Marriage: The Eternal Structure

3 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

 The Shem Mishmuel quotes a perplexing Gemara in Brachot. The Rabbis asked Rav Hamnuna to sing a song at a wedding and he began to sing, “Woe to us people, we will die. Where is the Torah and mitzvot that will protect us?” Why did Rav Hamnuna sing such a mournful tune at a wedding?

The Shem Mishmuel explains that marriage is the antithesis of death. It is a binyan adei ad, an eternal structure that is created through the couple’s descendants. In this world, both the soul and body can ascend by making the right choices. After death, the soul can no longer be sanctified by engaging and lifting physicality. If it didn’t achieve what it needed to on this world it cannot do it anymore after death. But the Gemara says there is a way out. If a couple’s children continue to do mitzvot it is as if the parents never died and their souls will continue to ascend in heaven. That’s why Rav Hamnuna mentioned death and mitzvot. Clearly the mitzvah of peru urevu, having children, is a central part of the joy of a wedding.

In Parshat Balak, Bilam says concerning Hashem, “The Almighty in heaven counts the offspring of the Jewish people.” Chazal say this refers to children. Bilam questioned how Hashem could be involved in something so physical.

The Shem Mishmuel explains that in many ways the material world is the antithesis of purity and sanctity. There are religions that teach their adherents to live an ascetic life. Bilam only understood spirituality as an entity on its own. However, the mainstream Torah view, which is emphasized by Chassidut, is to take physicality and elevate it to spirituality. This is the secret of Torah. There is holiness embedded in the material world which is brought out through the mitzvot.

The most important institution where this idea is expressed is the Jewish marriage. The deeper one digs in a mine, the better quality diamonds one finds. The more physical something is, the more sanctity can be extracted. Marriage is called kiddushin. The kohen gadol, the holiest leader of the Jewish people was required to have a wife. The bond of marriage creates a very deep and intense holiness.

The Gemara explains that when we dance at a wedding we lift our body up in the air. We take physicality and elevate it to something holy. This is the essence of marriage. Hashem fashioned man in His Divine Image. He gave us the power to create. Hashem is the third partner in bringing children into the world and since He is eternal it is a binyan adei ad (an everlasting structure).

When we raise children to serve Hashem, we generate more holiness. Chassidut emphasizes the concept of “Olam chesed yibaneh.Hashem created the world as an act of kindness. He wanted to give us reward in the next world. Bringing up children is one of the greatest acts of chesed, a part of which is sharing the wisdom of Torah with them. Spend ten minutes a day with each child one on one, preferably with a Torah book. In this way you will be actualizing one of the greatest aspects of kedusha of a Jewish marriage.





Nachamu Nachamu Ami: Our Destiny

2 08 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

In the haftorah of Shabbat Nachamu, the prophet Yeshaya consoles the Jewish people, “Be comforted, be comforted, my people.” The suffering of exile and the sins that brought it about are part of a journey. The day will come when we will see that it was all meant to bring us to our destiny. This is true for geulat haprat (individual redemption) as well as geulat haklal (national redemption). The Malbim says Hashem is speaking specifically to the prophets. He tells them, “You must comfort my people. You must tell them that the geulah will eventually come, either because of their merits or because they received their just punishment and achieved their rectification.”

The Gemara writes that whenever Hashem remembers our sins he remembers the sin of the golden calf. The Lubliner Rav explains that the golden calf did not lead to our end. In fact Klal Yisrael gained atonement. Similarly, however far we fall there is always hope for return.

The prophet Yeshaya says further, “Speak to Yerushalayim’s heart and call out to her that her time has been filled and her sins have been appeased.” The heart of Yerushalayim is our ability to accept emotionally, not just rationally, that the process of exile was worth it. Part of the exhilaration that a runner experiences is not only the knowledge that he’s reaching his goal, but the feeling of pushing his limits and seeing how far he can go. We grow by facing challenges. It’s not just a trade-off, it’s an expansion. This is our consolation.

