The torah concept of marriage is based on Abraham buying the field of Ephron in Hebron in order to bury his deceased wife, Sara. His marital obligations were over. But he was also arranging for his own burial. It is a strange and morbid prototype for marriage but in a deep way, very touching. The burial cave is called the Machpela, the doubling or coupled. There are, according to tradition, four couples buried there. Why bury married couples together? When a Jew is buried, it is forbidden for any part of him to be left behind. After an accident, God forbid, the area is searched with magnifying glasses and forceps to collect any small pieces or fragments so that they may be buried also. A man and wife must be buried together because they are one body. There are two stories of the creation of woman. In the first, they are created together, and in the second God puts man to sleep and performs surgery, removing a part of his body in order to make woman. According to the gemmarra, these are two events that happened in a series. In the first, God created an androgen; one body, two heads, four arms and legs. The second story is the separation of that being into two separate entities. This would explain the phenomenon known to every married couple. From the first day, marriage felt strangely natural and my wife seemed so familiar. On the other hand, after ten years of marriage, there are moments I look at my wife and feel like she is a total stranger. Marriage is a constant tension between oneness and individuality. We want to return to our natural state of joint unity, but at the same time we are physically separate and must relate to that. Sex, despite what Western culture would have us believe, is integrally linked to creating children. Sex is two individuals becoming one and creating an other, who is the embodiment of them in one. Marriage is the ultimate team sport. It means acquiring a new identity, a joint identity. In today’s world of individuality, marriage is an anachronism. When you get married, you become a joint individual. That has so many connotations. Anyone who has lost a spouse or has been under the threat of losing a spouse knows how deeply that goes. A man must protect his wife’s honor more than he does his own. But in a more mundane sense, the oneness means that in marriage you absolutely cannot have a winner and loser. If one person loses, you both lose, and if one person wins, you both win. The same is true in parenting. What good is winning? The other person is conquered, defeated, less. It is like having a fist fight between both of your hands. So you’ve proven which one is stronger. Who really suffers? In a marital relationship, it is rarely helpful to establish who is right and who is wrong. The real solution usually lies elsewhere, allowing the couple to embody oneness in a healthier, stronger way. Please, at all costs, avoid interactions that are focused on showing who is wrong. Don’t work towards ‘wrong’. Work towards ‘together’.
So many days, my religious observance consists of waking up, stumbling into the bathroom, and being shocked at the crazy looking man in the mirror. Frum means having a long series of bad hair days, since I now have more hair sprouting from the bottom of my face than the top. Obviously, I became religious becauese I believed in God, but lately that has taken on a different meaning. Experience has shown me that what everyone calls logical, isn't. It may seem logical, but more often than not, it doesn't explain the whole story. One plus one equals two. Kind of. One plus one plus x equals two, but since x is always there, you stop seeing it. Doing mitzvot is trying to make things happen by connecting to 'x'. I feel like one of those scientists, using mechanical arms to move things around. Being religious means living in the world, knowing that things we can't see are happening under the surface, affecting the outcome and the process.
I really wanted to get accepted into the Israeli army. I was thirty years old and could have gotten an exemption if I pushed a little, but I saw it as my duty. I fudged a few questions about my medical history and told everyone including the janitor at the draft office that I wanted to serve in the army. One of the last stages in the draft process was the psychological test. It was a long questionnaire, which challenged my new abilities at reading Hebrew. The questions were very simple, and it was obvious which answers would indicate an unstable personality, not to be trusted with an automatic weapon. There were a few questions which challenged me as a person trying to be in touch with my spiritual nature. “Do you feel there is an entity inside of you, telling you to do things you don’t want to do?” I circled ‘No’, trying not to think of my daily battles with my evil inclination. “Do you sometimes leave your body?” Well…on a good day I do manage to connect with an expanded vision of creation. I was starting to think that society might see the struggle to be religious as a form of insanity. On one question I couldn’t hold myself back. “Do you feel the world changes drastically from one day to the next?” I circled ‘Yes’. I handed in the exam to a young sergeant who had been trained to grade these tests, thereby qualifying him to judge my sanity. He marked off my answers as I sat across from him. When he got to the question about the world changing, he looked up. “Would you care to explain your answer?” I smiled and handed him my passport. He looked puzzled but opened it up. The picture showed a young man in a black t-shirt with long curly hair, a moustache, and dangling earrings: a biker. In front of him sat a man with a beard and yarmulke; a religious Jew. I smiled. He gave me a passing grade and approved my induction.
