Two and One

God Made ManLook deeply and you will see that the Torah does not know of man and woman as separate beings. Each act is performed once through a single body—a body that in our world may appear as two, but which the Torah sees as one.

On the contrary, for both to do the same mitzvah would be redundant, for why should one half of the body do what the other has already done?

They are a single whole, whether they know of one another or not. Where does a woman put on tefillin or wear tzitzit? On the body of her male counterpart.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Two Is One
Chabad.org

Today’s “Morning Meditation” is an extension of yesterday’s blog post albeit a more optimistic one. Each day brings its own surprises from Hashem though in my human frailty, I sometimes appreciate some more than others.

Yesterday morning, I was feeling the sting of disagreement with my wife and daughter but later in the day, God showed me reconciliation. Yes, the disturbance in our peace was minor, but that doesn’t mean it was welcome.

Rabbi Freeman had something interesting to say for this morning’s meditation, but before I talk about that, I want to show you what the Master has to say on the subject:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” –Matthew 19:4-6

This teaching uses Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as its source and most of the time, we blow past “and they become one flesh” and assume this is just poetic language, but look at what Rabbi Freeman is saying in the above-posted quote.

We are two and one in the sense that what the one does, for good or bad, completely affects the other. If a Jewish man obeys the commandment to pray wearing tzitzit (Numbers 15:38; Deuteronomy 22:12) and tefillin (Exodus 13:9; Deuteronomy 6:8), it is as if his wife fulfilled those commandments. If the wife fulfills a different mitzvah, it’s as if her husband did so as well. For those of us who aren’t Jewish, it is the same. When one of us relates to God in any way, it’s as if the spouse has done so as well. This may be what Paul meant here:

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. –1 Corinthians 7:12-14

I know Rabbi Freeman’s comments could be interpreted as rather “sexist” excuses for why men are required to wear tzitzit and tefillin but not so women, yet we see that even the Apostle Paul defined man and woman as equal under the Master’s grace and yet not alike in form and function (Galatians 3:28). It’s important to extend ourselves beyond modern understanding and try to see God’s intention for making man and woman different in from each other and yet “one flesh”. This is a closeness and intimacy that cannot be found in any other relationship, even between parent and child. This is what we seek when we join ourselves to God. Marriage is the physical realization of our spiritual aspirations.

While husbands and wives don’t always “feel” their oneness together, when they do; when we do, it is like a miracle of God and gratitude is the spontaneous result. We see God’s miracles everyday.

We find in today’s daf that it is possible to obligate oneself to bring a korban todah. This person understands that everything he has is from Hashem and he is filled with gratitude. Daily miracles are no less than a miraculous recovery from illness, escaping a dangerous situation or the like.

But how can one attain a deep appreciation that everything is a gift from Hashem? The Alter of Kelm, zt”l, explains this in depth. “It is very difficult feel hakaras hatov to Hashem since we do not see Hashem’s kindness with our physical eyes. It is only with the mind’s eye that one understands what Hashem is always doing for him. Our first task in feeling gratitude is to undergo an inner transformation. Our intellectual understanding that we must have hakaras hatov must become our deep inner feeling. The more we work to strengthen our feelings of hakaras hatov, the stronger our appreciation will become. Eventually we will begin to recognize the myriads of kindnesses which Hashem does for us at all times.

“But there is a powerful way to develop hakaras hatov. As everyone knows, the reason for berachos—those that we say before partaking of something or those that serve to praise Hashem afterward – help us to focus on what Hashem has given us and expressing thanks for His kindness. A wondrous way to attain hakaras hatov is by focusing on saying berachos with full attention so our hearts are attuned to what we are saying.

“Since our entire day is laced with berachos, it becomes easy for us to acquire hakaras hatov. Each blessing recited carefully helps our awareness of gratitude penetrates deeper and deeper, until we come to truly feel gratitude for everything that Hashem has done for us. Truly a wondrous way to work on this trait!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
The Daily Thanksgiving Offering
Menachos 81

In reading this, I wonder why there isn’t a blessing thanking God for our spouse and our marriage.

We’ve seen in the news recently how, when marriage goes terribly wrong, especially with a couple in the public eye, it seems to invalidate the “sanctity of marriage” as instituted by God and make way for interpretations of “marriage” that God never intended (Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:27).

