Friday, May 25, 2012

LeKuvod Yom Tov Shvios

I regret, didn’t have time and opportunity to prepare any special essay LeKuved Yom Tiv. But if someone really wants to read some interesting story, there is interview with Matys Weiser in this week Hamodia – Inyan magazine. You may learn some things about author of this blog and I hope have some Chizuk from it.
Not to leave reader without any thing, I realized that my essay titled “Shvuos – Yom Tov of gerim” was not so popular last year and I believe that the reason for it is that this blog was much less known last year than this year. I encourage my dear readers to go back to this material as with Hashem’s help I was able to present some less known ideas about geirus.
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Sunday, May 20, 2012


It might seem strange to my readers for me to conclude my series of essays on the topic of marriage and family with an article about divorce. 
My aim in posting this topic was that after absorbing Rav Hirsch’s elucidation on the value and meaning of “the family,” as well as my two essays on the same topic the reader would so profoundly appreciate the concept of “family” that he or she would never even consider divorce as a viable solution for marital problems. Just so you know, I strongly hope that those who visit this blog will someday realize what I have learned in life: divorce is catastrophe of cosmic proportions.
Nevertheless, divorce happens not only in society at large and among Jewish people, but also among Torah-true Jews who are devoted to Hashem’s service on an above-average level. Why it this so? Why do people despair of working out their differences? Why don’t people comprehend the utter destruction that results from divorce? Why don’t they seriously consider the welfare of their children and grandchildren who will not only suffer greatly but who will then accept divorce as a viable solution to marital discord instead of the calamity it truly is?

Unfortunately, statistically, children of divorce are much more inclined to divorce than children of intact marriages, who do not view divorce as a preferred “exit strategy.” Even after having suffered the many negative consequences of divorce, they reason that if their parents and/or grandparents chose that path it can’t be all that bad.  

An additional consideration when contemplating the issue of divorce is: If divorce is seen as one acceptable option among many to marital discord, what happen to the concept of zivug which I wrote about in my last essay? How does divorce enter the picture if we believe that marriage is a spiritual connection made by G-d Himself even before the two spouses united in marriage were born?

With the help of Heaven I will attempt to answer some of those questions according to what I have been learned, and I will also share with my readers some of my own thoughts.

Perfect people don’t need the Torah.
The Zohar Hakadosh teaches us that malachim, the angels, did not want Hashem to bequeath the holy Torah to the Moshe Rabbeinu and through him to mankind, who, obviously, are mortal. Hashem explained to them that it is precisely mortal and imperfect people who are in need of the precepts promulgated by the Torah so that they can improve themselves and elevate themselves spiritually.

The fact that human beings are not perfect gives them tremendous opportunities dedicate their lives to achieving excellence through Torah. One improves one’s nature by means of  bechirah –free choice. When person refuses to do evil and chooses instead to do good as defined by Torah, tikkun — progress toward perfection — is being achieved.

But people do not always choose to do what is good, both in general and specifically in the sphere of marriage and family. Most find it difficult to humble themselves enough to invest the work and self-restriction required to build a solid marital relationship.  Others are not aware exactly how to create a healthy marriage and family, and either refuse to learn or don’t even know that they should seek this knowledge.  Perhaps they fear that to achieve a good marriage they will have to relinquish some of their innate selfishness, or even forgo some of their usual indulgence in gashmius, material pleasures, all aspects of earthly life to which they have become accustomed without giving them much thought. They sense that establishing and maintaining a happy family will require them to act in ways that do not fit in with life as a single person living only for him or herself.

Those who never marry are, indeed, unfortunate because they will never have the opportunity to become fully developed human beings. The Torah expresses this teaching in its opening chapter when it states that the Creator created man as ish ve’ishah – male and female. Only in the unity of marriage can people achieve the full potential that he or she was created for.

