Getting Married is Half the Battle

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“I find that if your partner shares your values, everything else is negotiable.” Michele Paiva, therapist

What Were We Thinking? Or Not.

The couple sitting in front of me was at an impasse. Married for many years, they had solidified their positions on opposite sides of the “having children question.” Wife, an only child in her late 30’s, wanted something more out of the relationship and was desperate to create a family of her own, while the Husband was just as adamant that he was not willing to become a father. “Umm…” I began gently, “did you ever discuss how you felt about having children when you were dating and then deciding to get married?” They looked at me blankly, as if the thought had never occurred to them.

People – and relationships – grow and change over time; it’s not fair to lock people into certain decisions that no longer fit (e.g., a stay-at-home parent wants to work outside the home or vice versa, or someone wants to change the trajectory of a career, etc.). I am amazed, however, at how many couples seriously date and marry without figuring out whether or not they have similar overall visions for their lives together. They may feel confident in a relationship in which they have surface compatibilities and sufficient chemistry without inquiring whether their deeply held values mesh and align with each other. They often rely on certain commonalities while ignoring glaring differences. And so, swept away by infatuation, or driven by some other unsustainable force or motive, they close their eyes to red flags and blatant warning signs.

It’s a War Out There

Ki Teitzei means, “when you go out to war with your enemies,” and it opens with the rules a man must obey when coming across a “beautiful woman on the battlefield.” As the Jewish people were getting ready to leave the desert and enter the Promised Land, where they would be engaging in battles for years to come, this was a very likely scenario.   Despite the idiom, “all’s fair in love and war,” the Torah is clear about inserting rules of fair play into the heat of battle, where emotions override rational thinking.  

God understands human nature; after all, He created it. Thus, the specific laws of “the beautiful captive” were an intervention. They served to prevent captured women from being violated as victims of lust and infatuation, while at the same time, affording the man the opportunity to avoid entering into a hasty marriage that would ultimately violate his values. And so, a soldier who comes upon a beautiful woman whom he desired had to follow a whole regimen to cool off and think it through. After 30 days, during which the woman’s true essence would have time to emerge, and the soldier had time to reconnect with his rational brain, if he still desired her, he would have to marry her.  

The laws of “the beautiful captive” were not a formula for how to marry the women of the land, however, but to prevent the marriage in the first place. He had to see the woman as not just satisfying his desire for instant gratification in the immediate present but as a total commitment to the future. Could he picture her as the mother of his children? Would he live happily by her side for the rest of his life? Was she compatible with his values and lifestyle, community and family?

While the famous “irreconcilable differences” provides a legal ground for divorce, the truth is all couples have irreconcilable differences!   In fact, most marital arguments cannot be resolved, and it’s often a waste of time to try to reconcile disparities that are based on people having their own identities, differences of personality, history, etc.   Therefore, it’s not irreconcilable differences that end relationships; but rather, incompatible values.

For deeply held intrinsic values, there can be no compromise. In the case of the childless couple, for example, there can be no meeting in the middle, as there is no such thing as half a child.  Even if this couple decided to stay together, their future doesn’t look rosy. When a couple’s irreconcilable differences are tied to fundamental values, dreams, life vision and non-negotiable requirements for happiness, either or both of them will harbor resentment and anger, which breeds unhappiness and despair.

Living in Peace

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we all have values and a life purpose. When we live lives aligned with these values we feel fulfilled; our lives have a sense of meaning.  Sometimes, we can truly feel that we have a clear road map of who we are and where we want to go, only to realize at some point that we never created the map to begin with, and the unfolding of our lives was charted for us by our parents, society, or other external factors.   Like the quip that says you can spend your life climbing the ladder only to realize it was propped up against the wrong wall, the process of creating a shared life vision is only satisfying when it’s authentic to who you are.

So first, you must understand your core values. Unlike variable or secondary values that can change and grow, primary core values are the ones that endure, the ones that are tied to your belief system, you in your bones, being your best. The laws of the Torah, of course, help us shape those core values to express our godly souls and direct our life mission.  