Two and OneHowever, there is a difference between God’s desires for men and women and what human beings do with their will and their desires. I previously quoted Rabbi Freeman in another of his commentaries on marriage and how a man and a woman must be different in nature and character in order for the two to effectively and productively become one. In order for marriage to be marriage, the “one flesh” must be one man and one woman:

When the Infinite Light emanated a world, It did so with two minds, two states of consciousness. One mind sees from above to below—and so, all is insignificant before it. From above to below, there is no world, only One.

The other mind sees from below to above—and so all of creation is G-dly to it. From below to above, there is a world to point to the Oneness.

At the nexus of these two minds, at the crux of their paradox, there shines the very Essence of the Infinite Light.

The first mind descended into man; the second into woman.

That is why the man has the power to conquer and subdue, but he lacks a sense of the other.

That is why the woman feels the other. She does not conquer, she nurtures. But her light is tightly constrained and so she is full of harsh judgments.

As they bond together, the man sweetens the judgment of the woman and the woman teaches the man to feel the other. And in that union shines the very Essence of the Infinite.

While it can be frustrating and even disillusioning to encounter the differences in your husband or wife, how they see the world in a separate way and how that separateness can contribute to disagreements and strife, a marriage needs those two radically different lenses in order to bring God into focus.

If you have no “other”; no partner in life, everything I’ve said up until now probably seems unfair, but people were not made to be alone. The man Adam was not truly satisfied with his lot in life until God made Eve (Havah), a helper; a woman suitable for him (Genesis 1:20-22). I’ve been married for 28 years and my relationship with my wife continues to see challenges. We continue to frustrate each other and upset each other from time to time. Sometimes it seems like life would be easier if we were apart. And then God reminds us why He joined us together.

Then our lives become glorious all over again when God sees the two of us as one.

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Damaged Peace

One FleshHonor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.Exodus 20:2

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”Ephesians 6:1-3

Some Rabbis were renowned for the remarkable respect they paid to their mothers. Of one it is told that ‘when he heard his mother’s footsteps he used to exclaim “I stand up before the Shechinah”‘ (Kid. 31b). Several stories are narrated of R. Tarphon. It was reported of him that ‘whenever his mother wanted to ascend her bed, he knelt down and she stepped on him; and she descended from the bed in the same way’ (ibid.).

As recorded in Everyman’s Talmud: The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages
by Abraham Cohen

I love my parents. I’m not writing this blog post today to insult or denigrate them in any way. However as husband, adult son, parent of young adults, and a grandfather, it is “interesting” to find myself colliding with different commandments regarding being a son and being a husband.

I suppose in one sense, you could say that as a non-Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah (i.e. a Christian), the commandment to honor my parents does not apply to me. After all, the Mosaic covenant is specifically applied to the Children of Israel; the Jewish people. Yet we see the Apostle Paul teaching the same principle, doubtless from the same source, so I think the commandment crosses over from traditional Judaism to modern Christianity. The Master himself taught us to honor our parents and rebuked those who don’t:

And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) – then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” –Mark 7:9-13

While Christianity pretty much leaves it up to the individual to interpret how to “honor your father and mother”, Judaism is a tad more specific, as Abraham Cohen writes in Everyman’s Talmud:

‘Scripture places the honouring of parents on an equality with the honouring of the Omnipresent’ –Peah I. I

Besides the quote from Cohen I posted above, there are many other references in the Talmud to making great sacrifices and even enduring insults from your parents for the sake of obeying the commandment to honor them. However, there’s another commandment that seems to “struggle” with the first:

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. –Genesis 2:24

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” –Matthew 19:4-6

There’s nothing in scripture that says once you leave your parents and become “one flesh” with your spouse, that your duty to honor your parents ceases to exist. That brings me to my “morning meditation”.

My wife, son, daughter, daughter-in-law, grandson, and I traveled to St. George, Utah to visit my parents over the long holiday. I know that my parents, though I love them very much, can occasionally be a bit trying. It’s usually pretty minor stuff, such as telling an embarrassing story about something I did in childhood for the thousandth time. They also have questionable taste in restaurants (all-you-can-eat buffets), but for the sake of my folks, I keep my mouth shut.

During our visit, the issue of eating out became a concern, particularly with my wife and daughter. They keep a form of kosher but it’s not so strict that it prevents us from eating at non-kosher restaurants, however we do like to eat at higher than “bargain basement” places. Unfortunately, my parents made one of their “questionable” eatery decisions. We were hoping they wouldn’t.

