Archive for the ‘dating, marriage and the other one’ Category

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Emunah in being single

February 14, 2014

Being single on Valentine’s Day has always been hard. You hear it all around. The jealousy is rife of those who receive gifts and glow from their special someone. There’s extreme joy in the air and extreme bitterness. For many Valentine’s Day is a reminder of what they don’t have or haven’t “achieved”. It’s a reminder of all the failed dates, past relationships and social/family pressures to “be there”. In fact just dating for a long time gives you the same sense. A heaviness. A defeat.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way. Who are you to want another’s destiny? Who are you to take for granted your own path in life? Are you angry at God? Do you know better than He does?

No, you don’t! You’re single because that’s what Hashem wants of you right now. Maybe He is waiting for you to do something, to change something. Maybe it’s not you at all and your soul mate is just not ready: too young, unemployed, wrong location, etc. The point is, you have no idea what the future holds.

Yes, waiting is hard. Waiting for the unknown is even harder. And yet, with emunah, it’s all not only doable, it’s beautiful. Emunah gives us patience. It gives us pleasure in the moment because it helps us let go of our false control of the future. When you don’t fear what’s to come, what’s to be, you can just be.

Yes, we need to put in our effort (hishtadlut), but the effort isn’t about controlling the result. The effort is to be open to opportunity. If you’re open it will happen, but at the time it needs to. Hashem doesn’t operate on your time. Technically, He is outside of time. He already sees it. He has a plan, and trust me, it will be a better plan than you can ever think of. The Maker of time and reality can surely have some good ideas about your life too. So let go of needing to know, to be somewhere you’re not meant to be, and enjoy the moment of being here and now. Enjoy your singlehood. Work on yourself, give to others, let Hashem drive, and be open to His offer, whenever it knocks on your door.

Oh, and go buy yourself and your single friends some flowers!

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Kiss of Fire: shomer nagia in dating

February 9, 2014

So the title comes from one of my favourite Louis Armstrong songs: a provocative tango. How appropriate. I can just picture a smokey dim lit room with women and men dancing intimately together in their enticing clothes, trumpet sounds and deep vocals vibrating through them. Been there, done that. One benefit of being baalei teshuva is that we’ve experienced the other side. We know what we walked away from. It’s not a mystery. But this in itself can be the weakness, for memory is a powerful thing.

The greatest challenge therefore becomes not just walking away and changing our actions, but also changing, or re-channeling, our desires. The sensual and intimate experiences we once had should not just be stopped, but must also be revalued. This is a huge challenge, especially when it comes down to our base instincts. If we don’t do this, the desire can very easily drag us back to the physical, whether we now wear a black hat or not.

Don’t get me wrong, Judaism is pro intimacy, but it’s always with the caveat of being channeled in the right way. In marriage we enduldge in the holy togetherness that intimacy can be. The physical becomes an expression of holiness when its intrinsically part of a committed relationship where the emotional and intellectual facets also intertwine in it.

And so, the dating game begins. It’s been both shocking and surprising what really happens in the religious world. Whether you’re charedi, modern orthodox or anything else, baalei teshuva are finding themselves not keeping shomer nagia, to every extent. Yes, it’s hard. The experiences you know you can have or have had in the past make the decisions in the present that much harder. Once you’ve had some sugar you just crave more. On top of this is our arrogance: we’ve learnt gemora for a few years now, we know halacha, we know the technicalities. People think “If we bend the rules well enough we can do all this within the letter of the law and still be ok”. So I ask you this: “since when is Judaism about the letter of the law? Since when do we compromise our spiritual or character growth for physical stimulation?” Judaism is all about facing our challenges head on, with open minds and hearts, and winning. Yes we may fall sometimes, but we do not excuse the falls as being ok. We use them to grow our character and ultimately overcome our challenges.

And now I want to give you the guilt trip: What about your wife/husband? Yes, you may have not met them yet, but they are there, somewhere. Possibly also looking for you. Don’t be naive: you’re decisions now do affect your relationships later. I would argue that in choosing short term gratification you are distancing the purity and holiness of your future, and only real relationship. Put yourself in the moment of meeting your other half. Everyone else will become suddenly so irrelevant and yet you’ll be carrying it all with you, unwillingly comparing, reducing the specialness of the only real connection between husband and wife. Maybe next time, think about how your true basheret would feel about your current decision.