Knowing What’s at Stake

The late Rabbi Noach Weinberg, used to say that unless you know what you are willing to die for, you don’t know what you’re living for. By the same token, if you want a life of meaning, joy, and purpose, you need to know what these things are. In choosing relationships, especially a life partner, common interests will not hold up unless there is also the common ground of mutual meaning, supporting each other’s dreams, and the sense that building a life together is a shared purpose and a loving sacred path.

 

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Are We Supposed to Be Happy Or Holy?

“Sometimes the quest for meaning can override the quest for happiness.”

 – Roy Baumeister

The Beauty of Complexity

The beginning paragraph of Shoftim contains the famous phrase: “Justice, justice shall you pursue….” While the Torah may be poetic, it is not poetry. There is not one extraneous word, nor does the text rely on alliterative and other literary devises to turn a phrase. “Justice,” therefore, is not a single word, because justice is not a single concept; “Tzedek,” the Hebrew word for justice, embodies the double qualities of “righteousness” and “mercy.” Laws protect our safety, ensure rights, resolve conflicts, and bind us as a society. Without the underpinning of both righteousness and mercy, however, the resulting society we could create would be neither just – nor holy.  

To create a holy society, however, is not just to survive, but also to thrive, and this entails altruism, the engine that drives the Jewish passion to make the world a better place. Thus, Moses was emphatically emphasizing the selfless imperatives of how we are commanded to treat the weakest of our society, lifting us above our tendencies to become self-centered. Years before “Black Lives Matter” became a slogan, Christopher Peterson, one of the founding fathers of Positive Psychology, used to say, “OPM – Other People Matter.” But millennia before Chris Peterson, came… (you get the idea).

Covenant Versus Contract

The Jewish people were on the verge of crossing the Jordan and settling the Land of Israel. As such, they would be setting up societies and implementing legal systems, the foundations of the “social contract,” so that we can all get along. Ensuring socially predictable behaviors and norms are crucial to the survival of the common order. Unlike any other society ever created before, however, driven by the economy of the marketplace and the power of the state, the Jewish nation was to be a covenantal community, based on collective responsibility.

In a lecture entitled Cultural Climate Change, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks referred to this as a society of shared values, of how we act towards each other without the market paying us to or the state forcing us to. In a covenantal society, explains Rabbi Sacks, we are all in this together, and we are all responsible for each other; otherwise, all we are left with is the social contract, which dehumanizes us.  When we continue to outsource services, the state gets bigger, while our communities and we, as individuals, grow smaller.

Jews are referred to as the “People of the Covenant,” referring to the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Unless we create just and kind societies, however, based on a collective covenantal consciousness, then we are breaking faith with God, no matter how pious we may think we are. The Declaration of Independence grants individuals the right to pursue liberty and happiness. The Torah, on the other hand, envisions a holy nation pursuing justice, justice.

Resources:

Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

Shoftim/Deuteronomy 16:20.

 

 

 

True Love is Never Blind

“The whole of life lies in the verb seeing.”

– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

imagesLike so many things in life, the email over promised and under delivered. Snagging my attention with the subject line by Ticketmaster, “Your Personalized Event Line Up,” I assumed that this was a select and targeted list of local events I would find interesting and therefore, might want to attend. I am out of the loop when it comes to the entertainment options in my city, and so I opened the email with a bit of excitement to see what curated fun looks like.

Putting aside for the moment the fear I should have of the Big Eye in the Sky that records and logs for eternity each preference, purchase and Google search I ever made, I was willing to sacrifice my privacy for the sake of the convenience of algorithms that know me better perhaps than any human being.  With a very wide and eclectic range of interests, I was curious: “Oh holy data gatherer who sees all, when you look at me, what do you see?”

As I started to scroll down the suggested list of entertainers, I was puzzled: never heard of ‘em, never heard of em, never heard of em. “Peppa Pig’s Surprise,” which I assume is a show for children, or for butchers, or maybe a twisted animal revenge theme, is playing on a Friday night (Shabbat) in a theater about two and a half hours from my home. Three strikes. I continued to scroll down the email to see ads for boxing, football, and other attractions you couldn’t pay me to see; obviously, this list was not tailored to my tastes whatsoever. Offended by its false promise, I deleted the email and unsubscribed from the site, frustrated that my inbox seems to fill up with impersonal mass marketing emails faster than I can delete them.