As I get older and more experienced, I see more things that don't make sense. I don't understand how people can operate in such a world, flying blind, thinking they understand the world. Even stranger is when they act as if they do see, but actually don't. Morality is a prime example. In a godless world, being moral is counterproductive.Charity is almost criminal. Marriage is a religious thing. If you are entirely atheist, marriage simply doesn't make sense.If you don't believe in God, having children is a massive expense and bother that certainly doesn't justify the occasional spurts of happiness. No expense is spared to save a human life because people instinctively know that the finite body, a hunk of meat, contains an irreplaceable slice of the infinite.Nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. Quantum physics......well.... that's already kabbala.
This i This going to sound crazy and illogical, but it is something I have seen so many times. Let me tell you a story. Once, when I was on kibbutz, my buddy (let’s call him Jake) wanted to get accepted as a member. Becoming a kibbutz member was a long but relatively painless process. Another friend of mine (let’s call him Sam) was making it difficult for Jake. He was going out of his way and even putting in time and energy to make Jake’s process difficult. One time, over tequila, Jake and I were discussing the problem with an older kibbutz member. He laughed and said, “What goes around comes around”. He went on to explain that when Sam had first arrived on kibbutz, fifteen years earlier, his acceptance process was very difficult. Now it would have been easy to write it off and say that Sam was a vindictive jerk, but I sensed there was something deeper going on. Sam was basically a friendly guy, in a weird and dysfunctional way, and he had even been friendly to Jake in the beginning. Then I realized that when Jake wanted to become a member, Sam decided to oblige him. Sam had learned that acceptance to kibbutz was a painful process and he wanted to provide that for his friend Jake.
Love is a language that we learn. Actually, life is a language that we learn. What does love look like? For some people, tragically, love looks like a battle, with casualties and the children become collateral damage. Sometimes, if our spouse is not so obliging or does not speak our language, we fill in the blanks. If a person was raised in an abusive marriage, he will see everything the other person does as abuse, even silence, even acts of kindness. Or they will provide the abuse that a ‘loving marriage’ needs.
There are two issues here. One is in the receiving and the other is in the giving. We need to learn to understand our spouse’s language. We also need to look at our own language and how our spouse receives it. As a cook, I am not used to long conversations. If I find myself talking too long, I begin to expect that the chef will come running over to scream at me. In the middle of conversations with my wife, I would suddenly start fiddling around in the kitchen. She thought I was distracted or not interested. I had to realize what I was doing, how she was receiving it, and change it into an appropriate form that we could both live with.
And the language in the marriage is unique. Yeshiva students beware; your wife is not your study partner. Logic isn’t always the answer and can actually make her angry. Businessmen, you can’t prove to your wife you love her by showing her how much you spent. Success in marriage is being together. The way to get there is by being together. Take the time. Learn each other’s language. Learn your own language.
My wife used to ask me if I wanted a drink of water. My automatic response was usually, “No, thank you.” The implied response was “I don’t want to bother you.” I didn’t realize that she was hungry for an opportunity to express her love in a small way. Eventually, my wife discovered that I was one of those people who are stuck three rungs down on the evolutionary scale until I’ve had my coffee in the morning. Despite being a strong advocate of healthy eating, my wife has learned to make my coffee and more often than not, she makes it for me. And I have been drinking more water than I used to.
The Western concept of romantic love is based on, or characterized by, the Arthurian myth of Tristan and Iseult. I highly recommend reading Robert Johnson’s, We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love. He explains it beautifully in Jungian terms. According to the story, Tristan and Iseult have accidentally drunk a love potion, thereby falling hopelessly in love despite Iseult being married to Cornwall, Tristan’s uncle who he is sworn to faithfully serve. They are relentlessly chased by the king, their love being chaste and pure, epitomized by them sleeping in the forest, Iseult’s sword thrust into the ground between them. Finally, the cruel king stabs his nephew in the back, and Tristan, at Iseult's request, fatally crushes his beloved in a tight embrace as his final act.Unfortunately, our society and culture have programmed us with a concept of love that has many contradicting aspects and make it unsustainable and unrealistic. Our belief of romantic love is that it is above logic and reason, a runaway freight train of emotion we have no control over. The object of our love is probably not the healthiest choice, perhaps even the worst choice possible, but true love transcends and conquers all. It is the two of us against the world, do or die, more likely do and die.
