It’s not how I would have imagined feeling when I heard the news that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were finally engaged. I’m not a committed royal-watcher and have only a vague sense of who’s who in the House of Windsor. So why did I tear up when I heard they would finally be tying the knot (next spring)? And for the record, I wasn’t just a little weepy; I was full-on verklempt.
Excitedly, I called my 14-year-old daughter into the kitchen where I was scanning the headlines, and together we oohed and aahed over the news coverage. What is it about weddings (even ones that don’t concern us in the slightest) that move us so?
I’m not the first person to ask this question.
Some 1,800 years ago, a Roman woman asked Rabbi Yossi ben Chalafta: If God created the entire universe, what does He spend his time doing now? Rabbi Yossi replied that God spends His time bringing couples together to marry one another.
Rabbi Yossi wasn’t being flippant. In Jewish thought, getting married isn’t purely a private affair; each marriage involves us all. If that sounds unlikely, consider the fact people are much more interrelated than we sometimes realize. We come into contact with thousands of people each year, and their personal decisions affect us in ways we don’t even always realize. Even Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, despite no obvious family connection, are (very, very) distant cousins according to Metro.co.uk.
Our actions impact the world, and every day, we can choose to give in to cynicism and negativity, or else we can choose to face the future with hope and optimism. And there is no greater expression of optimism and confidence in the future than the decision to marry another person.
But marriage doesn’t only affect the external world; it radically transforms us as individuals, too. The story of Rabbi Yossi and the Roman matron goes on: After hearing Rabbi Yossi’s answer, the woman exclaimed that anyone could arrange matches, and she swiftly did so, forming couples out of her household slaves, and holding weddings for them.
Time passed, and it soon became apparent that the Roman woman’s slaves were miserable. Yes, they were slaves, but also they were in sad, loveless matches. At their next meeting, Rabbi Yossi pointed this out: Anyone can arrange matches, he said, but only the Divine can ensure that couples are united in love.
In Jewish thought, no force is stronger than love. One un-named resident of ancient Israel is quoted in the Talmud declaring that when the power of his and his wife’s love meant they could have lain “together on the edge of a sword” (Sanhedrin 7a). The Torah famously recounts that Adam and Eve, the first humans, were so close they literally were the same person: “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). This is the ideal marriage: to feel so intensely linked that a couple becomes one unit. Only when this occurs, Judaism teaches, can we finally become the fullest expression of the person we were meant to be.
This isn’t always easy. In fact, a hint at how hard it can be to live as husband and wife is found in the very beginning of the Torah, when God creates Eve as the mirror image of Adam. Eve is described as Adam’s ezer k’negdo, literally his “helper who is against him.” Even while she was opposing or challenging him, she was helping him grow.
Living with a partner who gets on our nerves sometimes is the perfect way to develop patience; creating a life with a person who can sometimes drive us up a wall is uniquely designed to help us practice kindness. When we’re married, we finally have the tools we need to stretch ourselves to the utmost, and bloom into the people we were meant to be. The expectation that we’ll do what it takes to grow and develop and work on our marriage isn’t only an expression of trust in one particular relationship. It’s a reminder that a rosy future is possible. Every engagement, every marriage is a vote of confidence for us all.