What happens when people marry and then are too lazy, immature or even too filled with bad character traits to succeed at marriage? What if they refuse to work on acquiring positive middos, characteristics, as is expected of them?  What if they don’t view the inevitable difficulties and challenges of building a strong marriage and establishing a family as an opportunity to achieve spiritual heights, heights that can only be reached by overcoming their inborn weaknesses? What happens if even after family members and friends offer advice on how to improve themselves they prefer to remain in their “comfort zone” and refuse to change?  What if they have general problems with their emunah, their faith, yet prefer to lead their lives on a superficial level, never attempting to understand why they were placed on this Earth? What if they never achieved happiness with their lot in life, with what Hashem has programmed for them, but rather constantly imagine that their lives could and should be better and that this will only happen once they are free of their marriage? What if the person sees him- or herself as a victim not only of life but of his or her life’s partner and children?

People in any of these categories rarely invest the effort required to improve spiritually and practically; in fact, they rarely investigate methods of achieving a happy marriage and all too often ultimately divorce.

Reconciling reality with free choice
People are born with freedom of choice, especially with the choice of how to react to all of life’s challenges. However, as Chazal teach us, our mates are chosen for us by Hashem even before the two people involved are born, couples are predestined. How do we then understand what is happening when the couple decides to divorce?
It is rare that both partners in any marriage bear the same amount of guilt if and when divorce occurs. Although most often one of them is less invested in building a happy marriage and family, the “other half” of the couple is usually somewhat at fault as well, albeit to a lesser degree.  Unfortunately, even if one party is doing his or her utmost to save the marriage and family, his or her efforts will not succeed if the other party is bent on dissolving the union. If one spouse feels imprisoned and is convinced that freedom and bliss are guaranteed outside the marriage, little can be done.

This impasse can happen at any stage of a marriage. Young couples too immature to understand the value and beauty of the family life, especially the opportunity to be  constantly giving selflessly to one’s spouse and children, are especially vulnerable. However, all of us know couples who divorce in mid-life, while they are fully engaged in raising their children, or even later in life when the nest is empty. Some in this situation claim that they were never happy and their marriage only survived due to the extraordinary efforts of one of the spouses who understood the trauma divorce causes children and who, therefore, opted to stay in an unhappy marriage to minimize that trauma. While divorce is tragic at any stage in life, we applaud parents who sacrificed their own personal happiness so as not to unnecessarily harm the children.

Nonetheless, it is not difficult to image that mostly, when such a situation occurs, the home was filled with tension and perhaps even a poisoned atmosphere. How sad for children growing up in such a combative atmosphere whose only consolation is their determination never to expose their own children to either the overt or covert conflict that is their daily lot in life. Parents who maintain that they are staying married solely for the sake of the children, without working out their differences and growing spiritually and emotionally from teaching themselves to compromise are not only shortchanging themselves but also, in a certain sense, destroying the lives of their offspring.

In order to thrive, children need to be raised in families that are filled with authentic devotion and love between their parents. Even when couple experience major differences and difficult life challenges, when growing children observe their parents working together to deal with, endure or overcome those problems they will be ultimately happy and prepared to build strong homes of their own. But when what children experience is a family filled with suffering, even if that suffering is endured “for the sake of the children,” they cannot help but be devastated and poor candidates for their own future marriages.  

Who our spouses are is predestined. How we deal with the challenges they present to us is our choice, one of the most important choices we will ever make.

More mature parents, who understand the devastation caused by divorce, still harm their children if all those children hear are complaints and regrets.  When a husband can’t stop themselves from telling anyone willing to listen, whether it’s someone from their nuclear family, a friend or their child, that life is unbearable because he has to work so hard to support his wife and children, and when a wife constantly complains that she has no time for herself because her days are filled with cooking, washing and cleaning, the home is filled with sadness and both are setting terrible examples for their children.

Any time we give our spouse the feeling that we are greatly sacrificing to be married and/or stay married to him/or her, it introduces bitterness into the marriage and makes our spouse’s life miserable.

Just as harmful is when a husband considers his wife his unpaid maid or when a wife feels that her husband’s only value is as a constantly available ATM machine.
In such situations, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize that the marriage is headed for disaster, regardless that only one side in the marriage is expressing profound unhappiness. And worst of all is when one of the spouses, instead of trying to work on the marriage and improve any flaws in the relationship opts to break the exclusivity of the marital bond and seek happiness with someone else while still married.

