January 20, 2019

As Difficult as Splitting the Sea

“R. Arama opens the eighth sha’ar with a Talmudic passage I often see and hear misquoted (although his reading will justify the use of it I am about to share). Sotah 2a contrasts a statement of Rabbah bar bar Chanah in the name of R. Yochanan, who said matching husbands and wives was as difficult for Hashem as splitting the Sea (R. Arama assumes the difficulty lies in matching people with the exact same merits), with R. Yehudah’s assertion in the name of Rav, a Voice announces whom a fetus will marry forty days before formation (when the fetus clearly does not have does not yet have any merits).

To resolve the contradiction, the Gemara says the first statement referenced second marriages, whereas the “forty days before birth” idea was for first ones [which makes “hard as splitting the Sea” irrelevant to first marriages, although I nonetheless hear this passage cited in divrei Torah at sheva berachot; R. Arama re-reads the meaning of first marriages, as we’re about to see].

Building Off of What We Know

R. Arama argues the first marriage of the passage in Sotah means the marriage between people’s physical and intellectual sides, the “second” one being the one between a man and a woman.

To work his way there, he starts with a general principle of learning, we scaffold off what we know to what we do not, in our study of nature and of wisdom. Prophets similarly help us to some understanding of Hashem by analogizing to what we already know– a lion (‘Amos 3;8) or a shepherd (Yeshayahu 40;11)– or by using human terms for Hashem, such as Hashem’s finger (Shemot 8; 15).”

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