The prophet Yeshaya continues, “There’s a voice calling out in the desert, clear the way for Hashem, straighten out the plain, make a path for Him.” In the end we will be comforted seeing that Hashem led us exactly where we needed to go. Rashi says this road is meant to return us from exile. At the seder we say, “Next year in Yerushalayim,” but do we mean it? Do we find living in exile easier? The Gemara teaches that a person who lives outside Israel is considered an idol worshipper because he can only achieve an indirect relationship with Hashem. There’s no parallel to the Divine intervention inherent in Eretz Yisrael.

The Navi says, “Every valley will be uplifted and every mountain and high place will go down and what is crooked will become straight.” There are many obstacles, both material and spiritual, that will prevent a person from coming to Israel. They are compared to hills and valleys. But in the end Hashem will take them all away and reveal His presence.

“The grass will dry and the flowers will wilt but the word of Hashem will be established forever.” No matter how much we suffer in exile, we must keep our spirits up. The mishna says the beginning of defeat is retreat. When we let ourselves despair, we prolong the journey towards our destiny.

“On a high mountain I’ll go up to you, you who give good news to Tzion. Uplift your voice powerfully, you who bring good news to Yerushalayim. Lift up your voice loudly. Don’t be afraid. Say to the cities of Yehuda, behold here is Hashem.” The Radak explains that just as a person who wants his voice to be heard will stand in a high place, our yearning for Hashem will elevate us to be willing to hear the prophecy that was given to us. Ultimately we will be redeemed and we will return.

“Behold Hashem will come with force. And his outstretched hand will be the source of his dominion. And his reward is with him and his action and repayment is before him.” Hashem will reward the tzaddikim. He will shepherd us like a shepherd who gathers in his sheep. When Mashiach comes, Hashem‘s greatness will touch everyone at whatever level they’re at. We will discover our tikkun, the messianic part within us that’s redeemable. We will find our way back because Hashem will make the mountains low and the valleys high. We must not be afraid if we see people that seem irredeemable or distant.

“Who is there from whom we could take counsel, who could give us the understanding to go in the way Hashem has measured out?” The Torah itself is our guiding light in exile. It tells us how to respond to every possible life situation. We can’t be taken in by the nation’s threats or predictions. They are like dust on a scale. We don’t understand Hashem‘s way but we have to be attuned to miracles. We are a nation that lives beyond the laws of nature.

Each one of us is created for a specific purpose. We are all redeemable and none of us will be left behind.





Secrets of Shalom Bayit- For Women

15 08 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg 

Secrets of Shalom Bayit-For Women In Sichot Mussar, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz notes that the angels emphasized Sarah’s modesty to Avraham in order to make her more beloved to him. Avraham and Sarah had been married for many years and yet the Torah tells the story to teach us the significance of shalom bayit (marital harmony).

Rav Orlowek teaches that the secret to good chinuch (child-raising) is shalom bayit. When there is a happy wholesome home atmosphere, children thrive.

The following are some of Rav Orloweck’s tips for increasing shalom bayit:

Be dan l’kaf zechut (judge favorably). It’s not because your husband doesn’t care. He grew up in another home where things were done differently. Don’t take it personally. It’s hard to change in an instant. Find a positive way to remind him what irks you. Make a big sign, discuss it, work it out so there’s a plan that fits both of you. Make it fun instead of getting upset.

Disappointment is the difference between expectation and reality. Visualize your husband coming home tired and moody. It won’t be such a letdown if he really does get angry or doesn’t respond. This is not being pessimistic, just broadening your expectations.

Smile when your husband walks through the door. It helps set the tone for the rest of the day.

Let him talk first, before you unload your complaints and grievances.

People are not robots. They have ups and downs and are affected by emotions. Give your husband a small snack to eat on the way home. Then even if dinner isn’t ready, he’ll be calm. It’s important to get enough sleep. Catch a quick nap during the day so you feel refreshed when your husband gets in.