For a better marriage…
The concept of marital exclusivity is not limited only to Orthodox Jewish society. However, due to the ingenuity of our holy Sages we enjoy many protective means, in the form of the laws and customs of Torah marriage, that share one aim: to provide a level of trust for each of the spouses and to protect family values. It is a conventional imperative as well as a G-d-given commandment that each spouse in a marriage “belongs” exclusively to the other. Spiritually attuned people of all religious persuasions accept that they must restrain from contact with those of the opposite gender other than their spouse. To establish and maintain friendships with non-spouses, to meet, correspond, and/or to maintain any other form of contact with someone outside the marriage causes our spouse tremendous mental discomfort, it is betrayal of the marriage covenant and ultimately may results in the catastrophic sin of adultery. Since trust is the foundation of a healthy marriage, doing anything to harm that trust is disastrous not only to the marriage but to the family.

Of course, when for whatever reason spouses ruin the possibility of a harmonious marriage by inappropriate words and/or actions, the marriage is bound to end.  What happens, in such cases, to the concept of zivug, predestined mates? What happens to the spiritual forces that were involved in the couple meeting and deciding to marry in the first place?  What happens to the concept of “a match made by and in Heaven?”

Unfortunately, as much as I perused the rabbinic literature, so far I have not succeeded in  finding an answer to this question,  as it involves Kabbalistic areas of Jewish teachings  in which I am much less than a specialist. So what I am about to share must be acknowledged as the result of personal analysis and not a documented, authentic Torah view.

It is my understanding that a person has no choice not only in who he or she marries but also in whether he or she is born, or who his or her parents will be. Many other aspects of our lives are also not within our power to choose. Where we have choice, where we are obligated to think deeply before we exercise that power of choice, is mostly in the area of morality as defined by Torah. There are different views regarding the details on this topic among the sages, but those are a topic for a future essay.

For now let us accept that whether we chose to be born or not, we are living on Earth at this time. Life offers each of us the opportunity to grow spiritually and achieve connection with our Creator by making proper moral choices. In order to earn merit in the World to Come man must have total free moral choice in this world. If, for example, every time a Jew transgressed he or she would become paralyzed, no free choice would exist. Accepting this principle, according to Chazal (our holy sages), the ultimate sin is suicide. By choosing to end one’s life, a person has “slapped the Creator in the face.”

In Michtav Mei’Eliyahu, Harav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zt”l, teaches that relinquishing one’s power of free choice, one’s bechirah,  by ending one’s opportunity for spiritual growth by killing one’s self , is the greatest of sins. Nevertheless, to ensure that man has total free choice, even this ultimate act of rebellion against Creator is one of the many moral choices available to mankind.

What happens when a person who commits suicide is married? What happens when a person’s spouse dies for reasons other than suicide, such as illness or any other tragic event? The remaining spouse not only has the freedom of choice but is halachicly obligated by our sages to remarry. The devastation caused by the death cannot be undone, but if Hashem still gives them life He gives them additional opportunities to repair what can be repaired, and to continue to build and contribute positively even when the past cannot be changed. One thing is almost sure, that just as the person whose spouse died from any cause (except murder) is not guilty of the death, so too is the spouse who did ALL in his or her power to save a marriage that ultimately dissolved is not guilty of its ultimate destruction.

As I said previously, most of the time the spouse who keeps valiantly attempting to save and improve the marriage is the one less guilty of its destruction, and in no way causes “tears to flow” from Hashem’s eyes.

In conclusion.
My dear friend, my fellow Jew, and my fellow non-Jewish brother. Before chas v’chalilah,  G-d forbid, your marriage is in jeopardy, regardless if you just got married, you are raising a family, or you are living with your spouse in a so called “empty nest.” Do yourself a favor, the greatest favor possible. If there are any difficulties in your marriage, realize that they were given to you to help develop you into a better person.

Seek out mentors, guides and teachers to help you identify the causes of the problem and its possible solutions and work as you’ve never worked before to resolve your marital challenges because this is why you were sent down to this world. Your mission is to elevate yourself above you lower desirers by building your marriage, your family, and ultimately  society by utilizing every ounce of your intellectual and emotional power.

Read literature about how to establish and maintain harmony in the home even before any problem arises. Forewarned is forearmed. Be prepared. By investing in your marriage in this way, proactively instead of reactively, you will be blessed with a happy, fulfilled family life as you, together with your spouse, serve your Creator by building your own miniature mikdash m’at, a temple in microcosm.