The Need to Feel Special

After the flash of self-righteous indignation passed, I felt a little bit pathetic. Ugh. Wounded Child strikes again, looking to be acknowledged as a unique individual rather than a commodity – even by an innocuous online marketing service. Says clinical psychologist Edward A. Dreyfus: “The need to feel special is common to human beings. We want to know that we matter to others; we want to be seen.  We strive to achieve some special status in the eyes of others; how we are viewed by others matters to us.”[1]

To See and Be Seen

In Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, after our basic needs for shelter and safety are met, human beings have psychological needs, such as belonging and love, which are satisfied by intimate relationships and friends. Intimacy, best understood as the oft-quoted phrase, “Into Me See,” can only exist when others truly see us. To be truly seen, however, depends on the courage to be vulnerable. The willingness to disclose our inner selves, in the face of fear of rejection, is nothing short of an audacious act of bravery. This takes real love, genuine connection, and sincere empathy. Unless you sincerely know someone, how can you truly see this person? And without seeing, how can you say you love him or her?

What Do We Se

“Re’eh” means “see,” where Moses is telling the Jewish people: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” While we may think the difference between a blessing and a curse is obvious, it is not.   First, we don’t have objective eyes that see reality clearly, in that we constantly filter out sensations and billions of bits of information per second. Our attention is discriminating, and therefore, we can fail to see what is in front of our face. Take the Selective Attention Test and see for yourself.  Second, we have biases that shape those bits of information into personal meaning. We all watch the news. We all see the same videos. But each of us processes the information according to our values and standards. And with a predisposed bias, we see what we are looking for – 100% of the time.

Looking with Godly Eyes

In the words of author Brad Meltzer, “There’s nothing more intimate in life than simply being understood. And understanding someone else.” So it’s not a coincidence that the biblical term for sexual intimacy is “to know.” True knowledge, however, requires the commitment of time and investing in the relationship. But unless we look at the people we love with the right lens, our vision is faulty. We maximize the bad and minimize the good, sometimes to the point of no longer seeing the positive – even when it is in front of our face. Whether you see a challenging situation as the blessing of growth-waiting-to-happen, or a bitter disappointment depends on you. Therefore, God exhorts us to see reality – not with our eyes – but to train ourselves to see reality with Godly eyes. For when we fail to see and appreciate our blessings, then we are truly cursed.

[1] http://docdreyfus.com/psychologically-speaking/the-need-to-feel-special/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo

Keeping Your Why Nearby

imagesIt is said that that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing and hope for a different result. Nevertheless, today, I joined Weight Watchers for the umpteenth time, with gritty determination that this time it will be different, and as I sat in the unfamiliar room, I took stock of my surroundings while waiting for the meeting to start. On the wall hung a poster with the slogan: “Keep your why nearby.” Worth the price of admission right there, I thought, as the crux of any endeavor is to align what we do with why we do it.

If I could sum up the directive of Eikev, where Moses uses his remaining days to instruct, inspire, and strengthen the Jewish people as they were about to cross the Jordan River without him, it would be those same words: “Keep your why nearby.” As long as we were still in the desert, we lived in a sort of cocoon, not just with each other, but also with the overt presence of God. We were cared for with daily open miracles. Foes were vanquished; transgressions punished.

Like a newborn emerging from the womb, however, we were headed to an entirely different reality and experience. We wouldn’t see an obvious connection between our actions and subsequent reward and punishment. We would face individual and national challenges where we would have to rise to the occasion or fall dismally apart. And so, whether in the heat of battle, the challenge of the market place or the grind of daily living, we could come to feel disconnected from God.

And instead of dwelling together in an orderly encampment around the Mishkan (the portable Tabernacle), we would become spread out over the land; eventually throughout the globe, as we would be forcibly exiled from the homeland we were about to conquer. How would we remain a unified people connected to each other under those circumstances? How would our hearts break when we hear news of Jews being murdered thousands of miles away, and what would we be willing to do about it?

What is Your Why?

