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Can this marriage be saved? Lag B'omer edition

This Sunday, Lag B’omer, is the Yahrtzeit of the Talmudic sage and father of Kabbala, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. The following story is told about Rashbi (as he is known).

A couple once approached Rabbi Shimon for advice. They’d been happily married for ten years but were not blessed with children. It was suggested that they get divorced and seek other marriage partners. They now sought the opinion of the great sage. Rabbi Shimon gave them the strangest advice as he replied, “Just as you married amid great celebration, so too the divorce should be amid great celebration.”

They set the date for their divorce party, which was scheduled to take place the night before the divorce proceedings. At the party wine was flowing. The husband got up to toast his wife and wish her well. He declared how wonderful their life was together and how he regretted the circumstances that were causing the need for divorce. He then announced that as token of his love for his wife he offered her to take something home with her to her father’s house – the most precious object of her choosing.

As the night wore on the wine took its toll and the husband drifted off into an inebriated slumber. The wife then instructed her servants to carry him to her father’s house. When he awoke in the morning he was shocked to find himself in his father-in-law’s home with his wife right there in the room. He expressed his surprise to which she replied, “You told me to select the most precious object from your house. I could not think of anything more precious than you.”

They went back to Rabbi Shimon and he quoted the verse, “with women’s wisdom she built her home.” He added, “Now that you have both displayed your love and dedication to each other, Hashem should fulfill your desire to have a child.” Needless to say they lived happily ever after.

The lesson is obvious. Enough said!

Mazal tov to Talor and Avi Fine upon the upshernish of their son Yisrael Aryeh Leib. Mazel tov to the grandparents, Uzzi and Rivkah Kehaty and the whole family.

Shabbat Shalom and happy Lag B’omer
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin
 

Protecting the sanctity of intimacy

As the Boston saga unfolds and the sad details are released, it really brings out the yearning for a time that Isaiah speaks of when, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all of My holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea.” As I write these words, the people of the Boston area are still under lockdown. The families of the victims and those that were injured are still reeling from the shocking experience. Certainly all of America and caring people the world over support them and wish them well during this terrible time. We pray for healing and comfort as well as for the success of the law enforcement personnel who are trying to put an end to this nightmare.

In this week’s double portion we read twice about the prohibitions of forbidden relationships. Indeed Jewish law has many safeguards in place to prevent the possibilities of these relationships to develop. Some of these restrictions are sometimes regarded as extreme and unnecessary – yet the Torah sees human nature and determines that they are neither extreme nor unnecessary. (Indeed if our society adopted some of these measures, the number of harassments and inappropriate workplace interactions would decrease significantly – not to mention the destruction of people’s personal lives.) It would seem that the Torah is obsessed with intimacy and relationships. Why indeed is there so much legislation in Halacha governing this area of life?

Kabbala teaches that the higher the spiritual source the greater the potential for falling very low. The Tanach, the Talmud and Kabbala very often employ the analogy of marriage and love as a metaphor for the relationship between Hashem and the world and more specifically the Jewish people. This imagery is used because the nature of intimacy is a physical reflection - a mirror image – of this divine spiritual phenomenon. As such intimacy in its proper setting can be one of the loftiest spiritual experiences – a reflection of G-dliness.

However there is also the potential for falling very low when it is out of the proper setting. Therefore the Torah has so many safeguards in place to protect the sanctity of intimacy. We are surrounded by a society which has cavalierly removed all of the boundaries and safeguards. There are robust industries devoted to the free fall of morality. We have come to view this sacred experience as a casual good time without regard for consequence – be they short term or long term – physical or spiritual.

So we read this week’s Parsha and its extra strength message of morality and sanctity. We need to internalize the message and apply it in our lives so that indeed we live up to Hashem’s command, “Kedoshim Tihiyu – holy you shall be.”

Mazel  tov to Ilan and Sarah Fuchs upon the birth of their daughter.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Mr. Murphy meets Rabbi Akiva

While the famous Mr. Murphy says “all that can go wrong will go wrong,” the Talmud relates that Rabbi Akiva would declare “All the G-d does is done for the best” no matter what would happen to him. He once travelled taking along a candle for light, a rooster to wake him, and a donkey to ride. He arrived at a city and was refused lodging. He set up camp in the forest and wind blew out his candle, a weasel ate the rooster and a lion killed the donkey. In the morning he realized that the town had been attacked by bandits and all of the inhabitants were killed. Had they seen the light of his candle or heard the sound of the rooster and donkey, they would have killed him as well. He saw that all of the “negative” occurrences were for the best.

Last week, on our drive back from New York after Pesach, we had quite a Murphy-like adventure. When we pulled into a hotel parking lot in rural Virginia we heard some really scary loud noise coming from the car’s engine. Since it was already after 11 PM I figured I would look into it the next morning. The next morning I tried to find a mechanic so we could get on our way. We were 800 miles from home and it was already Thursday. The two places that were recommended by the desk clerk of the hotel turned out to be false leads. I remembered that about 30 miles down the highway there was a tourist welcome center – perhaps they could recommend a garage. By the time we got there the noise was so loud that we were getting serious stares from the street. After being turned away by two places we finally found a place at 11 AM that agreed to look at it. I got the kids out of the car and into the waiting area. They pulled the car in and looked at it. At noon, Donna, the lady who ran the office, came out to give me the news. Our AC compressor was gone and needed to be replaced. Then came the real bad news – the cost and the time. The part wouldn’t be in until 4:30 followed by a 2 hour repair and it would cost well north of $600. Truthfully I had no choice but to give the go ahead – we were far from home and Shabbos was looming large in front of us.

Since we had to wait for the part and we had four hours, I piled the kids into the car and went to find a park so we could eat lunch a get out of the waiting area. As we pulled up to the park it started raining. Within minutes the rain turned to hail and then snow. There went our plans. We managed to scrape some lunch together while confined in the car and then we waited. At 1:45 Donna called and said the part had come in early so we should head back and get the repair done. When I tried to start the car it did not turn on. I had left the lights on when we were outside the park and the battery died. By now it was snowing hard. Donna kindly sent a man over who gave us a boost so we could get to the garage. We then waited the two hours in the waiting room armed with a book per child to keep them occupied.

While we were waiting I told them the story of my grandfather, (cited in an earlier blogpost - http://www.chabadneworleans.com/templates/blog/post.asp?AID=1203266&PostID=31484&p=1) Rabbi Sholom Gordon, who while riding a train missed his stop. He had to ride to the end of the line and get off to wait for a train going the opposite way. While he was waiting he recalled the idea that nothing happens by chance, and began to study a passage from the book of Tanya by memory. He explained that missing his stop and ending up in the other station was for a purpose. He decided to do something meaningful to bring a spiritual elevation and refinement to that place, thereby justifying his being there. The kids enthusiastically started belting out chapter 32 of Tanya which they know by heart and then they recited some Psalms. They figured that they were likely the first people to do so in Wytheville, VA.

At 4 PM Donna came out to tell us that car was ready. She remarked how wonderful the kids behaved in that tiny waiting room for all those hours. We went outside to get into the car and walked into 4 inches of snow. It appeared that Mr. Murphy was working overtime…

After cautiously driving through the snow and then rain for several hours, we finally outpaced the weather and settled in for a 14 hour drive home. We pulled into our driveway at 5:40 AM on Friday.

Not every story has an immediately obvious ending like Rabbi Akiva’s. We are still waiting to see the “for the best” in all of the details of the story. But there is one even if we never discover it. Besides, I confirmed some good things about our children. They really made a Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name) with their behavior and their attitude to why we were there was superb.

Looking forward to more restful times…
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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