Rabbi Tanchum said in the name of Rabbi Chanilai: Any person who doesn’t have a wife is stuck lacking joy, lacking blessing and lacking good. Lacking joy, as it is written[i]: “And you shall rejoice with your house [Rashi: your wife]”. Lacking blessing, as it is written[ii]: “To place blessing on your house [Rashi: your wife]”. Lacking good, as it is written[iii]: “It is not good for man to be alone”.
The Radak[iv] explains that joy is reflecting on ones state as being good, or in other words being satisfied. When a person is joyful they want to share it. They aren’t satisfied keeping the happiness in; they feel like it must burst forth. However the only way two people can share happiness is when the benefit of one is also the benefit of another. As long as a person has a self-centered view of the world he cannot experience full happiness since his happiness is restricted to himself. Only when his identity is merged into a greater entity is his happiness fully experienced. Marriage is exactly this experience; a person’s identity becomes reformed into a compound identity. A person who refuses to get married is stuck in an outlook, which will not allow a full experience of joy; if all benefits are viewed selfishly they can never be satisfied.
The Radak[v] defines blessing as addition of good. A household is the ideal receiver of blessing. This is for two reasons. First practically a household allows for efficiency of production. Since everyone is cooperating there is less wasted effort and resources. Second the way God designed the world as a source of benefit for people is not for the individual but for the species. Insofar as a person recognizes this and acts based on this principle he will more easily benefit from the blessings that God bestowed on his creation.
The Ramban[vi] defines ‘good’ as existing in a complete state. A human being is by nature a social being. If he refuses to get married then he is lacking in this identity. He views himself as an independent being, not a member of a species. Marriage demands the recognition that ones identity must emerge in a social context. While as a soul he exists independently, as a human being his existence is as a particular temporal part of a species. Marriage leads a person to this proper self-identification in two ways. First it causes him to view himself as a member of a group, in that he identifies with his wife. Second it sets as a goal the ongoing existence of the species.
In summary people who refuse to get married block themselves from fully experiencing good and limit their ability to receive it. Both of these lacks are not incidental but emerge from not living truly humanly, through not recognizing ones existence as a member of a species. On the other hand marriage naturally brings a person to this recognition.
The Gemara continues:
How does marriage help ones learning? While it is true that a single person has certain responsibilities which are taken over by the spouse on the whole marriage seems to leave less time for learning, “if a millstone is on his neck, how will he be involved in torah!”[ix]. It seems that we need to view this idea not in terms of quantity of learning; rather we must view it qualitatively. What causes one to forget learning? The Gemara[x] says that learning all of Shas is only valuable if one has Yiras Hashem. Rashi explains that the Yiras Hashem is necessary for remembering. If one lacks Yiras Hashem then they will forget their learning. The Rambam defines Yiras Hashem as[xi] recognizing ones true nature as a small (almost) insignificant part of a great system governed by unfathomable wisdom.
Our Gemara is based on this principle; someone who is married has a proper view of himself as a part of the creation (as Rabbi Tanchum explained). When a single person spends time in household needs he is likely to be taken in by that framework, his actions are completely self-serving, Living life in order to enhance oneself as an individual is in direct conflict with the system of Torah which trains one in viewing themselves as a part of a system. This conflict will lead one to forget their Torah. On the other hand someone who is involved in household needs as part of a family will be living his life in line with the lessons of the Torah and his actions will express his knowledge as opposed to contradicting it. This is the main idea of a spouse as a ‘helpmate, opposite’[xii] the help is not just a practical one, but rather the assistance in the practical also creates the proper psychological and philosophical outlook for the practical endeavors. Each spouse advises and corrects the other ones weaknesses.
Marriage also provides a wall. The Maharsha explains that the female is a wall for the male from the attacks of the instincts. They provide for each other an outlet for the instincts in way that is in line with God’s plan for the creation. This idea is the idea of Kedushah and that Torah is not just theoretical but enters all aspects of life.
In summary Torah and ‘a wall’ are the complete framework of human perfection, the theoretical and the practical. Not only does marriage help a person exist humanly, it is a springboard for perfection of the soul.
The Gemara continues:
Rava Bar Ulla said: Lacking peace, as it is written[xiii]: “And you will know that your tent [Rashi: your wife] is at peace [Rashi: Only when you have a tent, you have peace, and you should consider your dwelling, and you will not sin”
The Rambam[xiv] defines peace as the complete state of ethical perfection. True peace can only emerge when all parties are balanced and act in line with their nature. Then they are living in the naturally harmonious state that God created. When one is married, in a way that is without sin, then they have created the substratum for peace. The perfection of the home and the individuals can start extending outward to the perfection of the human species as a whole, of which they are a small part.
In summary this Gemara sets up a hierarchal framework of the purpose of marriage. First marriage leads to a proper identification of oneself as a human being, necessary for success and satisfaction in life. Second this idea of self, allows the marriage to be a foundation for perfection of the soul. And ultimately the perfection directed marriage creates a foundation for the entire human species to reach perfection.
[i] Devarim 14:26
[ii] Yechezkel 44:30
[iii] Breishis 2:18
[iv] Sefer Hashorashim
[v] Breishis 2:3
[vi] Breishis 1:10, 2:18 etc.
[vii] Iyov 6:13
[viii] Yirmiyah 31:21
[ix] Kiddushin 29b
[x] Shabbos 31a
[xi] Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 2:2, 4:12
[xii] Breishis 2:18
[xiii] Iyov 5:24
[xiv] Shmonah Perakim chapter 4