Try to be forgiving. You are both partners trying to create a wonderful Torah home. In the big picture, he’s doing all these great things for you. Overlook the minor mistakes.

Disagreements very often arise because of lack of communication. Women are more intuitive than men. You think your husband got it when he really didn’t and then you get upset. If you didn’t say it, he didn’t hear it. The same goes for compliments. Be specific. Thank your husband for the little acts of thoughtfulness and he’ll do it again.

Men and women are very different. Women find satisfaction in raising and discussing issues. Men tend to focus on getting to the point and finding solutions. Be aware of this and don’t get frustrated if your husband doesn’t automatically think like you. It’s just the way Hashem created us.

When you need to give constructive criticism, sandwich it with praise. Start and end with positive words.

Rav Dessler says that the root word of ahava (love) is hav (to give). Giving generates love. Investing in your husband will help you feel like one unit. A practical working definition of love is-“If it matters to you, it matters to me.” Put yourself in your husband’s shoes and prioritize the things a that mean a lot to him.

Don’t interrupt your husband when he’s learning. With learning you accomplish much more if there’s continuity without breaks or stops. Wait till he finishes.

Timing is important. Don’t try to discuss difficult issues when your husband is tired, hungry, or under pressure.

Help him spend time with you. Be available when your husband frees up his schedule for you.

One of the most crucial times to practice shalom bayit is at the Shabbat table. This is when our children see us interacting. What we say and how we say it is crucial. Husband and wife must treat each other with respect. If a wife doesn’t respect her husband, the children won’t respect their father either. And that’s not healthy. It’s important that children have role models and authority figures in their life and parents should be central among them.





Tu B’av

12 08 2011

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mr. Shira Smiles

Tu B'av  The Gemara in Tannit tells us, “There were no yomim tovim (good occasions) in Israel more joyous than the 15th of Av and Yom Kippur.” The spiritual happiness of atonement on Yom Kippur was deeply felt but what was so significant about Tu B’av?

The Gemara lists several occurrences. On this day the tribes were permitted to intermarry, the ban against marrying into the tribe of Binyamin was lifted, the generation of the desert ceased dying, Hoshea ben Eleh removed the sentries blocking the roads to Jerusalem, the massacred Jews of Beitar were buried, and the wood for the altar was finally cut for the next year’s sacrifices. In addition, the Mishna tells us that on this day the daughters of Jerusalem would go out in borrowed white clothing and dance in the fields and matches were made. But the Gemara alludes to something deeper. It tells us about the marriage bond between Hashem and the Jews. In the future, the tzadikim will form a circle in Gan Eden and dance and point to Hashem and say, “Zeh Hashem kivini lo (This is Hashem, we have put our faith in Him).” What does dancing signify and why did the women in particular celebrate? What is the significance of borrowed clothing? Why does the Gemara give six reasons for the holiday, wouldn’t one have been sufficient?

Tu B’av celebrates re-unification both among the Jewish people and with Hashem. When there is unity there is true joy. Disparity creates a terrible kitrug (accusation) in heaven. The beit hamikdash was destroyed because of dissension. On Tu B’av, the barriers between the tribes were lifted. When the generation of the desert stopped dying, Hashem’s anger dissipated and He renewed His relationship with us once again. We celebrate the completion of gathering the wood because there is no greater joy than completing a mitzva. Now that they could ascend to Jerusalem, they could once again bask in the close proximity of the Divine Presence. Tu B’av is about separation and re-unification, distance and return. The knowledge that Hashem is One, creates unity. In the past we sensed this oneness and in the future we will once again experience it. This is the meaning of the Gemara that the tzadikim will dance in a circle. A circle is equidistant from the center. In the future world there will be total unity. Each tzadik will be able to see from the vantage point of his friend. This too is why the daughters of Tzion went out in borrowed clothing. Borrowing clothes signifies friendship and harmony.