My dear fellow Jew. Know that there is no better environment for serving G-d than  observing the 613 G-d-given Commandments. And as a side reward, through living as a Torah Jew you will also find in its precepts many guidelines that lead to a blissful marriage, written in both Rabbinic literature and in the words handed down by Moshe Rabbeinu at Sinai. Please remember Jewish religion cannot merely be part of your life,  TORAH IS OUR LIFE. And living a Torah life is the only guaranteed way to experience the ultimate happiness of a loving marriage and family.

Matys Weiser

Monday, May 7, 2012

Shalom Bayis

“It is proper for man to emulate his Creator, for then he will attain the secret of Supernal Form (Tzurah) in both: image (Tzelem) and likeness (Demut). For if a person’s physical form reflects the Supernal Form, yet his actions do not, he falsifies his stature.”
Those are the first words of Sefer “Tomer Dvoira – The Palm Tree of Devorah” of RAMAK – Rabbi Moshe Cordovero.
How it is possible for a man, creature enclosed in his three dimensional environment to emulate Creator of the universe? How can a human being be called a “reflection of the Supernal Form”, or the image of Hakodoish Boruch Hu? By what means can a person represent the Unknown and Unimaginable Ain Sof? And if we somehow grasp the answers to these questions than comes perhaps the most difficult question, how can one emulate the Almighty G-d after taking in consideration man’s limited power?

With the help of Hashem I will try to explain what I learned from the Rabbonim who taught and influenced me with my learning the past few years. The Rabbonim which have influenced my thoughts range from a list of personalities dating back to at least 800 years ago. Starting with my beloved Rabbi Hirsh  in conjunction with the Tomer Devorah, Rabbi Cordovero. The next in this non chronological list will be Rav Dessler in conjunction with the Ramchal. Also the Maharal,  Rabbi Yehuda Loew’s from Prague – the Mahral’s  teachings on the topic of marriage and family are exceptional. I can not bypass the contemporary names of today’s Rabbis like Rabbi Akiva Tatz and Rabbi Sholom Arush.  But all of my understanding wouldn’t have come to fruition without the most important of the seforim in my life, “Chovois Halvovois

In order to make “space” for the world to be created, the Creator withdrew himself. This act of withdrawal is known as Tzimtzum. Another description of this act of “self limitation” of the Creator is called Hestar Ponim – the cover of the face or concealing of His countenance. In order to bestow His love upon creation and his creatures HBH ‘gave up’ something of Himself and only then the creation could happen and Love could come to realization – could be active.
He created man in his image. As our masters teach us, every organ of man, 248 of them, correspond to one of the middos – characteristics of the Creator, These middos are expressed as the mitzvois aseh – active commandments of Torah, the commandments asking us to do the will of the Creator. (The explanation of the remaining 365 prohibiting commandments will not be addressed in this essay.)
Each part of our body represents something of our Creator. For example: the hand represents acting power, the eye represents sight, the ear represents the ability to acquire information, the legs represent movement and so on. (I do not have the necessary education on this subject to explain all of the middos in this manner. There are many seforim that explain in depth how each part of our body corresponds to a particular and different midda of the Creator.) This is why the Torah informs us at its very beginning that man, i.e. Human Beings were created in the image – Tzelem of G-d.
But there is another Hebrew word Demut – likeness which tells us that we were created with the goal to be like G-d. The most important characteristic of us – human beings  where we are “like” G-d  is our Bechira – freedom of choice. Of course while His bechira is unlimited our bechira is limited by the fact that we exist in a three dimensional reality with all of its limitations. For example, the limitation of the laws of physics or who our parents were. But unlike any other creature we were created with the freedom of moral choice. No other creature can use, enjoy and eventually profit from this moral freedom.  The possibility of making a mistake and even rebellion against our Creator i.e. evil is necessary for this freedom of moral choice to be real.

