By Rabbi Tuvia Teldon
As we start the process of counting the Omer, it is never too early to simultaneously prepare ourselves for Shavuos. The giving of the Torah on Har Sinai represents the marriage of the Jewish people with G-d. At this time, the covenant was sealed with all 3 million Jews who were present. They all received a Jewish soul for themselves and their future children, and the expectations G-d had of them were presented in a public manner. As time went on, during the following 40 years, G-d make it clear, through the written and the oral tradition, what His expectations of us were and why he made us His chosen people.
Interestingly, G-d gave three different types of commandments to his new “bride.” The first were the simple laws, which we were keeping beforehand because we understood them to be right and true, and the proper way to conduct our lives. These were called mishpatim, laws. The second category of commandments was unique in that those mitzvos were based on an event or related to a specific lesson to be eternalized. G-d’s creation of the world was to be eternalized by Shabbos, the Exodus through Passover and tefillin, our stay in the desert huts with Sukkot, and many more. These edicts are known as eidus because they gave witness to something which we would not have originally thought of, but once they were explained to us they made sense. The third were those decrees that our limited human intelligence could not truly grasp. We were asked to fulfill these simply because G-d told us to. These are called chukim, simple decrees that we really don’t understand.
Being that Har Sinai was referred to as the primordial marriage of G-d with the Jewish people, these three categories of mitzvos should be able to teach us something meaningful about the marriages that we have with our spouses.
Indeed, let’s look at the steps involved in the marriage process. It starts with a dating stage when both parties are on their best behavior. They go out of the way for each other, say and do all the right things, and try to impress each other with all their positive traits. Then they agree that this makes so much sense, that this is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. They get engaged, make a wedding, and then three months later she says something or he does something which seems to be out of character. The spouse is perplexed. I don’t understand how this fits into the image I have of the person I married, whom I thought I understood. But after a short powwow he explains something about his childhood or she explains something about her life dream, and all of a sudden everything is back to normal. We accept that our spouses have some unusual behaviors, but we understand the explanation.
Then after a year he says something or she does something that is totally out of left field and leaves the spouse speechless. Is this the same person I married? One, two, and then three conversations don’t make the situation any better, because there is no more of an explanation than “This is who I am; please accept me.” And the spouse is left with one choice—leave or accept that this is also a part of who I married. In simple terminology, our earthly marriages have similarities to our spiritual marriage.
The parallel to three levels of our relationship with G-d should be clear, but I would like to focus on one of them. Chassidic thought explains that even though we understand the reasons for the first two categories of mitzvos, we should fulfill them as if we don’t understand them at all. Our motivation should be simply to connect to Hashem, regardless of the reason. This teaches us the first of many important lessons about building a healthy marriage. Those aspects of our spouse which we don’t understand provide us with the opportunity to connect regardless of our understanding—simply for the sake of a relationship. If we love and respect our spouses only because we understand him or her, we are putting our logic before our relationship.
Second of all, when we marry, we marry the whole person. We are not just married to the part of the person that we understand. Such a relationship would be like somebody saying, “I will only do those mitzvos that I understand.” In such a circumstance there is no real relationship; there is an attitude that I will relate to you as long as you fit into my concept of who you should be, or who I want you to be. If we would ask our spouses to explain their motivation for every action or every request they make of us, and agree only if it makes sense, it is obviously not a real marriage.
In addition, accepting that there are certain aspects of our spouses that we are just not going to understand, and nevertheless accepting our spouses for who they are, is a very difficult challenge for some. But we see from the example Hashem sets for us that it is part-and-parcel of the nature of marriage that this is going to happen. Each married couple learns to deal with this aspect of marriage in their own way, and some don’t survive, but knowing that it is not unusual can hopefully help us in the process.
We still have a few weeks of counting Omer before we celebrate our marriage with Hashem. Let’s spend some of that time applying Hashem’s lessons to making our own marriages better.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.