How can we relate to the fact that Klal Yisroel’s greatest had more than one wife?
Our understanding of marriage and kedusha is based on total oneness and total exclusivity. Every description that we hear about marriage has that at its core: Adam & Chava, the kruvim, the oneness of our relationship with Hashem and His exclusively choosing klal yisroel etc.. Obviously our personal shalom bayis is not possible to even compare to the Avos, to say the least, but our entire emotional experience of marriage definitely resonates with that principle and cannot grasp shalom bayis without exclusivity.
Is there a way that we can appreciate this reality or at least not be uncomfortable with it?
As a follow up to that, is there a mehalach to talk to children about it as they get older and understand how different this is from our reality?
Your question is an important one.
I once an idea from a close friend that I think will answer the question. If we get a clearer understanding of what Ahava is, it will enable us to understand how great people were able to have two wives. The Purpose of marriage is to come to the Midda of Ahava. Once a person has come to true Ahava with one’s wife, then this Midda can be spread to Ahavas Habriyos and then one can come to Ahavas HaShem and develop a true relationship with HaShem. What the world calls “love” is in fact self-love. When you say “I love fish”, you are in fact saying “I love myself by eating fish”. The true definition of “Ahava” is the capability of feeling the other person. So a true relationship will be one in which “I feel that you feel what I feel”. When a woman wants the love of her husband, in essence she wants her husband to feel that which she feels. The Sefer Hoikrim explains this concept in definition of the mitzva of V’ohavta L’reiacho K’mocha, the mitzva is to be unified to the extent that one can feel the other person.
When we talk about the unification of marriage, what we are really meant to develop is a relationship in which the couple can feel each other. The Reshis Chochmo (Shar Ahava) explains that although one is meant to come to a unity of Ahava in marriage, the main focus in life has to be to come to Ahavas Hashem and come to a personal relationship with HaShem, which means that one can feel what HaShem wants from us. Just because a person has Ahava for his wife, doesn’t mean he cannot have Ahavas Habryos as well and also Ahavas Hashem. These relationships do not contradict one another. When a mother has true feelings for her children, the feelings she has for one, should not in any way take away from the feelings for a different child. Similarly, in theory, if we were able to create the ultimate spouse relationship of truly feeling a spouse, the capability of feeling for one’s wife would not be reduced by feeling for another wife. The problem of course is, that our midda of Ahava is quite shallow and it is enough of a challenge for us to feel for one wife.
I hope this gives some more clarity to this important topic.