It wasn’t that big a deal or at least it shouldn’t have been. However, the evening after we ate out and periodically, during the drive home from Southern Utah to Boise, both my wife and daughter brought up how I should have pulled my parents aside and convinced them to pick another place.

I know, it sounds silly, but family arguments are often made of silly stuff.

My wife didn’t want to offend my folks by making the suggestion and neither did my kids. I honestly don’t remember anyone asking me to talk to my parents about it and in fact, until we arrived at the place (it was a Chuck-a-rama), I thought we had decided on eating at a completely different restaurant.

It didn’t occur to me to try to question my parents’ decision because this is what they wanted and, after all, they’re my parents. There’s a certain amount of tolerance that needs to be expressed. I’m sure my kids put up with some of my idiosyncracies and will do so more as I get older (my parents just turned 79). Unfortunately, my wife chose not to see it this way, and I got an earful of it more than once on the drive home…a ten hour drive home.

Between honoring your parents and cleaving to your wife, what’s the right thing to do? I don’t know. I chose to honor my parents and to keep my mouth shut when being criticized by my wife.

I know that it’s a small thing, but these small things can add up.

Men and women are different by God’s design, not only in our physical make up, but in who we are:

When the Infinite Light emanated a world, It did so with two minds, two states of consciousness. One mind sees from above to below—and so, all is insignificant before it. From above to below, there is no world, only One.

The other mind sees from below to above—and so all of creation is G-dly to it. From below to above, there is a world to point to the Oneness.

At the nexus of these two minds, at the crux of their paradox, there shines the very Essence of the Infinite Light.

The first mind descended into man; the second into woman.

That is why the man has the power to conquer and subdue, but he lacks a sense of the other.

That is why the woman feels the other. She does not conquer, she nurtures. But her light is tightly constrained and so she is full of harsh judgments.

As they bond together, the man sweetens the judgment of the woman and the woman teaches the man to feel the other. And in that union shines the very Essence of the Infinite.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Two Minds
Chabad.org

According to Rabbi Freeman, her mind is full of “harsh judgments” but at least in this case, I wasn’t successful in “sweetening” those judgments. Peace in the home is of high value in Judaism and probably in Christianity as well, yet there isn’t always peace. Sometimes two valued principles clash and you have to decide between one or the other. Honoring parents or cleaving to your spouse. I made a decision. It wasn’t a disaster. It’s not like my wife stopped speaking to me. But peace was damaged for a time.

Men and women are different. The difference between my wife and I is punctuated by the fact that I’m a Christian and she’s Jewish, but that isn’t the issue here. This sort of misunderstanding or disagreement could happen in any marriage. It happens in marriages a lot and it happens in my marriage a lot. It doesn’t always revolve around a “conflict” between the scriptures but from my point of view, this time it did. I have no idea how to resolve the difference except to let it blow over and move on. It was over a little thing. If it were a big thing, maybe I’d be more proactive. This time, I’ll let it be.

True peace is not a forced truce, not a homogenization of differences, not a common ground that abandons our home territories.

True peace is the oneness that sprouts from diversity, from a panorama of colors, strokes and textures. From the harmony of many instruments each playing a unique part, not one overlapping the other’s kingdom by even the breadth of a hair. There, in the most delightful beauty of this world, there shines G-d’s most profound oneness.

Those who attempt to blur those borders, they are unwittingly destroying the world. Beginning with the crucial border between man and woman—for this is the beginning of all diversity, the sharpest focus of G-d’s oneness, shining intensely upon His precious world.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
A Different Peace
Chabad.org

God’s unique Oneness is expressed in the unity of marriage. God cannot know discord in Himself but human beings can. We aren’t a perfect reflection of His perfect, infinite light. Where is peace in the home? Where is peace in the soul? Where is peace with God? I’m writing to try to find the answers. Pray that I do.

Rebuke of the Master

Master and disciplesAnd He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?Mark 9:19 (NAS)

A certain man once asked the Chavos Yair, zt”l, about a surprising comment found on today’s daf. “In many places we find various insults various lumineries hurled at each other. For example, in Menachos 80 we find that Rebbi tells Levi, ‘I don’t believe he has a brain in his head…’ How could he say such a sharp insult??