One of the best reasons I heard at Neve Yerushalayim (my seminary) for being shomer nagia was not halachic. The slogan was: “Maximum clarity. Minimum heartache.” Losing perspective and getting hurt in the process was something everyone in the room could relate to. The biggest problem with touch is its engulfing nature. It overtakes our minds faster than we notice. It obscures the blatantly obvious incompatibilities so seamlessly. To not touch is to allow yourself (and the other person) to see the relationship for what it truly is. Even when you’re engaged already and seem to have found the right one, serious doubts can be masked by touch, and in some cases lead to marrying for divorce.

So how do we combat this specific challenge? The same as we always do. We go back to the Source, and to Torah. Hashem gave us all the answers and all the strength within Judaism, we just need to want to access it. Our souls are intertwined with our matriarchs and patriarchs who had no lesser challenges than we do today. Sara was twice taken from Avraham (by Pharaoh and Abimelech). Twice Hashem rescued her from the predicament of being intimate with them. Then we have Joseph, who resisted Potiphar’s wife’s insistent advances on him. But Sara and Joseph aren’t just two characters in a fairy tale. They are our ancestors and connected souls. Just as Jews go to pray by the graves of holy people to tap into their aura, we can call upon the strength of Sara and Joseph to make our decisions in these matters as firm, constant and absolute. More than anything, we must ask Hashem for His truth, His guidance, and His blessing to find our true basheret now, without challenge.

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The agunah fight: learning from Rav Ovadia Yosef

October 13, 2013

I haven’t written about this topic so openly before. Maybe it’s too personal. Maybe it’s too sensitive.

Last week, the FBI arrested two Rabbis in USA for beating reculcitrant husbands, and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who faught to free agunot, passed away. Nothing in this world is coincidence so I feel it necessary to write, to share, to help you just for a moment feel the agunah issue.

When a husband no longer operates within a basic moral code and within halacha (Jewish law) to grant his wife a Gett (Jewish divorce), he is allowed to be pressured into it so that she can move on and remarry. Yes, he is allowed to be physically pressured. He, by his own choice, puts himself outside society’s protection by taking away his wife’s freedom.

I’m not going to discuss the Jewish law of why this exists. I’m not a Rabbi. I’m not going to discuss the failure of civil law to save Jewish women from their abusive husbands. I’m not a law maker. I’m not going to discuss the US case. I don’t know those involved.

This is about feeling. Feeling chained, feeling abused, feeling alone and feeling hopeless. This is about the woman. The wife who no longer wants to be the wife but has no choice in it.

I hate the word crisis but this is what it is. It’s a crisis because the way laws are now there is no way out for these women. Not enough is being done in both the religious and civil society to solve the agunah problem. Both in helping women free themselves and in the longer term legal/halachic reforms. Rabbis and law makers worldwide need to join forces on this issue and creatively find and enforce solutions.

Rav Ovadia Yosef ztl was known for his enormous effort in freeing agunot after the Yom Kippur war. When all other Rabbis shied away from the issue, he faught it. He delved into each case and the depths of halacha to help each woman. He cared for each life that was being tied up, frozen, stolen. Unfortunately most Rabbis still shy away from action. They shy away from decisive measures. If only they knew the pain and confusion maybe they would act. Really it’s the difference between life and death. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef gave life.

For now I constantly pray that each woman is made free sooner than destined, now, not later. I pray that she fights loneliness with emuna. I pray that she finds tough people to support her and fight her fight. But ultimately that she is able to connect with Hashem. I know from experience how hard this is. The very situation that you feel He put you in, that you feel punished by, you have to connect with Him on. But I also know that Hashem is ultimately good and the solution really is within Him. True freedom is not within space and time. True freedom is outside of our intellect, our emotions and our bodies. It can only be reached through a closeness with Hashem. This is not about giving up. It’s not about stopping your fight on the ground. It’s something so much deeper. When there is nowhere to go, you go within your deepest self, your neshama. This spark of Hashem within you that is totally untouchable. It is totally free. Always.

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What to look out for when dating for marriage

April 13, 2013

This is a summary of a class I heard from a very special Rebbetzin about what six things to look out for when you date.

1. MUST LIKE AND ADMIRE THEM AS THEY ARE: So when it comes to the other person’s spirituality, character, personal hygiene, communication skills, and personal habits, make sure you can live with these as they are now.

