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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In the Search for Meaning, Where Do we Look?

If you don’t know what you’re living for, you haven’t yet lived.

– Rabbi Noach Weinberg

There is a familiar story of a man searching the sidewalk for his keys and looking frantically under the streetlight. When questioned by a passerby as to where he may have lost his keys, the man admits that he lost the keys inside his house. Since the light was so much brighter outside under the streetlight, however, he thought it best to look there.

            We read this and think – what a fool, looking for his lost object in obviously the wrong place, just because it is the “easiest” place to look. But at least this fool knows what he lost and where he lost it. Can we say the same? Many of us are not only looking in the wrong place for our lost objects, but we are even not sure what we’re looking for. And yet, we are driven to search on and on. To what end?

            According to Freud, the primary drive of man is the pursuit of pleasure. “Not so,” said Nietzsche, “the primary drive of man is the pursuit of power.” Viktor Frankl, the famous Viennese psychiatrist who suffered for three years in concentration camps during the Holocaust and who endured the murder of his entire family and pregnant wife, nevertheless founded “logo-therapy,” which is the theory that the primary drive of man is not pleasure or power, but the search for meaning.

            Many of us have an inner ache, a discontented restlessness, without knowing why. Viktor Frankl coined the term, “Sunday Neurosis,” an existential anxiety that is formed from the vague awareness people get that their lives are empty and meaningless when they are not otherwise distracted by the work week. Some remained bored and apathetic; others try to fill the void, but cannot succeed because we cannot fill a spiritual hole with non-spiritual stuff. Yet, we keep trying.

            So if man’s primary drive is the search for meaning, where do we look? If it’s not in the Himalayas, the ashram, the shrink’s couch, the self-help section of the bookstore, the office, the lab, the studio, the field, or even the sanctuary, then where?

            In the Torah portion, “Nitzavim” Moses tells us exactly where to look. “It is not in heaven. Nor is it across the sea. Rather, the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and your heart – to perform it.” Moses spoke these words to the Jewish people on the last day of his life – knowing that it was the last day of his life. The stakes couldn’t be higher. What is this matter “that is near and dear that we are to perform”? “To love God, to walk in His ways, and to observe His commandments.” In a word, to embody the Torah.

            Wait – did I just lose you? “Sorry,” you say, “but Torah is not the meaning of my life. I’m outta here.” If your view of Torah is that it is a bunch of dry, archaic “do’s” and “don’ts,” commanding strict, automaton-like adherence to meaningless and empty ritual, then I would totally agree with you. I wouldn’t find that meaningful in the slightest. But that’s not my view of the “matter of Torah.”

I care not for a man’s religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.

– Abraham Lincoln

And so, if your religion doesn’t make you a better person, better spouse, parent, friend, and lover of your fellow, it’s not the “matter of Torah”. If your religion doesn’t make you compassionate and yearn to alleviate suffering, it’s not the “matter of Torah”. If you are not inspired to love justice and truth and strive to live humbly with integrity, then it’s simply not the “matter of Torah”.

            The “matter of Torah” that Moses tells us to look for is within us, in our hearts. It has to be real, and we have to own it. Otherwise, it may as well be high up in the heavens or across the distant sea – it means nothing as it is too far out of our orbit to be relevant. But let’s be clear. It is we who push Torah away, who say it’s not relevant or accessible. And as long as we keep this lie on our lips we will keep looking for meaning under that streetlight.

            That doesn’t mean we get to decide on our own what Torah is or what it means. It doesn’t mean that we can overlay the Torah with the imprimatur of our emotions, political viewpoints, etc. Many phenomena exist objectively and independent of us. Certain things just “are,” like gravity, which doesn’t need our “buy-in” to be real and to affect us. On the other hand, while Torah also has an independent truth and reality, Torah very much wants our “buy-in.” God wants our partnership.

            And that is the challenges – to take the light of an independent Godly reality, and, through loving God, walking in His ways and observing His commandments, understand that it is our reality also. We ask God to “circumcise our hearts,” to remove the spiritual impediment and barrier that keeps us locked in the illusion of separation from God – and each other.

            Tradition teaches that when we are in the womb, an angel teaches us all of Torah, but that we forget it when we are born. We only “forget” it on the conscious level, however. After birth, the memories of all of our experiences lodge within us on a cellular level – how much more so that which we learn as we are forming in utero? That is why learning Torah is re-discovering Torah, and uncovering a truth we already hold within.

            When our hearts beat with the knowledge of this truth within us, then the “matter” is in our mouths. It drives our speech and our actions. It’s who we are at our core. When an inauthentic persona does not imprison us, we are free to live in the joyful vibrancy of a congruent life.

            While we are necessarily concerned with finding the meaning of our lives, let us start by finding the meaning of life itself. Then, we will find our real purpose and ourselves. Then, the object and the light will coincide, and, unlike the fool, we will be looking for the right thing in the right place…where it always was and where it always will be.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. What are three things you are looking for in your life? Where have you been looking for them? Do you feel you are looking in the right place? If not, where do you feel you need to be looking that you have perhaps been avoiding?
  1. We often mistakenly believe that if we have certain external things, that we will be happy, fulfilled, successful, etc. What are those things for you? How do you think they will change things for you and why?
  1. Close your eyes, take a deep look within, and focus on all the strengths, abilities, talents and gifts that you have internally. How can you use what you already have and what you already are, to find the other things you are looking for in your life?