It has always amazed me how single people resist the idea of shidduch. They think shidduch means an arranged marriage, one in which they have no say. Shidduch is not like that nor has it ever been. Shidduch is more about friends, relatives, and other people close to you making a suggestion based on things they now about you. In pre-Google days, it made sense. But grown up children raised on sitcoms, sugar coated breakfast cereal, and romance, avoid it like the plague, preferring to march forward in their dating like lemmings to the sea. It is more romantic when the odds are astronomically against happiness. Love is blind. Yet twentieth century, post-disco, romance means falling in love with someone you barely know (at best), based mostly on how they look on a dance floor. The internet version of love at first sight is based on how the picture on their homepage looks and a personal profile that may be more fiction than fact. You’d be better off falling in love with their avatar. I know people who trust a search engine to find love more than friends or family.
I don’t believe in romance. Or more accurately, I believe romance tells the truth when it whispers stories about impossible love. Impossible love is. For a quick burst of passion, something to get the hormones humming, romance is just the ticket. But so is bungee jumping. If you want to be long-term happy in marriage, it is better to find someone who has similar life interests and values, and is also happens to be cute as a button. When I tell you to burn your romance novels, I am not compromising. The opposite. Don’t compromise on anything. I am saying have a romance with a person you like, someone you respect and can connect to. My definition of romance is much more idealistic and strict. You can walk into any room and close your eyes, pick a dozen people you know nothing about, and have a steamy romance with them, anguishing for months or even years before finally acknowledging that your differences are well and truly irreconcilable. But what about love at first sight? I believe strongly in love at first sight. I just believe in giving love at first sight a better chance of lasting longer than a day, by choosing to look at people who I have a better chance of having a healthy relationship with.
Again, this is all about relationships being based on self-definition and not on bargaining. If I choose to be with someone whose values and life goals are different than mine, than one of us will have to compromise in order for the relationship to continue. And when it comes to life values, compromising means killing a part of yourself that is dear. That makes it romantic. Romance and the story it is based on glorify death. If you choose to suffer and die, than romance is fine (Read the story of Tristan and Iseult, or Romeo and Juliet, again if you think I am exaggerating).
I suggest a new definition of love based on life. Love is the source of your life. No compromises. It is coming together with a part of yourself, someone who treasures who you are, and his/her happiness is dependent on every aspect of you growing. It involves the heart, the mind, and the body. It has legs and is meant to live as long as your life. Growing old together is the new romance.
The Fixing of this generation
Marriage is unnatural and illogical. It is insane to believe that two people exclusively can be lovers, business partners, friends, co-parents, and roommates for decades, through thick and thin. And yet universally, humankind has based itself on this. And until recently, it almost always worked. It could be that the current world is pulling man away from his spiritual self and his connection with the spiritual world, replacing the divine with the mundane. In a logical and natural order, today’s world, marriage doesn’t work. A man who cannot see with his spiritual eyes will look at his fifty year old wife and see an old woman. A man looking with spiritual eyes will see the highest form of beauty. Being spiritual means that you see an additional, hidden element to reality. To a person who does not see that additional element, spiritually based actions will not make sense. I feel that marriage does not make sense in a world of logic but if you add the spiritual element, it is the only kind of relationship that will work. Marriage has always been under the auspices of religion for that reason, and secular marriage fails more often than not.
