessary to explain with soft speech to make known to them the benefit of the mitzvot because every person of intellect accepts upon himself the decrees of Hashem and those of weak intellect need an explanation in order for them [these precepts] to become part of their nature.
The translator of the Kli Yakar, Rabbi Elihu Levine notes, “The Kli Yakar is speaking about a time when women in general were ignorant, not at all being educated. Therefore, they were more emotionally driven and less intellectually driven. This is certainly not the case in our time, when women are given opportunities to learn Torah subjects.” [Shemos II, page 53, footnote 245]
Certainly in my personal experience, encountering religious Jews who are either illiterate or functionally literate but don’t really utilize their literacy, has shown me that such people do indeed tend to be more emotionally driven, regardless of gender, and communication with them is very different than with people who have more scholastic knowledge.
Regarding secular Jews (who are mostly not Torah-knowledgeable), a large part of kiruv is convincing people, not only that there is a God and that He gave us the Torah, but also convincing them of the benefit of actually keeping the Torah.
But rationally speaking, isn’t the mere fact that there is a God, that there is a Judge and Judgment, and that He commanded us to keep the Torah—isn’t that enough?
But the truth seems to be—no, it’s not.
Even in the FFB community, learning taharat hamishpacha, for example, is usually accompanied by inspiring stories about infertile or quarreling couples who later started keeping taharat hamishpacha and then happily gained a child or shalom bayit. Or stories of couples who, via taharat hamishpacha, managed to produce children of high spiritual stature.
All this despite the fact that a brief glance around will tell you that there are many people who keep this important mitzvah properly and are still infertile, or suffer through an inharmonious marriage, or have children who leave Judaism.
What I mean is that there is a difference between saying, “Hey, we can’t have kids. Maybe Hashem is trying to tell us that we need to look at our observance (or lack thereof) of taharat hamishpacha?” as opposed to expecting, “If I do this, then I’ll get that.”
In short, the difference is to dig down for the message the challenge presented by Hashem while dropping any expectation that keeping this mitzvah will gain you anything in This World beyond a spiritual pleasure.
Within this same discussion, the Kli Yakar explains that when Moshe will later use these same terms at the beginning of Parshat Haazinu, “Listen, O Heavens and I will speak (adabera—dibur) and the land will hear the sayings (imrei—amira) of my mouth, the first part alludes to people of sky-high spiritual stature while the second part alludes to “amei ha’aretz”—people whose knowledge is as low as the “aretz—land.”
Yet the Kli Yakar’s language implies more than mere acquisition of knowledge—the implication is the internalization of Torah knowledge. When discussing above the need to use softer speech with women, he says in Hebrew:
וחלושי השכל צריכין הסברה כדי שיהיו בצביונם
“V’chalushei haseichel tzrichin hasbara kadei sheh yiyu b’tzivyonam.”
B’tzivyonam indicates that the mitzvot need to be part of their nature, part of their actual form—something that can only happen via internalization.
(The implications go much deeper, but I’ll stop here.)
Different Strokes for Different Genders
I've noticed that when females are repeatedly talked to in a tough manner and issued commands (something along the lines of, "Just do it because that's what you're supposed to do!") as opposed to a gentler approach, it destroys their positive feminine qualities. They can become these non-nurturing hardened scoffing cynics who idealize negative masculine qualities. So they end up internalizing the worst of both worlds.
The above, BTW, is very different than what the Kli Yakar advises. He does not say to try to change women or put the burden of adaptation on them, but rather to adapt and communicate according to the female orientation. This is very different than what I have seen in some segments of both the non-Jewish and the frum community in which people expect women to do the adjusting...with the results that are mentioned above. We can argue and get all offended about whatever we want to argue and get offended about, but Hashem has clearly set things up in a certain way.
When carried out correctly, there is nothing condescending about it.
In the non-Jewish community, it is just a big mess with manipulators and confused people determining contradictory "appropriate" attitudes and modes of conduct.
But in the frum community, the expectation for women to adjust their innate communication style seems to result more from impatient and condescending men (who don't really seem to like the feminine personality or feminine qualities much) combined with self-hating women (who also don't really seem to like the feminine personality or feminine qualities much). Basically, it's a form of sinat chinam to which either gender can succumb.
On the other hand, throughout my school years, I noticed that best male teachers (often ex-Marines) showed a very tough attitude toward the boys, but treated the girls like ladies—and they never had any discipline problems from either. Furthermore, the gentler approach did not inhibit the girls' ability for scholastic achievement.
In fact, when I was at Bar-Ilan University, there was one frum professor who could switch in an instant. He would act like an impassioned Gemara partner when questioned by a male student, but if a female student interjected, he immediately transformed into an elegant gentlemen, answering her question fully and with great courtesy. And we female students never felt patronized by this in any way because he was doing this out of respect (and because the Torah told him to) and not out of condescension.
In contrast, when I was in 10th-grade English, the male teacher started off by telling us with great glee how hard he was going to make us work and how much we were going to suffer under his tutelage. He went on dramatically like this for around fifteen minutes, concluding with the idea that if we could make it through his class, we would know our stuff pretty well and have skills that would benefit us for the rest of our lives. (This ended up being true, by the way.)
Some of the boys got really excited and were saying things like, "All riiiiight!" (Other boys looked cynical or bored.) Most of the girls just sat there looking nervous or taken aback, with one or two girls laughing. But even the laughing girls (straight-A students who played competitive sports) didn't express any enthusiasm about his method.
Ultimately, some students did well in his class, but some didn't. The teacher was forced to soften up his method halfway through the year because students were losing motivation and enjoyment of a subject they formerly loved and doing poorly.
But back to treating women more gently than men...
It’s maybe like when a man holds a door open for a woman:
Is it because he thinks she’s a pathetic weakling who can’t even open a door on her own or is it out of respect for her femininity? (Or is he is trying to impress her with his chivalry?)
It depends on the man, of course, but in the vast majority of situations, it is clearly meant as a courtesy (maybe combined with the desire to impress, depending on the guy).
Food for thought…
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz (1550-1619) lived in Bohemia (which is today Poland and Czechoslovakia). He served as rabbi and dayan and wrote several books, the most well-known being his commentary on the Chumash known as the Kli Yakar.
This is my own translation and any errors are also mine.
The Hebrew text is courtesy of Machon Mamre.
For a wonderful rendering of the Kli Yakar into English, please see Rabbi Elihu Levine's translation.