2. CHARACTER OVER ATTRACTION:4 traits to look for:

Humility: Does this person believe that “doing the right thing” is more important than personal comfort?

Kindness: Does this person enjoy giving pleasure to other people? How does s/he treat people s/he doesn’t have to be nice to? Does s/he do volunteer work? Give charity? Does he spend more money on others than himself? Does he speak loshen hora/judge people he doesn’t like?

Responsibility: Can I depend on this person to do what s/he says s/he’s going to do? Are there examples of him being responsible?

Happiness: Does this person like himself? Does s/he enjoy life? Is s/he emotionally stable? Can he describe his ‘layers’?

Ask yourself: Do I want to be more like this person? Do I want to have a child with this person? Would I like my child to turn out like him?

3. MUST LIKE THEIR FAMILY OR WHOEVER THEY TAKE AFTER: See who is their inspiration, find out why they admire that person. You need to know both who they want to be like, and who they are like now.

4. CAN I BUILD WITH WHAT THIS PERSON GIVES ME? Is what he brings into the relationship what I need – does it compliment my skills/attitudes in a way that we can reach the SAME goals? What are his goals – could I see myself living HIS GOALS?

5. HE ADORES WHO I AM: On the inside and out, the good, the bad and the ugly. He should also know how to show me his love – does he make me feel special?

6. EMOTIONAL SAFETY: Do I feel calm, peaceful and relaxed with this person? Can I fully be myself and express myself with this person? Does this person make me feel good about myself? Do you have a really close friend who does make you feel this way? Make sure the person you marry makes you feel the same way!

Are you afraid of this person in any way? You should not feel you need to monitor what you say because you are afraid of how the other person will view it. If you’re afraid to express your feelings and opinions openly, there’s a problem with the relationship.

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Rabbi Kelemen on Marriage and Defining Love

July 27, 2011

This is a great mp3 about defining love for oneself, with others, and with Hashem. It’s free for download or to listen online. Highly recommended.

Marriage – Defining Love – Rabbi Kelemen

Some interesting points from the shiur:

  • “Torah is a system for becoming a person capable of intimacy”, with yourself, others and Hashem. To me that says that we’re not born with this ability and our life is about learning this skill.
  • You create love by giving and one of the biggest stoppers of giving is low self esteem.
  • Giving love means letting go of what you want in place of what the other wants – doing simply for the sake of the other. It means wanting to let go for the other. It’s about making his/her priorities into my priorities.
  • Love is not a 50/50 proposition, but a 100/100 one. i.e. giving without stopping.
  • Giving love to yourself means giving yourself the basics a person needs – sleep, good food, exercise and spiritual freedom.
  • The concept of marriage means ‘to carry’ – i.e. “no matter how heavy you get, I’ll carry you”.

Source: marthastewartweddings.com via BaalTeshuva on Pinterest

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Finding Mr Right or Mr Nice

July 10, 2011

Most girls want a nice guy. Someone who treats them well, caring, loving, affectionate, understanding. Unfortunately we often confuse Mr Nice with Mr Right, or is it the other way around. I know very little about relationships, and the only things I do know are the advice I’ve heard from some much trusted people who got it ‘right’ (that’s my disclaimer!).

Mr Nice

Niceties are nice. A man who opens the door, a man who says please and thank you, who calls to say he is coming late, and doesn’t wipe his nose on his sleeve. Yes, these are all nice things. The reality is that many men are ‘nice’ – most of these things come standard. In the Jewish communities it’s part of a standard upbringing. It is important that you’re comfortable with the day-to-day ‘picture’ (i.e. you’re not too disgusted by your husband’s habits), and from this perspective of finding Mr Nice, there are many eligible bachelors who are ‘marriage material’.

Mr Right

There’s also more to people than their niceties, their being ‘polite’, and it’s often what’s underneath the surface that matters (and which we have least access to prior to marriage). For this reason if you’re willing to stake it out, to ‘take your chances’ you may be able to wait around, spot Mr Right and marry him. While it may be the optimum to find Mr Right instead of Mr Right ‘Now’, it’s not always possible. I’d say that most people don’t manage this and they settle. Finding the right person is a much greater challenge than finding someone nice. Judaism would probably say “that’s ok, Mr Nice will do – he’ll treat you well, be polite, say please and thank you, etc. etc.” I’ve found that a person can be lovely on the outside, polite, sociable, have a stable career, and yet be missing in something that is essential to what you need – to what Mr Right would have. But that’s life – and sometimes we do have to settle.