The modern world has tools to interact that never existed before. The electronic revolution is producing more words and more connections between people than could ever have been imagined. And yet fewer people are getting married. So many people who want to get married are putting in great efforts, using tools to connect that are cutting edge, and spending their nights alone. Three generations ago, the telephone didn’t exist. Dating someone in the next town required hours of rough travel. Long distance relationships were managed through what we now call snail mail. When I first came to Israel as a teen, a letter took two weeks to get to my parents. Today, mail takes milliseconds to arrive, people can have free conversations to anywhere in the world with visual accompaniment, and I watch as teens sit on the bus typing with their thumbs. I am dumbfounded when I think of the oceans of words that are thrown around each moment as a generation that is constantly connected, busies itself with what they call communication. I apologize but all I see is loneliness. Music used to be an experience in connection between the musician and the listener. Conversation must be learned. In the Jewish experience, it is forbidden to travel on the Sabbath. We are required to have three meals with other people who are also stuck in the same location. Television is forbidden (through the wisdom of the Rabbis, if not by the Torah). We sing together, we talk for hours, have a drink or two, and families settle into the warm space of being a family together. And guess what else happens. In the quiet spaces created between ‘pass the potatoes’, single men and women discover each other. Is that such a surprise?
Now there are websites that help you find your mate. The idea makes sense and the databases are enormous. Couples should be getting married in droves. Wedding halls should be overbooked. In olden times, there were a dozen young boys in the village and a dozen young girls. Most of them managed to find their soul-mate amongst those dozen candidates, and most of them managed to stay married. According to the laws of statistics, it should be easier now, but it is the opposite. The laws of logic don’t apply. We are living in an age where finding your soul mate and loving them is a special challenge.
How could anyone develop warm feelings for someone in the pressurized, hierarchically structured, workplace, with all of its mirrors and rules? Modern society has set up environments for single people to meet. Most of them are intentionally loud, as if a meaningful conversation is counter-productive. And you are supposed to go wearing a costume. You could be looking right at your soul mate and not recognize them. How can you say anything meaningful when you are limited to a few charcters? Conversation must be learned and practiced. Listening is a skill. Silence is so sweet when shared. If all this modern buzz works for you, than go with it. People are treasure chests full of holiness. It is a great gift to get to know another person. It is impossible to do this via instant messages.
Dating is not shopping
A dear friend of mine got married. He was a successful lawyer, drove a really nice car, and went to the gym religiously. At his wedding, his sisters got up and spoke about how hard he searched, how he checked out one girl after the other, until he finally found the BEST!! The most beautiful, sexiest, most intelligent, most talented, woman. I was horrified. Did that mean that if another woman came along who was better, than he would be justified in leaving her? If he lost his job, went bald, got fat, or had an accident, would she leave him. You should not marry someone because they are the best. Don’t worry if you aren’t the best. Marry the person who is the other half of your soul. They aren’t the best. They are the only one who fits. And so are you. If your children are not the most beautiful or the smartest kids in the class, do you send them back to the factory? Of course not. You love them because of who they are, and for that same reason, they are irreplaceable.
Rav Daniel explained that you don’t get married because you are ready. Any person who has longed to find their soul mate can tell you this. You get married because you cannot take one step forward, alone. Marriage takes you further than you could ever go by yourself. That is why it is so much work. Don’t wait because you aren’t ready. Don’t be afraid because you may not feel that you have enough to offer.
Because people are so complex, so deep, and so hidden, it is impossible to ‘know’ who the right person is or what he will be like. I am not saying throw your list out. I am saying make a list, keep in mind that the list could be a liability, find the match who you feel the best about being with, close your eyes, and jump. As much as you saw in that person, know that there is so much more that you couldn’t see, and won’t see, for a long time. Some of it will be good, some of it will scare you, and some of it will connect with parts of yourself you didn’t know existed. Some of it may not be so nice. There are no guarantees. You don’t know who the other person will be once his soul is attached to yours and you don’t even know who you will be when you are attached with him. Until you are married, you don’t know what kind of spouse you will be. Even with the best intentions, until you have kids, you don’t know what kind of parent you will be.
You will discover things in your spouse that you didn’t know were there, things you might not want to be there. You don’t order a tailor made spouse in an off-the rack world. But don’t think you are ‘settling for less’ or ‘suffering’. The most amazing thing is that the things I have discovered in my spouse told me so much about my deeper self. I wouldn’t even have known about them to put them on my list. I have listened to couples and sat in awe as I saw how deeply parts of their soul and persona related, and how often I heard ‘I didn’t know this before we got married’. Quite often, stories take generations to tell. And they aren’t simple. I knew a man who got engaged to a super-enabled blind woman. His father objected so strongly that he broke off relations with his son. It was then revealed that the mother had a stroke and became blind. The father had her institutionalized. A woman came from an abusive home and married a man with a nervous disorder that made him collapse if he had an emotional outburst. People are complex by themselves, but when they choose a mate, all their tiny points of light become constellations, connections of wonder and awe.