The common thread between Tu B’av and Yom Kippur is atonement. On Yom Kippur, the sin of the Golden Calf was forgiven while on Tu B’av the sin of the Spies was forgiven. This is why the women celebrate. They had no part in either sin. Tu B’av commemorates the burial of those massacred in Beitar. This teaches us that we must be grateful for the slightest good even in the midst of overwhelming tragedy. Likewise matches were made on Tu B’av. A marriage can only function if we recognize the smallest benefit we receive from our spouses. The Sages designated Tu B’av as a holiday in order to help us bear our exile. By being thankful for the smallest good we can overcome our suffering. Sometimes in life, it’s not about the one big answer, it’s about the little reasons. If we can be grateful for all the small chasadim (kindnesses), we can build a genuine relationship with Hashem.

The Gemara calls both Yom Kippur and Tu B’av Yamim Tovim. Tov connotes something lasting. Yom tov is an elevated day whose qualities transcend time. It represents eternity even amidst adversity. Yom Kippur is about forgiveness of sin. Likewise Tu’ Bav, which follows close on the heels of Tisha B’av, signifies rebirth from destruction.





Shidduchim: The Challenge of Uniting Your Soul

11 08 2011


Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller 

Shidduchim: The Challenge of Uniting Your Soul The Ohr Hachaim writes that all physical creations have both female and male aspects. This division implies that nothing is whole or perfect in this world. Hashem set up the world in a way that there are two forces that bring about change and growth. The male energy provides and gives forth and the female energy takes in and nurtures. Together there is possibility for something greater than both of them to come into existence.

If you’re not married yet, it’s Hashem’s Providence. It doesn’t mean you didn’t make the wrong choices, but ultimately it’s Hashem who brings things to perfection. There’s no possibility of perfection without submission to Hashem’s will. See the world for what it is, imperfect, and learn to live with it. Turn to Hashem. Ask him to help you perceive the potential of perfection in yourself, in the world, and in the people you meet. You don’t have to justify imperfection but try to find the part that is perfect. You can learn from everyone you meet. Many people caught in the shidduch trap are bitter. You can redeem yourself by saying, “Who does Hashem want me to be at this moment?” Not, “What do I want?” If Hashem wants you to be compassionate and a seeker that’s where you should go. Serve Hashem joyously as you learn more and become broader.

Don’t put your life on hold. Only Hashem knows when you’ll find your destined mate. Find things to do that will make you a more perfect person and the world a more perfect place. Take advantage of this free unfettered time to be there for others, to do chesed, and to learn in a way you won’t be able to after you’re married. It’s a time for prayer. Come before Hashem with your emptiness and your imperfection and it will draw you closer to Him.

It seems to me that the one critical question in shidduchim should be, “Can I build with this person?” Is there enough commonality in values, personality, communication, background, and understanding? Nothing else is relevant. If people were focused on that, there would be better, more joyous marriages and less defensiveness and opposition. Of course you have to like and respect the person, but you have to be willing to build together. If that’s there, go for it. Don’t get tied up in externalities or flaws. The world is imperfect. Nothing is perfect. Only Hashem is, and our goal should be to move towards Him with faith, trust, and joy.





Spiritual Elevation of Physical Reality

26 07 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman on the Chassidic Perspective of Marriage

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Judaism views marriage as one of the core aspects of Torah living. In fact, the first incident in the Torah involving people was the story of the marriage of Adam and Chava. In addition, the first commandment in the Torah is “Peru U’revu”-Be fruitful and multiply.  The highlight of the marriage ceremony , that which captures much of what marriage is, are the Sheva Brachot-Seven Blessings, which are recited under the wedding canopy. The first blessing is “Shehakol bara l’kovdo”-Who has created everything for His honor. How does this blessing fit with the concept of marriage and why was it placed first?

