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08/29/2016 08:11:39 AM


The Spiritual Benefits The Good Marriage

Young Israel of Sharon- Parshat Eikev 5776

Rabbi Noah Cheses

This morning I want to talk about the good marriage, about using endearing nick names for our spouses, while still remembering their actual names.

I am choosing this topic because of my brother, Ashie’s uf ruf and upcoming marriage to Riva Bergel which we are celebrating this Shabbat. MAZA TOV! (My personal and professional lives are really converging here, just imagine how awkward this Shabbat would have been if I didn’t get the job.)

In our parsha this morning, we read Moshe’s second pump-up speech to the Jewish people as they prepare to enter the Holy Land. Moshe herein describes the ideal relationship between the people and Hashem and encapsulates the core of his message towards the end of the parsha with the following pasuk:

22For if you keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him,

כבכִּי אִם שָׁמֹר תִּשְׁמְרוּן אֶת כָּל הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם לַעֲשׂתָהּ לְאַהֲבָה אֶת ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל דְּרָכָיו וּלְדָבְקָה בוֹ:

I want to dig into the phrase U’L’DABKAH BO. The verb—davak—which means to cling to or merge with--plays a pivotal role in Sefer Devarim. This verb appears 14 times in the Torah, 10 of which are in Sefer Devarim. It is a Milah Mancha, a guiding word in Moshe’s speeches to the people that establishes a series of ideas or theme within the text. It points to the ideal way in which we are meant to relate to Hashem.

In order to understand the depths of this term, some would argue that we have to go back to 18th century Chasidut, where the notion of deveykut was elevated and brought to the masses, but I would argue that we should go back much further to the first time the term is used in the Torah, which is in the context of a relationship between a husband and wife (2:24):

24Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

כד עַל כֵּן יַעֲזָב אִישׁ אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד:

Why is this verb Davak used for both the spousal relationship and the divine relationship? How are these two relationships parallel or reinforcing?

Lets turn to Martin Buber for some helpful terminology and concepts. Martin Buber was an Austrian-born Israeli Jewish philosopher best known for his philosophy of dialogue, which contends that we find meaning in life through relationships.

In Buber’s view all relationships bring us into relationship with our source of existence, G-d, but some relationships—like the spousal one—do this more effectively than others.

The two categories of relationships that he describes are the I-It relationship and the I-thou or I-You relationship. These are two distinct ways in which we engage with the world.

The I-It relationship is one in which the two parties remain distant and distinct; they experience one another in pragmatic, matter of fact terms, like two business partners who seek to gain for themselves and relate on a functional, transactional basis to make money.

The I-thou relationship on the other hand blends together to the two parties in such a way that the two meld into one. There is a coming together of separate entities, through thought, spirit or emotion, like two good friends who converse for hours, share deep thoughts and feelings with the other. The “I” begins to become part of the “thou” and vise versa.

Buber writes that marriage is a structure that balances these two types of relations.

There is an aspect of the good marriage that is i-it, from going grocery shopping and washing dishes to raising children and taking carpool. Marriage is a partially utilitarian relationship in which two people commit to help each other out and this commitment leads to enhanced functionality and productivity on a mundane and material level.

On the other hand, marriage also invites regular I-Thou moments in which two become one. This could happen through an extended smile or hug, a shared experience of beauty, a shared moment of uncontrollable laughter, a shared connection to something bigger then ourselves.

Bad or marriages tend to have many more I-It moments than I-thou moments. Good marriages move in and out of the I-it mode and I-thou mode almost effortlessly.

I say almost effortlessly, because in reality, the good marriage takes a lot of work to maintain. The I-Thou moments, in particular, often require a significant amount of planning and effort to create. Sometimes they just happen spontaneously but more of the time, they need to be facilitated intentionally and thoughtfully.

Let me be more specific about how we can better engineer I-thou moments in our marriage.

When I meet with a young couple planning to get married I try and study with them some of the Torah’s wisdom on various subjects like good communication habits, spending money responsibly, making the wedding day more spiritual and how to give and receive love.

The session devoted to this last topic—how to give and receive love-- is based on the work of Rav Eliahu Dessler in his essay on Chessed and based on Gary Chapman’s book: “The Five Love Languages.” Chapman argues that there are different ways that each of us prefer to receive love and that we should not assume that just because we like to receive love in one way means that our spouse does as well.

The five love languages are:

       Acts of service

       Quality time

       Words of affirmation

       Gifts

       Affection

Chapman suggest that we should become familiar with how our spouse likes to receive love so that we can give it in a way that it will be well received. This is the key to creating more I-Thou moments in our marriage.

Sarah and I both appreciate quality time and so we make an effort to go out without the kids. This past week, for instance, we went on our first date since arriving in Sharon. We borrowed the Weinberg’s Kayak’s and went across the lake on a beautiful summer afternoon.

I often encourage young couples to keep dating, Even after they get married.

I should clarify--not dating other people, but dating each other, by investing time into planning quality time with each other. This is what it means to be more intentional and more thoughtful about creating more I-Thou moments

In order to maintain “The Good Marriage.”

At the conclusion of his work, Buber connects the dots from the good marriage

to the good relationship with Hashem:  He writes:When a man loves a women so that her life is present in his own the Thou of her eyes allow him to gaze into a ray of the eternal Thou.

I understand this to mean that when we look deeply into the eyes of our spouse, there is a trace of the divine that we come into close contact with. We approach Hashem through the face of our beloved. In other words, the devaykut that we have with our husband or wife is an experience that builds toward deveykut with Hashem.

This, in conclusion, is why, I believe, the term Davak is used in the Torah to refer to two primary relationships: our relationship with our spouse and our relationship with Hashem. The relationships are parallel are reinforcing! The more I-Thou moments we have with our spouse, the more I-thou moments we will have with our creator.

This is the time of year that we are meant to start working on our intimate relationship with Hashem, almost as if our relationship was a marital one.

Just a few moments ago we said Birchat ha-Chodesh for the month of Elul, which will begin next Shabbat. Elul, we know, is an acronym for the verse “Ani Ledodi vedodi Li”; “I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me”.  These endearing terms signify the very essence of the month of Elul. Hashem, our King, has come out into the fields where he awaits his bride, the Jewish people.  Elul is a month long love affair where we reunite with our creator in a way that doesn’t seem possible during the rest of the year. We relate to Hashem with deep sensitivity, with delicate appreciation for what he wants from us in this world.

My hope for Ashie and Riva, and really all of us, is that we are able to experience the spiritual benefits of the good marriage, that we are able to experience more I-thou moments with our spouses and this facilitate a new and improved relationship with Hashem. V’Chen Yehi ratzon…And so may it be his will.

Sun, December 3 2023 20 Kislev 5784