You can never ‘know’ that this is your mate. Try your best and pray like crazy. Love isn’t enough but without it, nothing else works and nothing is worth the effort. So love each other. A lot. And don’t forget to say it out loud. ‘I love you’ is NEVER the wrong answer. And ‘Do you love me?’ is never a stupid question.
Acquiring a Wife-Acquiring an Identity-The Chuppa changes who you are
This is really the essence of what I wanted to say. In masechet kiddushin, it is written, “A woman is acquired in three ways; money, relations, or a contract.” Modern, PC, people who hear this are in shock. Acquiring a woman sounds barbaric. It sounds like slavery. Until you dig just a tiny bit deeper and you learn that it is against Jewish law to have a woman slave. So if you can’t have a woman slave, then what does it mean to acquire a wife? You acquire some aspect of the woman or something that is attached to her. Rav Erez Gazit explained that you acquire the title of being a husband or, more specifically, her husband. That is why under the chuppa the man gives the woman a ring and she does not give him a ring.
Marriage is not a deal or an even exchange. You don’t bargain with your wife. In a business deal, partners are equal, sharing profits and responsibilities, shouldering the load equally. When a partner is unable to work, the obligations must be reassessed. If a better deal comes along, the partnership can be dissolved. A marriage is not a business deal. Nothing is equal, and that is a good thing. Spouses should not keep a spreadsheet with responsibilities, benefits, hours worked, etc. You didn’t get married to the best or richest or most whatever. You married the other half or your soul. They are helping you on your journey towards your higher self. When you decide that is not who you are, the relationship is dissolved.
Rule to remember (and it isn’t as easy as it sounds); Treat your spouse no worse than a total stranger. I can hear all the shouts of “That’s crazy! I want to treat my husband/wife like a king/queen!”. Let me tell you two stories.
Once, I was flying to the states on a special (cheap) ticket that allowed me to board only after all the other passengers got on and if there was still a seat. I had to show up at the airport in Tel Aviv and wait, not knowing if I was actually going to fly. The flight was scheduled for midnight but, because of delays, they didn’t begin boarding until one thirty. By two thirty it became clear that I wasn’t going to get on that plane. By the grumbles I was hearing from the crowd around me, it was clear that the flight had been overbooked. I watched an older couple cope with the situation. The husband was struggling with a cart piled high with luggage and the wife listened while the airline rep explained. The roar of the engines shook the plate glass windows, making the airline’s position clearly one of total apathy. I was amazed at her patience, nodding her head in understanding while the rep spoke, trying to collect his papers and leave. If I had purchased a ticket and reserved a seat, the only way they would have turned me away in the middle of the night would be after a long and bloody knife fight. As the couple walked away, a suitcase slipped off the overloaded cart and fell to the floor. The woman turned around and snapped, “Jerk!”. I felt so bad for the husband but, more importantly, I couldn’t understand how she could have so much patience for strangers and so little sympathy for her husband who was trying so hard.
Another time, I stopped in to visit a young couple. The wife had just prepared pancakes for the husband. I was sipping coffee when he threw down his knife and fork in disgust. “You used butter! I hate butter!” I remember thinking that if I had made him pancakes and he said that, he would end up getting a maple syrup shampoo that he would remember for a long time.
It may sound easy. Most people try to act polite. But when you are dealing with your spouse, so much emotional baggage and history comes crowding in. You have expectations for your spouse, more than for a stranger. You have expectations for yourself that sit on you like a three hundred pound gorilla. Polite, nice, and good enough, aren’t good enough so you get angry for not having your expectations met. Do yourself a favor. Set your sights a little lower. Shoot for polite. If you can get through life never being rude to your spouse, never raising your voice, always saying ‘thank you’, giving them a glass of water when they are thirsty, saying ‘sorry’ when you hurt them, thinking twice before reacting in anger, all the things you do when confronted by strangers, then you are a total saint. And you will probably have a wonderful and meaningful marriage.