Tag Archives: family

What God Has Joined Together

MarryToday’s “extra” meditation.

Tens of thousands of Jews have married non-Jews with similar worthy intentions, only to realize when it is already too late that raising a Jewish family with a non-Jewish partner is a near impossibility.

You are my sister. I want to dance at your wedding. I want my daughters to be your flower girls. I want to cry tears of happiness at your chuppah.

I love you. I admire and am very fond of Mike. But if you marry Mike, as difficult as it will be for me as well as for you, I will not be able to attend your wedding. I could not attend your wedding because, as Jews, what would happen on your wedding day would not be a happy event. It would be a tragedy of historic proportions.

I wish that this was not a letter that I had to write. I wish that I could just keep on smiling and acting as though everything is all right, like everybody else in our family. But I feel that, as painful as this is, because I care about you as much as I do, I must tell you the truth.

from “Dear Rebecca: A Letter on Intermarriage”
found at Chabad of Mineola

This is part of a very poignant letter from one Jewish sister to another on the announcement that the other sister “Rebecca” is marrying a non-Jew. As you can see, this is no small thing for many Jews and, in this circumstance, the sister writing the letter feels so strongly that, if her sister “Rebecca” insists on marrying “Mike”, the letter-writer won’t be attending the ceremony.

I know this sounds cruel and heartless. After all, if this woman has found her “soulmate” and that man happens not to be Jewish, is it really so bad?

Let’s go back a step.

The 52nd prohibition is that we are forbidden from marrying heretics.

The source of this commandment is G-d’s statement, “do not intermarry with them,” which then explains what kind of intermarriage is referred to – “do not give your daughters to their sons, and do not take their daughters for your sons.”

Tractate Avodah Zarah states clearly, “the Torah prohibition applies where there is marriage.”

-from Chabad.org

Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. –Deuteronomy 7:3-4

This is the Biblical and Talmudic basis for prohibiting intermarriage between a Jew and a non-Jew. We also see a dramatic example of what happens when Jews are tempted to intermarry in Genesis 34. However, you might say that Christianity also has a similar “commandment”:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God… –2 Corinthians 6:14-16

However, for a Christian, Paul provided a “loophole”:

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

Traffic ConesI have a personal stake in this matter because I’m intermarried to a Jewish woman but with a twist; neither of us was religious when we first married. My wife wasn’t raised in a religious home and her own parents were also intermarried (her mother was Jewish). Only one of my wife’s Jewish relatives (a cousin) was at our wedding, but the matter of intermarriage never came up.

Since then, my wife and I have both come to faith, albeit different faiths, and I’ve been actively exploring what all this is supposed to mean. I’ve read a lot of books, including Rabbi Kerry Olitzky’s Making a Successful Jewish Interfaith Marriage, but the materials available on the market always address people who are already religious or observant and who are about to be married. I’m not 25 anymore and just starting out, and in fact, my wife and I have been married for almost 30 years. It’s only in the past five years or so that “intermarriage” has become a factor in our relationship. As our paths continue to diverge in our individual journeys with God, what will that mean?

Dr. David Rudolph published a paper on intermarriage statistics which states that Jewish-non-Jewish intermarriages are pretty much going through the roof. It’s considered an “epidemic” by more conservative sects of Judaism and a threat to Jewish survival. Not only is there a tangible fear that if a Jew marries a non-Jew, that the Jew will be drawn away from their faith, but that the children will have no definitive Jewish identity, thus effectively eliminating a large population of Jews from the next generation.

There’s also the threat of divorce to contend with:

In a paper published in 1993, Evelyn Lehrer, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that if members of two mainline Christian denominations marry, they have a one in five chance of being divorced in five years. A Catholic and a member of an evangelical denomination have a one in three chance. And a Jew and a Christian who marry have a greater than 40 percent chance of being divorced in five years.

-Naomi Schaefer Riley, Interfaith Marriages Are Rising Fast, But They’re Failing Fast Too, Washington Post, 6 June 2010

The Chabad of Mineola website also published a response by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman to a Jewish woman asking if she should marry her Muslim boyfriend. Here is part of Rabbi Freeman’s response:

I don’t know where this man stands, whether he is a secular Muslim, a literalist or a mystic, or has beaten his own path. But it is not possible that there will not be conflict over these issues. On the one hand, as his wife, you will need to defend him before family members and other Jews. Yet it’s not possible that in all issues you will agree. After all, if you did, where would the “other” be? The conflict could be deeply painful, destructive of family ties and friendships for both of you. Rather than leading to self-discovery, it may lead instead to a sacrifice of your own identity to save the marriage.

In the end, if you truly love this man, direct him on the right path. Let him realize that for him, a happy marriage will be union with a mate to his own soul, and raising children within his own community, without confusion, with a clear message, “This is who we are and this is what is expected of you.” There he can find happiness, and so too the family he will raise.

May you too find a soulmate of your people and build a family within your people. That is the Jewish concept of the messianic world: not a mush of blended egos, but a magnificent panorama of colors and textures, each individual, family and people playing its part, each contributing its own part in the symphony that is humankind.

Rabbi Freeman gives a measured, compassionate, and kind reply to this woman but it is also a firm reply. A Jewish soul should marry another Jewish soul.

That however, doesn’t address the vast army of married couples who are “unequally yoked”, who have been married for years or decades, and who are well into raising children or have even raised children into adulthood. What of them? What of us?

Since part of this blog has to do with exploring the world of Jewish-Christian intermarriage, I thought it was high time I blogged about it. While there isn’t significant friction between my wife and I on our different religious viewpoints, there isn’t a great deal of agreement either. I suppose it isn’t an issue most of the time because we don’t discuss it most of the time. I let pass the occasional disparaging remarks about “what Christians believe” that come from my wife or daughter, but it’s at those moments when I am acutely aware of the barrier that exists between me and them. I choose to remain silent about it for the sake of peace in the home. I’m not here to “convert” them, nor would I ever try, and the Christians reading my words are free to criticize me for this.

Yet, God made us “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:8) and one flesh we remain. We have “forsaken all others” and are united as man and woman before God.

In spite my previous quotes from Rabbi Freeman, he also published a different kind of commentary on love and marriage:

Even if all your complaints about your spouse are well-founded and valid – show her your love, nevertheless. Show her unconditional love.

It is said that all our exile is due to the sin of unmitigated hatred.
When each one of us will start with unmitigated love in our own domain, from there it will spread to all else that we do, and from there to the entire world, speedily in our days, Amen.

Yes, he’s probably addressing Jewish married couples or married couples who are both alike in faith, but is an interfaith marriage an exception to “unconditional love”? If, as the Rabbi says, we start with “unmitigated love in our own domain”, and it spreads out from there, can’t that love expand between a spouse of one faith to the spouse of another?

What now, God?

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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.

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.