Expecting Mr Nice to be Mr Right

So how do we settle? Some can do it fabulously without the blink of an eye. Others can’t and it’s visible every single day. Sometimes compromising by marrying someone nice can do a lot more damage both to you and Mr Nice if the marriage is entered into expecting it to be right. It’s very hard to be in love with someone who is not right for you, both in trying to convince yourself that he is Right and in trying to convince him. The result is frustration and rejection. Unless both of you are happy to stay in a marriage that will turn ‘nice’ into ‘right’, you’re standing on thin ice. And this change does happen often, but both parties have to enter the marriage expecting this to be a slow process of many ups and downs. The success of such relationships is especially visible in the more orthodox communities where kids grow up knowing that love is about building and sustained giving over the long term, not a feeling of current gratification. The couple enters into the relationship both expecting this and are not swayed by the bumps or lack of ‘passion’ that those of us coming from secular backgrounds expect. Unfortunately we often trade long term love for passion or the desire to be satisfied right now – we choose to leave relationships with great potential because Mr Nice is not Mr Right (and therefore not satisfying our ideals or the illusion (and disappointment) that he was Mr Right). As a gentile friend pointed out to me recently – this seems to be a blatant distrust in Hashem. And it is. If a person really trusts that Hashem does things for the best then they would accept that although their partner doesn’t seem Right for me now, they must be Right for me in the long term. And in the long term it seems that people do adjust and build strong bonds over years of experiences and building together. Love becomes a long term proposition based on committment and effort, not a transient feeling of satisfaction of self acceptance.

It may be rare to find Mr Right, but don’t marry Mr Nice thinking he is Mr Right or wanting him to be that. Accept him as he is and pray that he also understands that he will become Mr Right only after years of trial and error, pain and mistakes, and also the good and the joy. Building in the real Jewish way means knowing who we are, what we have in front of us, and accepting that it takes years to turn a seed into a fruitful plant, needing work from both sides, and just as you need to accept Mr Nice’s errors while he grows into Mr Right, he will need to accept your errors while your grow from Mrs Nice to Mrs Right. When both parties are willing to dedicate years of effort to one another and accept reality – then getting Mr & Mrs Right can start with just being Mr & Mrs Nice.

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The Jewish Wedding: Simcha and Sadness

July 3, 2011

The Jewish Wedding is a beautiful and spiritual event that marks the birth of a new family and the start of new beginnings. Like many Jewish events our extreme joy is made humble with the remembrance of the difficulties that have struck our people, and specifically at the wedding, we remember the destruction of the beis hamikdash. It’s an amazing contrast and people often wonder why such a sad event is remembered at such a happy occasion.

As seen through the many customs, Judaism always infuses in us a sense of reality. At our special events and simchas this is no different. We are reminded that the good always comes with the bad, not to lessen or take away from the happiness but in fact to give oneself clarity that the good is only good because we know what bad tastes and feels like. Similarly, one of the many answers to the question “why do bad things happen to good people”, is that without the bad we would be completely desensitised to the good. How would we know what good is if we had nothing to compare it to?

And so, the wedding can be the most beautiful joyous occasion, and you can still cry. You can experience complete happiness and at the same time feel a part of you missing. That’s the beauty of the gamut of human emotions – that we can feel so strongly about someone or something and at the same time feel them ripped away from you or not returning your love. What is amazing is that we can embrace these feelings and direct them in the way we want. We can use them to lift us up and be hopeful. At the same time, there are those who choose to take their emotions and become the victim. Yes, it’s a choice. We don’t choose how we feel but we do choose where to direct it and what to do with it.

Wealthy is the man who can read their emotions and lift himself up, and those around them – Who can choose to see the beauty and the majesty despite their feelings. Poor is the man who lets his emotions lead him to the depths of misery, convincing himself that they are real and justified, and unable to see the beauty that exists. One can look at a chuppa and focus on the destruction of the Temple and another can look at that same chuppa and see the most meaningful start to a whole new journey, with the reality of the hard times, which only propel the growth in the good times.

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