Says the famous visionary Simon Sinek, “Everyone has a Why. Your Why is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you to do what you do.” During the 40 years of wandering in the desert, we were learning laws, laws, and more laws. Why? What was the point of it all? Declares Moses; the point is to love God, to attach to God, to emulate God and to walk in His ways. But what does that look like outside of the desert? It looks like acts of loving kindness to each other: taking care of the needy, the poor, the widow, etc. Unless these tenets drive the “why” of what we do, the “what” will be rather inconsequential.

Give and Take

The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments are rounded at the top. It is not a coincidence that these shapes allude to a woman’s breasts. Kabbalah teaches a beautiful idea that God’s giving the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people is like a mother nursing her children. Just as an infant needs to suck, however, so does a nursing mother need to give milk. And so the role of giver and taker is as one; giving and taking need each other for fulfillment.   When we give to the poor, for example, it is not a one-way street; the giver and recipient are part of a bigger reality that embraces them both. Thus my life does not revolve around a self-centered “I” but encompasses a greater communal and shared identity; and those of my actions, which are rooted in empathy, will have a greater and more meaningful impact.

The Why of Relationship

How does this play out in relationships, especially marriage? Successful and happy marriages are based less on conflict resolution and more on sharing (and consciously keying into) a mutually created culture of a shared “why.”

According to relationship expert John Gottman:

Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together – a culture rich with symbols and rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the family you have become….Developing a culture doesn’t mean a couple sees eye to eye on every aspect of their life’s philosophy. Instead, there is a meshing. They find a way of honoring each other’s dreams even if they don’t share them. The culture that they develop together incorporates both of their dreams. And it is flexible enough to change as husband and wife grow and develop.[1]

And so the poster on the wall reminds me that if I want to achieve a certain result, keeping my “why” nearby will keep my values in the foreground so that the choices and decisions I make are congruent with my goal. Without a strong commitment to my own “why” my behavior will be haphazard and ineffectual. Simon says: “Values are not simply posters on the wall. In order for a culture to be strong, your values must be clear and your values must be lived.” So what is your “why,” how will you keep it nearby, and how will you honor the shared cultures of your life?

[1] John M. Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Three Rivers Press: NY) pps. 243-244.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Being that women made up roughly half of my law school class (and this was in the 1980’s – back in the last century), and that one third of the current U.S. Supreme Court justices are women, I don’t think much about gender equality in the law.   Historically, however, while there were exceptions, most law schools did not admit women until the early 1900’s. When I discovered that fact, my thoughts were, “Wow, it was only about 60 years before I went to law school that we couldn’t get in.” Notice the personal pronoun. Even though I didn’t experience this personally, I emotionally perceived this as a shared “we” experience.

Similarly, I live in a neighborhood, which I jokingly refer to as an “upscale shtetl,” yet I know that that several decades ago when my great aunt was looking to buy a house in this area, Jews in general (we) were not allowed to live here. Again, since I identify with this group, I feel the right to take on their experiences as my own.

In Va’eschanan, Moses recounts the experience of Mount Sinai, by reminding the Jewish people:

You approached and stood at the foot of the mountain…Hashem spoke to you from the midst of the fire, you were hearing the sound of words…He told you of His covenant that He commanded you to observe, the Ten Commandments….”[1]

This speech by Moses, however, occurred shortly before the Jewish people were to cross over to conquer the land of Israel. This was the second generation; they weren’t at Mt. Sinai!   Hearing these words, however, the Jewish people were to understand that the Jew of the past is the Jew of the present and that the “me” becomes “we.” Later on in the Torah, Moses tells the Jewish people that the Covenant is binding on everyone who was standing there that day – as well as anyone who was not there – thus binding the Jew of the future.