How can we emulate G-d?  
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero in his sefer explaining this question, teaches us to follow the thirteen middos of Hashem. We recite these 13 middos every day while saying the prayer called tachnun and on other occasions as well. In the second part of his sefer Rabbi Cordovero explains the term of ten sefiros – emanations ( I am unaware of the proper word or terms in English to describe sefiros) These sefiros are known to us from the sefer Aytz Chaim as written by his student and the student of the Arizal Rabbi Chaim Vital. Among many others characteristics – middos or sefiros of Hashem there are those known to every human being. Love, compassion, patience, self restraint, giving from ones self etc. Rabbi Cordovero tells us that if we do not emulate our Creator then we are actually falsifying His image, we are distorting information about Him which He wanted us to share with humanity, with other creatures like our selves and with all of the creation. Because the majority of men and women do not possess the supreme knowledge of the Creator from other sources, then the only way that they can become informed with this knowledge of G-d is when people that have studied and do possess this knowledge and wisdom enlighten others by emulating what and how G-d interacts with us.  One more time I would like to remind that all positive (to do) mitzvos of the Torah, including both subcategories of: bein Adam le Chaveiro –  how men relate to each other and bein Adam le Mokoim – between man and G-d, are precise expressions of how HBH relates to us and how we should relate to others.

In my recent conversation with someone specializing in the topic of family and sholom bayis – literally ‘peace in the home’, he quoted the popular story that the Talmud describes of the convert who came to Hillel Hannasi with the request that he teach him the entire Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel answered - “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t like to be done to you.”.
Then he asked me the following question. Why didn’t Hillel tell the convert the commandment of the written Torah ‘You should love your neighbor as you self”? Both of these commandments called by many the ‘golden rules’ are asking for the proper relation between man and his fellow.  My answer to him was, that restraining from harming another person is the most basic step of the relations between humans and it is a very easy to describe down to earth definition of love. Then he asked me if this is so then why doesn’t the Torah express it this way but instead uses a more abstractive term ‘love’-  ‘you should love your neighbor as yourself’? After few moments of thought I answered that while not doing harm is the first step of love the second necessary step of expression of love is to give, to do, to act to another person as we would like others to act toward us.
I don’t think I discovered America with my answers but I liked his challenge and I was satisfied with my answers. While we were discussing this topic I was smiling widely because I am in middle of writing this essay and I was very happy to have this conversation with him.

Hashem acted out of His Love and created us, made us in his image and gave us freedom of choice to use it to bring His likeness to our earthly realm.
In order to do so He withdrew - limited Himself. Now, this limitation and withdrawal does not happen neither in space nor in time as both space and time are creations of Hashem and can’t be used to limit Hashem who is the Creator of all creations! HBH remains the same after this withdrawal as He was ‘before’ this withdrawal . So we learn from Sefer Tania and others.
This teaches us that no act of Ahava – love or other middos can come to realization without self-limiting of our selves. With our positive act toward another human being we are giving up something that originally was ours but which now must be limited or even nullified by our conscious decision. What we are giving could be our material possession or our time which we could have been spent for ourselves, it can also be a good word or even the smile on our face, it could be moment of patience or even our fellow brothers pain which we share with our compassion. This is how love happens, all as described in detail by the Halacha - Jewish Law and Hashkofa – Jewish philosophy of life.

Our blessed memory sages teach us in their holy teachings called Mussar, how to control and shape our character to the form described by Taryag Mitzvos- all of the commandments. But Mussar Seforim are more than that; every human being can learn proper behavior and self restraint from those Seforim, every ben Noach can raise himself to a higher level of humanity by implementing parts of those teaching in his life.

To create an atmosphere necessary for love and the other middos to be realized - to happen, the Creator made man in plural form. Each human being is different than another, each group and nation has its own characteristics diverse from other nations or tribes. If everyone would be the same, then love would not be possible to happen as we would in fact love ourselves as mirrored in the other person (Iy”h, I will elaborate on this topic in the future). Only when we have to deal with those different than ourselves, then real love can happen as it will require from us self restraint and giving of ourselves  to others.

The most profound manner to exercise the exchange of love is the institution of marriage and family.

“And they shall became one flesh” Beraishis 2:24
Rashi elucidates: One flesh. The child is formed through the two of them, and their flesh becomes one.