Torah connects us to our spiritual selves and to Hashem, who is completely spiritual. How do we understand the dichotomy between our baser instincts and spirituality? How can one who is pursuing the physical pleasures of this world simultaneously develop his spiritual self? In essence, we can ask this very question of marriage. How can marriage which seems so physically oriented be considered one of the greatest mitzvoth?

The Shem MiShmuel explains that this is precisely the message of the first blessing under the chuppah, “Shehakol bara lekovdo.” Hashem created everything in this world for his honor and it is our task to recognize this. Hashem’s plan was for us to elevate the sparks of spirituality embedded within nature.  It is a challenge to discover spirituality within such mundane acts as eating or drinking. However that is the purpose that Hashem placed us on this earth.

Marriage is the embodiment of this concept. Its purpose is to bring honor to Hashem by intertwining the physical and spiritual and forming a vessel to elevate the divine sparks. Marriage is also the first primary experience where this melding of polar forces comes to the fore. It cannot be entirely physical as all physical matter naturally disintegrates over time. A Jewish couple recognizes the divine connection inherent in their union. They seek to increase Hashem’s honor and see their marriage as an opportunity to develop divine sparks of holiness. A Jewish marriage includes three partners, man, woman, and Hashem. Together they set out to build an eternal edifice to increase the honor of Hashem in this world.





Tu B’Av and the Essence of Marriage

25 07 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur on Tu B’Av by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Tu B'Av and the Essence of Marriage

The  Ohr Hachaim states that everything in this world has both male and female aspects.   The male aspect gives forth and the female aspect receives, builds, and gives birth. People live fragmented lives and then become whole through their interaction with others. Fragmentation is inherently necessary. Hashem is the only being that is completely male without any female element. He does not need to be provided for by anyone. He is the male of the world and all humankind is the female. Man receives and builds in accordance with His will. Hashem is manifested as Chochma-the momentary flash of creative inspiration which is called Abah. Humankind is Binah- containment, as we take that flash and develop it further so that it takes on form and structure. This is called Imah. The combination of Chochma and Binah creates Daat-the unborn child, which is the ability to make moral decisions. The world is a meeting place for Chochma and Binah.   Malchut and Tiferet work in tandem with Chochmah and Binah. The trait of Malchut means committing to making something happen on Hashem’s terms. This comes together with Tiferet to create an elusive wholeness.

Tu B’av is an auspicious day to think about marriage and what it truly means. It involves reaching towards that sheleimut of Tiferet and Malchut. This means approaching the dating scene with the attitude of, “I am in this to give and build,” instead of, “What can I receive?” A young woman needs to ask herself, “What can I do with my desire to build and with whom can I build?” The young man needs to ask, “Can she receive and build with what I will provide?”  There has to be an elevated vision rather than just a desire  for pleasure, honor, and filling ones practical needs.

A time of destruction is also a time of rebuilding. In order to achieve actualization as a people we need a period of mourning, of seeing what we are not and what we don’t have. The decrease in joy creates a yearning for the redemption. Similarly, one should enter the shidduch process with the recognition that one cannot build by oneself and one cannot give meaningfully if there is no one to receive and build with it.  There is a profound yearning for completion. The ultimate marriage is the combination of chochma, binah, tiferet, and malchut.

One should marry with the goal to make Hashem known in the world and to reveal goodness in each other, the world, and future children. A woman needs to look for a future husband whom she can revere and who will treasure her and provide the goodness with which she can build. A man needs to look for a woman who is credible, committed, and who will respect him and potentially be able to build what he wants to see built.

Tu B’av is meant to be a joyous day.  Happiness comes from being able to say, “I am building, not receiving.” The most exhilarating moments of a person’s life are moments of achievement intertwined with connection. Unity means when both parties stop seeing themselves without the other, when self actualization becomes the actualization of “us”.   Let us strive to reach this level of supreme joy, selflessness, perfection, and true unity in our marriages.