Now then. The protagonist of the story (and I know this will surprise you) infuriated me. (I should note that it is possible that Chana intended to make her infuriating. I'm not really sure.) Not so much the moral weakness of the main character, because even my judgmental mind knows that people are weak. Including me, obviously. Not even the self-pity that took the place of the deserved self-recrimination.
No, it was the perverse insistence that somehow the character's love for the 'other man' justified her weakness. This general concept that one's emotions are somehow a more moral basis of action than one's hormones- that this story of star-crossed lovers is different than drunk, hormonal people jumping into bed with each other in respects other than the magnitude of the temptation faced. I know that I am speaking from the insupportably lofty viewpoint of one who has never had to act on their principles, but love does not justify anything. Not butterflies in the stomach love, and not real, true storybook love.
Because really, in the purest moral sense, a marriage is not about love. I mean, don't get me wrong, it is an institution greatly facilitated by love, and I personally am darn sure planning on the two being closely associated, but at its core, marriage is not about love. It's about being motivated- for whatever reason, starting from love and spanning all the way to financial convenience- to accept upon yourself a certain set of duties. Chief among such duties is to be faithful.
And that's really all there is to it. Because the thing about duties- and this is cool, if you think about it right- is that they don't care about your emotions or how you felt when you got up that morning or whether true love is hovering just around the corner. Lack of love may constitute a reason to end the contract, depending on how it relates to the reasons that it was formed in the first place, but it does not constitute an excuse or even a mitigating factor for breach of that contract.
For me, the rant-festering actually started around a week ago, sitting around a Yom Tov table with an assortment of people whose religious affiliation spanned from formerly-religious to ba'alat teshuva. The conversation turned, naturally, to the subject of religion. And what with everybody fumbling to come to some common ground, the general topic was the uselessness of empty symbols, the foolishness of mouthing prayers, etc etc. The newly religious talked about how they connected to the mitzvot, the formerly about how they never could connect to them, everybody else about how they struggled with the connecting thing and what they did and didn't connect to.
The word connect was used a lot. The words 'truth' and 'duty' were not mentioned once. And that is because duty is out of fashion these days. Why on earth would anybody in this enlightened day and age hang about doing things they don't connect to, don't enjoy, don't love, when they can be out discovering themselves and all of the lovely things that they can be connecting to?
And again, I think that emotion and spiritual connection are key elements in one's religion. A religious experience that is lacking them is, well, a loveless marriage, and should definitely be avoided. I will admit that I am, at the moment, having some trouble mustering up emotional attachments to my observance. This bothers and disturbs me and is probably the main thing that I would like to work on in the coming year.
However, that in no way affects the marriage itself. I have chosen, and continue to choose, to accept upon myself a set of commitments for a variety of reasons, many of them intellectual in nature. My feelings don't affect those commitments and duties. The fact that lack of emotional attachment often leads to diminished observance is wholly rational, wholly natural, but not really morally justified.
I'm going to end with a pretty bowdlerized version of a story that I read once a long time ago about some Rebbe, who told his students about his own teacher. The teacher had been so holy, he explained, that every day when he davened, he was overcome by spiritual energy and could feel God's presence around him. What, said the Rebbe, could be more holy than that? And one of the students stood up and said, "I have never felt that. And yet I still daven every day."