This verse of the Torah and its explanation by Rashi contain a richness of teaching and loads of information which is so characteristic of the Torah where every sentence, every word, letter and dot brings depths and heights of teachings unknown in any other writings.
The verse says “One flesh” that is one human being in the form of two separate genders. Each gender is completely different than the other one, dissimilar to the extent that the Talmud describes the genders as separate species. We can not imagine anything on this earth which is so different, so polarized and yet so united at the same time as Ish and Ishah – man and his wife. A few sentences earlier we read that the woman was created as a help against man. What a depth in this sentence what a beauty enclosed in this description of harmonious and balanced marriage.
Two people, each one born to a different family a different environment, with different education and upbringing. Two individuals with many diametrically different characters, after years alone meet to form a new family. Two uniquely different people are now together as one to fulfill the wish of their Creator to become one flesh.

There is no more difficult task for man than this one, there is no greater challenge in his life than to learn how to love his/her spouse. There is no other environment where a man or woman will have the opportunity to bestow his love and give of himself than with his spouse and then his children. There is no other situation in life where such tremendous amount of selfless work and character formatting can happen as when we give our lives to our partners for life. And then, we unite in an act of physical ultimate connection to create our offspring.
Forming ‘one flesh’ culminates and at the same time begins with this union and it continues to the moment when our offspring form their own new family unit together with his/her spouse.

According to Jewish Law the physical union between husband and wife is not limited to the act of procreation. At any stage of life, it is a mitzvah – positive commandment to have martial relations regardless of the possibility of becoming pregnant. Jewish code of Law contains detailed guidelines of how, when and even in what atmosphere such relations should happen. According to Jewish Law it is imperative that the marital act take place with a spiritual connection between the spouses. If such a connection does not exist then such relations are forbidden and described as the animalistic fulfillment of lower desirers and not an act of love. But as much as the mental and spiritual connection between spouses does to the physical union for it to be perfect, so too does it work the other way as well.
All our deeds which are done according to our Creator’s will, our fulfillment of the commandments of Torah by using the physical aspect of our existence, enriches us spiritually and connects us with our Creator – we form a union with the Creator. The mitzvah of physical union between the spouses is not different.
Guided by Halachic Law and teachings of our sages, a Jewish couple unite in a act of physical love to achieve a higher level of mental connection, the ultimate pleasure of this act is the indestructible spiritual bond uniting the spouses and uniting the spouses with the Giver of life.

In every aspect of marriage union and unification, what is happening is more than just the creation of one ‘flesh’. Our task of unification of the two into one doesn’t end with the act of procreation and rising of the offspring. Hashem gave us many more years of our life to continue this spiritual task of unification on different levels and by different means. And like everything, there is a reason for this as well. The union between husband and wife is not completed when our children are grown and leave the nest. If our job would be accomplished then we would die or end the marriage and this is not what happens. We are not ready yet to depart from this planet or from each other. There is still a job to be done and each couple certainly will find different areas of life where such work can be done.

The Medrash Bereshis Rabba teaches that Hashem is the one who make the matches between man and woman. Now this seems to be a strange occupation for the Creator of the universe, isn’t it? The Maharal from Prague explains that this Medrash informs us that there is nothing natural about the marriage. It doesn’t just happen that two people with their freedom of choice gravitate toward each other and than get married. Chazal teach us that our zevug – our match is predestined and doesn’t belong to the realm of bechira. What is within our area of choice is our moral behavior, our work, sometimes hard work to polish the challenging edges of those two halves of the creature called – man. Neither of the halves by themselves can be even called a man.  

Tzurah the form and chomer the matter. Those are two elements unified in G-d himself and expressed in his creation. One of the elucidations of this idea is that every tzura and chomer are interdependent and are described in the terms of masculinity and femininity.

All of the above leads to the following.  Due to the character of the adjustments between a wife and husband which occur throughout life, something else no less great is also being done; the pinnacle of all reasons for our creation is happening.
For the man and woman, no other method improves us and helps in our adjustment better then learning “Anuva” humility through our interaction with our spouses and family. This lesson of humility is equally divided between self restraint and the subordination of human ego on one side and beneficial action and dynamic love on the other side in all aspects of marriage and family life.

In summary, every time we fulfill the will of our Creator by abiding the Mitzvos of his Torah we are contributing to our unification with G-d. (the topic of unity with G-d is a subject of its own  and I will not elaborate on it here) In a marriage which is worked out according to the Torah, cosmic work is being done and the implication of this work is much greater than we can grasp or even imagine. 

Matys Weiser