Building means holding on to connection in spite of differences
Elul has arrived, beginning the process that leads us into Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah is also called Yom Zichron Teruah, the day of remembering the sound of the shofar. We blow the shofar every day of Elul and on Rosh Hashanah to remind Hashem of our good deeds. Even if we don’t have too much worth remembering, we hope He’ll remember the merit of our ancestors, as far back as Avraham, and as recent as a holy elter zeide.
All relationships are two-sided and our relationship with Hashem is no exception. At this time of year, Hashem remembers us and we make the extra effort to remember Him (Leket Sichos Mussar). Hashem never forgets His part of the pact, but we do. (As my son-in-law, who has an excellent memory, once commented to his wife, “In your family, they think having a memory is a superpower!” So true.)
How often do we remember to make Hashem front and center in our mind? Though we utter countless “Baruch Hashems” during the day, are we actually thinking and remembering to be thankful to Him? How many times a day do we think about what He wants from us instead of what we want from Him?
Bayla and Yaakov have been married for 19 years. Yaakov considers himself blessed, with good children and a wife whom he loves. Most nights, Bayla sets the table before they sit down to dinner, but if she didn’t get a chance, Yaakov will often get up and bring a single cup to the table.
This annoys Bayla, though (if she’s not too tired) she’ll make a joke out of it, asking her husband to pour her some seltzer. Of course, he then realizes that he only brought one cup, and he’ll get up and bring her a glass. She smiles, but in her mind she thinks: After all these years, he still thinks like a bochur?
In a good relationship, each one remembers to think about the other’s needs and wants, not just to be dutiful, but because each has internalized the connection to their spouse.
When Elul comes around, we want to remember Hashem, to take stock of where our relationship with Him is, and whether He is front and center in our minds. This is only possible when we remember that the relationship is mutual, as described in the acronym associated with Elul, “Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li.”
Hashem made us His partners in creation. Together we’re meant to build the world He created, and through the choices we make, bring that world toward its intended purpose. Yet our experiences don’t always give us a sense of that partnership. We try to live as good people, raise good families, be good community members, have a good retirement fund (any would be good!). We want to do our part; but we want the One Above to do His.
When things don’t go the way we want, we start asking, “What did I do to deserve this?” or “Why is He doing this to me?” This creates a relationship where we find ourselves pulling in one direction, seeking a good life for ourselves and our families, while Hashem pulls us in a different direction through the challenges He sends.
This perspective is sometimes mimicked in marriage. We go in with a picture of the good life we envision, and anything the spouse wants that disturbs that trajectory, which may be something as mundane as, “Why don’t you want the blue upholstery for the couch, it’s clearly the nicest color?” or something as significant as, “I want to leave our community and start over somewhere else,” or anything in between such as, “You aren’t going to the community BBQ in support of Chayim for Chayim? Everyone will be there!” or, “What, do you mean you don’t want to spend Yom Tov with your Rebbi?” These points of contention make you angry and frustrated that you and your spouse are pulling in different directions, and can bring up thoughts as to whether you really are a good match.
That describes “Ani l’Dodi im Dodi li — I am for my Beloved if my Beloved is for me.”
Husband and wife have to be a team, they need to become a unit that works toward their common good and the larger goals that were the foundation of their union. Inevitable detours that occur need to be considered with an open mind, and a resolve to value the marriage above any particular change.
Building a Mindset
In new marriages, this can take time. The single mindset, where your own needs are your biggest concern by virtue of circumstance, needs to be overcome. Just standing under the chuppah doesn’t automatically make that happen. Marriages have to be built, brick by brick, held together with a lot of sweat.
Sometimes a new couple experiences challenges that make each of them retreat into their own corner to cope, not realizing that they don’t have to carry this difficulty by themselves.
Temima and Dov arrive in Israel two weeks after sheva brachos, and their carry-on with all their valuables is left in the airport tender. The company claims to know nothing about it. They each take out their cell phones and call their parents, not yet knowing what to say to each other about this upsetting situation.
A new mother-in-law may have a hard time adjusting to the marriage of her child, and the new child-in-law feels unwanted and confused, leaving the child split between loyalties. Each carries their pain by themselves, telling their spouse how hard it is for them, but forgetting to think about how hard it is for the other.
The word for marriage is nisuin, from the root “to carry.” In a marriage you have a partner with whom you can carry life’s goals and setbacks. You are a team.
How do we develop that sense of the mutuality in our relationships that can carry over to our relationship with Hashem?
We have to be willing to not just be a me but to truly become a we. To always think of an “other” doesn’t come naturally to most. Challenge yourself, during the course of a busy day, to think about your spouse and what he or she might want. Maybe it’s a phone call, “How are you managing? I know you had a headache this morning,” or remembering to pick up your husband’s shirts from the cleaners. Practice helps. “I was thinking about you, so I…” is a great way to start a sentence.
Remember that marriage is a Heavenly ordained union and therefore it’s an entity that’s far larger than the sum of its parts. It has a Heavenly ordained role to play in the larger role of the Jewish People to bring about kavod Shamayim. You and your spouse are team Schwartz or Smith in the Bring the Honor of Heaven to Earth Olympics. Like in any team, there will be differences among the members, but they can be overcome if the individual members remember the bigger goal.
You and your spouse belong together to build your particular corner of the universe. It doesn’t mean you’ll always feel like a good fit. Hashem knows, and one day you, too, will know, how the world was built because of your efforts.
Yaron doesn’t know if he wants to be frum anymore. His brother has left the fold and divorced his wife. Shulamit loves her husband and sees her place with him. Though the children are confused and hurting, she’s willing to work around the new reality and work on their marriage. After a few counseling sessions, Yaron announces that he wants out, and leaves the marriage.
Yaron became wrapped up in his own journey and forgot their common mission. He left the team and lost his family. Shulamit is a hero because no matter how the story ended, she didn’t forget the purpose of marriage.
In Elul we’re reminded to put Hashem first and to remember our common mission to build His world together, as a team.
May we remember “Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi li — I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me,” and may we be inscribed in the book of good life.
Debbie Greenblatt is a senior lecturer for the Gateways organization and a teacher of both observant and not-yet-observant Jewish women for over 30 years. Debbie’s lecture topics include Jewish texts, Jewish thought, and relationships.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 658)