So as I read these words, which are over 3000 years old, the “I” becomes “them,” for Jewish mystical tradition teaches that even though our bodies were not physically present at Mount Sinai, our souls were.   I don’t know about you, but this shared spiritual memory is a “feel-good” moment. However, this ends satisfaction abruptly when Moses goes on to forecast a dark future:

When you beget children and grandchildren and will have been long in the Land, you will grow corrupt and do evil in the eyes of Hashem, your God, to anger Him….Hashem will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be few in number among the nations where Hashem will lead you.[2]  

Having seen countless movies where the leader makes a passionate and rousing speech to boost morale, Moses’ chilling prophesy on the eve of battle had to be a real downer. One has to wonder why the Jewish people didn’t opt to stay in the desert and not bother. After all, what’s the point in displaying enthusiastic valor for a battle that is ultimately for naught? And while I was also not there to commit the acts of idolatry that got us booted out of the Land, as a Jew in Diaspora, I am living the consequences of their actions. Just as I enjoy the spiritual benefit of having heard the word of God at Mt. Sinai, surely I bear some of the burden of those who did not head those words generations later. Not such a feel-good moment for collective experience. But then Moses consoles us with a vision of future redemption:

From there you will seek Hashem, your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and soul. When you are in distress and all these things have befallen you at the end of days, you will return unto Hashem, your God, and hearken to His voice. For Hashem, your God is a merciful God, He will not abandon you nor destroy you. He will not forget the covenant of your forefathers that He swore to them.[3]

After all, as Moses emphatically reminded the Jewish people, not since the beginning of time itself was there anything like what the Jewish people experienced, such as the miraculous Exodus for example; nor has there ever been a people who have directly heard the word of God. And why would God do these things? Because Moses also tells us that God loves us. There is an endgame here. A loving God set these things into motion – not to end in futility and for nothing – but for us to go through a necessary process of disconnection for the sake of connection, a stronger bond forged in the fire of experience and growth.

If we can hold these multiple realities as our own experiences, we can apply a great lesson to our relationship with God, and with our loved ones.   Every intimate relationship starts out with great fanfare, connection, and hope for a loving, happy and bright future. And every close bond has moments of broken faith, bewilderment and despair, where one feels exiled from the sacred space of relationship. That’s the moment of choice. Do we accept the chasm in the relationship as the new norm, and adopt a relationship reality that hardens over time into an endurance test? Do we accept defeat, play the victim and walk away?

Or do we search our hearts and souls to find a way to turn towards the relationship and restore connection? While not every relationship is capable of being sustained, many do not reach their full potential because one or both people do not know how to how to renew their faith in each other.

It’s Not a Question of Love

After we experience a fight with a loved one, and we calm down, we know that somewhere deep down, we “love” this person, and sometimes we will even bravely admit it: “You know, I do love you.”   So why isn’t that enough to end the conflict and restore connection?   We take for granted being loved by our loved ones; what we aren’t so sure about is whether they like us.  Do they love, appreciate and admire us? And in the case of God, we all know people who even in the face of extreme personal tragedy maintain their certainty that God loves them. But does God like them?  

In our personal relationships, we have work on the deep friendship that is critical to intimacy and trust, which lays the foundation to stay afloat even in the waters of conflict. Without a sense of mutual respect, regard and gratitude, love alone does not carry the day. Says Zach Britle in his post, The Phrase That Helps couples Heal After a Fight:

Maybe you’ve heard that love covers a multitude of sins? Maybe that’s the problem. The ‘multitude of sins’ is what erodes the integrity of a relationship. You see, it’s not necessarily the gigantic betrayals that destroy a relationship but rather the little, day-after-day ones that chip away at trust.

Because of my personal baggage, I had a hard time believing that God loved me. I finally overcame that hurdle when I accepted the idea of a loving and beneficent Deity. But then what? Love is universal; we are even commanded to love our neighbor. But we’re not commanded to like him – because liking someone can be more complicated and challenging than love. My relationship with God became personal when I realized that God likes me as well.

As the Master Plan plays out over the millennia, and as we live out the dynamics of our relationships, we will experience innumerable instances of disconnection and reunification as part of the process itself.   The best thing you can do for your relationships is to communicate and show the people you love all the ways you like them as well, thus laying down a foundation of positive regard and good will. When I notice all of the ways that God shows up in my daily life with moments of personal spot-on cosmic synchronicity – “God winks” – as they were, the foundation of an abiding trust and everlasting friendship carries me through the rocky bits.  And that will do for now.

   

[1] Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:11-12.

[2] Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:25-27.

[3] Devarim/Deuteronomy 4:29-31.