“Why do we find in Yevamos 9a that Rebbi says that Rav Levi has no brain in his head? Isn’t that a little harsh? What about the verse, the words of the wise, spoken gently, are heard?” And the Mishnah: The honor of your friend should be as dear to you as your own?”

Daf Yomi Digest
Menachos 80
Stories off the Daf
“The Words of the Wise”

We are supposed to love each other. The words of the Prophets and the Savior Jesus tell us this (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31). So how can the Chavos Yair justify insults between the ancient sages in Judaism? How can you say you honor God, love your neighbor, and then still say that ‘I don’t believe he has a brain in his head…’ to a fellow teacher or to a student?

How could Jesus, a man who has been called “the Maggid of Nazeret” and who is acknowledged as a great Rebbe and who is lifted very high as Messiah, insult his own disciples?

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. –Matthew 16:8-12

If Jesus is supposed to be all “meek and mild” and so full of love and grace, couldn’t he have made his point a better way? Couldn’t he have addressed his disciples; his students, without making them feel two inches tall?

Maybe his insults were the point, however. Look at the rest of the commentary for Menachos 80:

The Chavos Yair responded, “It was from here that the Rambam learned that a rav must show anger with his disciple if he feels that the student’s failure to understand is due to a lack of diligence and care in his learning. Since Rebbi felt that his student was careless, showing anger was a means to goad him to be more diligent in the future.”

When Rav Eliezer Schlesinger, zt”l, was asked to explain this he made a strong point. “It is true that Rebbi insulted Rav Levi. Yet you must consider that this is the best way to develop his student. It is important to note that we also find Rebbi complimenting Levi, for example, in Zevachim 30. Surely this was done in a properly balanced manner to educate Rav Levi in the best possible way.”

It’s important to note that what’s being advocated here isn’t insulting a person for lack of capacity or ability. This teaching is illustrating that the student, or the Master being addressed in such a harsh fashion should have known better. When serving a great Master and when serving God, we don’t get to be lazy about it. We were given gifts and skills that we are expected to use to our fullest. After all, we have been taught to love God with everything we’ve got (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Mark 12:30), so shouldn’t we serve Him to the absolute limits of who we are and what we can do?

While it is pleasant to be taught by a sage or an instructor who addresses us only with kindness, gentleness, and patience, as human beings, we often take advantage of such a teacher and only produce enough effort to “get by”. This is not the way of a disciple of a true sage and certainly not what is expected by the God we serve.

Do not limit yourself. Love God with all your heart. Serve God with all your effort. If you choose not to, be prepared to be discipled and humbled by the One who knows your very soul.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline,
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in. –Proverbs 3:11-12

Abundant is Your Faithfulness

This blog has been a long time in the making, perhaps as long as two years. I’ve been searching for something. I’ve been looking for a road. I’ve been staring into the dark abyss looking for even the faintest glimmer of light. After two long years, I think I’ve found it and so, to share my tiny light in the darkness, I’ve created this blog.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman said something recently at Chabad.org that resulted in my finally finding the right name and letting me launch this weblog.

When you get up in the morning, let the world wait. Defy it a little. First learn something to inspire you. Take a few moments to meditate upon it. And then you may plunge ahead into the darkness, full of light with which to illuminate it.

Every morning when I wake up, before I get out of bed, I silently recite a blessing to God, thanking Him for returning my soul to me. While I don’t usually think that I might “die before I wake” as I go to sleep, I am aware that my life is in the hands of God; my well-being depends on His chesed and His providence. In that sense each new day, when I become aware that I’m still here, is a gift from God.

I’m going through a transition and learning to find my faith. I have gone through the past year searching for the path I must walk and now I believe I am walking on it. The path isn’t always easy and much of the time, it’s shrouded in twilight. Although I walk with God, there are times when I feel that I’m totally alone in the dark. Yet as Rabbi Freeman said, I can also let myself be inspired, allow God to illuminate me, and then become my own light casting away the darkness.

In the days and weeks ahead, I’m going to pursue the journey of bringing light into the darkness, may it be the will of God.

I invite you to join me and we can become aware of each new day and the promise it brings.

“I gratefully thank You, living and existing King
for restoring my soul to me with compassion.
Abundant is your faithfulness.”

Blessing Upon Arising in the Morning

"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman