In the Torah portion of Seitzei we learn: “When you build a new home, you must place a guardrail around your roof.”1 The purpose of the guardrail–as the Torah itself goes on to say–is to keep people from falling off an unenclosed roof.
In a spiritual context, the meaning of this commandment is as follows.
Our Sages tell us that “One’s wife is [considered as] one’s [entire] home,”2 so much so that Rabbi Yossi said: “I never called my spouse ‘my wife’ .Â .Â . but ‘my home.’”3
In this context, “when you build a new home” refers to the beginning of one’s marriage. When a person marries and sets up a home, he must take upon himself the yoke of earning a livelihood. At such a time a person’s spiritual status may easily plummet.
The Torah therefore reminds the individual that since he is beginning a new home and a new lifestyle, with a greater degree of immersion in physicality, he must build a guardrail. Clearly his previous manner of spiritual service will not suffice, and he must take upon himself additional guardrails so as not to take a spiritual tumble in thought, speech, or deed.
At times man’s body is also referred to as his home.4 In terms of man’s spiritual service, this alludes to the general service of birurim, wherein man seeks to purify and elevate his body and his portion in the physical world.
This manner of service is known as a “new home,” for prior to the soul’s descent into this world it had not the foggiest notion as to what the physical world and the spiritual service within it entails.
Furthermore, since the corporeal is infinitely distant from the spiritual, the service of purifying and uplifting this physical world is truly something new. When a Jew serves Gâ€‘d in this manner, the world itself becomes an abode for Gâ€‘d.
This concept of an abode for Gâ€‘d is also something “new.” Prior to this manner of service, the degree of Gâ€‘dliness that manifested itself in this lowly world was restricted. However, as a result of this manner of service, this physical world becomes an abode for Gâ€‘d: Gâ€‘d Himself is manifest within this world.5
Understandably, building such important new edifices has a tremendous impact upon the builder. He, too, is refined and uplifted in a “new” and infinitely greater manner–to a point that his soul reaches an even higher state of existence than it enjoyed prior to its descent within a body.6
The “vessel” that must serve as a receptacle for this new and lofty level of elevation is the act of self-nullification. For the only way one can attain a degree of infinite elevation is to totally nullify oneself before Gâ€‘d, thereby freeing oneself from the limiting encumbrances of one’s previous level.7
This, then, is the inner meaning of a guardrail. The protective and preventive measures–the “guardrail”–that the person undertakes in the course of his spiritual service are an expression of his self-abnegation and acceptance of the Heavenly Yoke. This enables him to be a fit vessel to the “new home.”
There is a practical lesson in this: A person should not shut himself off from the rest of the world; he must build a “home,” a dwelling place, for Gâ€‘d in this nethermost world. For it is only through the descent within this world that the ultimate and truly new ascent is accomplished, Above as well as below.
On the other hand, one must know that in order to transform the physical into a vessel for Gâ€‘dliness, a person must make a guardrail–he must remain apart from the physical world’s grossness and corporeality. While it is true that he must busy himself with physical things, they should remain insignificant to him; he knows and feels that the only reason he occupies himself with corporeality is in order to fulfill the Divine intent of transforming this world into a home for Gâ€‘d.8 (Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XIX, pp. 208—214.)Â v
Marriage And Divorce, Divine-Style
The vast majority of laws relating to Jewish marriage and divorce are derived from verses in the Torah portion Seitzei.9
The relationship between husbands and wives is similar to the relationship between Gâ€‘d and the Jewish people. It thus follows that marriage and divorce as experienced between mortal spouses derives from the “marriage” and the so-called “divorce” between Gâ€‘d and the Jewish people.
The marriage of Gâ€‘d and the Jewish people took place when He gave them the Torah, as the Mishnah states: “‘The day of His marriage’–this refers to Mattan Torah.”10
Although according to Jewish law betrothal requires an act by the groom, i.e., the groom gives the bride an object of value and states, “You are consecrated to meÂ .Â .Â .Â ,” this act must have the full consent of the bride; a woman cannot be married against her will.11
The same was true with regard to Gâ€‘d’s betrothal and marriage of the Jewish people when He gave them the Torah: Gâ€‘d revealed His great love to the Jewish people in order to rouse their love for Him,12 so that the Jewish people would desire to be “married” to Him. Although this love for Gâ€‘d resulted from Gâ€‘d’s arousal of the emotion within them and did not come about of the Jews’ own volition, it had so profound an effect on them that their love for Him became part and parcel of their very being.
Thus the Rambam states as a point of law13 that every Jew, even one who is on an extremely low spiritual level, “desires to perform all the mitzvos and distance himself from transgressions.” It is simply that this desire is sometimes concealed and must be brought to the fore.
Just as the Jewish people’s love for Gâ€‘d permeates their being, and is always whole and absolute, so too with regard to His love for them: it permeates His entire essence, as it were, and something that is part of one’s essence is not subject to change.
This blissful state of marriage between Gâ€‘d and the Jewish people existed until the period of exile, at which time there came about a state of “divorce,” as the Gemara records: “The Jewish people responded to the prophet with a telling rejoinderÂ .Â .Â .’ A woman who was divorced by her husband–can one party possibly then complain about [the conduct of] the other?’”14
This means to say that since during times of exile Gâ€‘d is not found in a revealed manner among the Jewish people, it is as if He had divorced them.
In truth, however, Gâ€‘d’s love for the Jews is so essential to His being that even when this love is suppressed to the extent that He metaphorically “divorces” them, He is still very much with them; the “divorce” is not really a divorce at all. Truly it is nothing but a temporary separation, which He will rectify when He once again reveals His essential love for them; remarriage will not be necessary.
Accordingly, it is to be understood that the “temporary separation” engendered by exile reveals a depth of the relationship between Gâ€‘d and the Jewish people that is even more profound than that revealed prior to the “divorce.”
Before the estrangement, one could have thought that the connection between Gâ€‘d and the Jewish people was predicated upon their performance of Torah and mitzvos. When we observe, however, that during periods of exile, when the Jewish people are wanting in their performance of Torah and mitzvos, Gâ€‘d loves them all the same, this proves that His love is not based on any external factor, but is truly an intrinsic and essential love. (Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. IX, pp. 143—150.)Â v
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, zt’l; adapted by R’Â Sholom B. Wineberg. Find more Torah articles for the whole family at www.chabad.org/parshah.
1. Devarim 22:8.
2. Mishnah beginning of Yoma; See Gemara ibid. 13a; Likkutei Sichos XVII pp. 172ff.
3. Shabbos 118b, explained in Likkutei Sichos ibid.
4. VaYovo Amalek 5688, conclusion of ch. 1.
5. See Tanchuma, Naso 16; Tanya beginning of ch. 36.
6. See Sefer HaArachim—Chabad I, entry titled Ahavas Hashem–HaHosafah Shebah Al Yedei HaNefesh HaBehemis Ch. 4, and places cited there, et al.
7. See Torah Or 6c; Hemshech 5666 pp. 12ff, pp. 18ff, et al.
8. See also Likkutei Sichos X, pp. 103ff.
9. Devarim 24:1 and onward.
10. Ta’anis 26b. See also Bamidbar Rabbah 12:8.
11. Kiddushin 2b; Tur and Shulchan Aruch ibid., beginning of section 42.
12. Torah Or 98d.
13. Hilchos Geirushin conclusion of ch. 2.
14. Sanhedrin 105a. See also Yirmeyahu 3:8: “I sent her away and gave her her bill of divorce”; Psichta of Eicha Rabbah 4: “They were punished by divorce.”