Marriage – Making It Work

Life IS school. We are always in school, we just don’t know it!

Our entire life lies before us as a great unwritten but very well designed curriculum, designed and presented by the greatest Teacher and Educator of all, the Almighty Himself!

Every day, the good, the bad and the ugly comes our way to help mold us (if we are willing), to be the unique people God intended us to be. This ‘curriculum’ is daily before us whether we consciously choose to engage with it or not. It is impacting our lives, and hopefully in a positive manner, whether we acknowledge it or not.

But learning of this ‘curriculum’ and being aware of its daily teachings can make the path to completing it, both smoother and quicker.

Surely, if we all realized we were in ‘school’ and working on a curriculum designed by the world’s best Educator (God Himself), to lead us to be the best person we could be, and that we were designed to be, wouldn’t we want to complete the curriculum as quickly and effectively as possible!?

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Almost every character trait that defines humanity is in every person. Every single person has some character traits that they find more problematic than others, and that they need to work on more than others. We should not see these traits that we struggle with as bad or wrong or sinful, but as traits that need addressing so that ultimately they become under our control, and in the proper balance. As part of our personally and individually designed ‘curriculum’, the great Educator presents ‘lessons’, ‘tests’, and ‘practical projects’ to us, every single day, that we can embrace and learn from and move toward our ultimate successful ‘graduation’ as the full embodiment of the unique individual we were designed to be.

Or we can ignore the ‘lesson’, ‘test’ or ‘practical project’, and fail to grow, but instead be presented with the same maddening lesson over and over again, by the most patient and caring Educator ever!

For example, the person who appears in general to be an extremely angry person, still has some moments of calm and some circumstances in which he/she has control over that anger. But also the calmest person has some degree of anger in him/her, and some circumstances that really test his or her peace and serenity.

Anger can be bad, yet anger at injustice helps motivate us to try to correct that injustice. Thus, the character trait of ‘anger’ is not all bad, but rather a positive character trait when harnessed in the proper manner and at the right time.

What about the character trait of ‘lust’, especially ‘sexual lust’ (The person who has a ‘lust for life’ is simply a positive person with passion to embrace their life curriculum)?

A man with unbridled lusting for a women not his wife, is clearly acting in a sinful manner (it is breaking the 10th Commandment – … do not covet – lust after – your neighbour’s wife …), yet this very Commandment implies that a man should lust after his own wife!

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What! Really? Why weren’t we men taught this? When we were teenage boys with raging hormones, why weren’t we taught that sexual lust was such a positive commandment of God (when directed at the appropriate object of desire)?

Why, when lust or intense desire is the true secret to a successful marriage.

A marriage where that intense desire for each other is recognized and knowingly cultivated and maintained is a marriage that will survive (and without being sexist, this should start and be led by the man).

Isn’t that what we all want? Surely the secret to a successful marriage can not be this simple?!

Yet, I believe it is.

I have read a great many books on marriage (and divorce). I have been to hell and back. I have been challenged to the very core of my existence. I have been suicidal. I have felt totally betrayed, full of despair. My world has seemed lost and bleak. My heart has been broken, and broken and broken.

But miracle of miracles, I have come out the other side. I have grown, I have submitted to my God and sought His direction (which was hugely challenging and totally counter-intuitive). He led me through the valley of death and out the other side. So after a great deal of pain and many years of heartache, searching and reading I eventually found what I believe is the very best book ever on how to make marriage work.

It is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Lust: Love is not the Answer’. In this book, Rabbi Boteach explains how and why ‘true love’ is not the answer but lust is.

When men lust for their wives, and act on this lust in the proper way, almost any marriage can be made whole.

Read his book and then help others by sharing its message.

For more on the issue of life’s curriculum and character traits please see my blog post You Shall Be Holyhttp://wp.me/p2HSTx-7C

 

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Hosea on Israel’s relationship with the Almighty

In an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks posted this week (April 16th 2015), he makes some references to the prophet Hosea. In reading this article I was again reminded of the many references in the Tanakh that declare that HaShem never really left His Chosen People, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but rather separated Himself from them at times, arguably as part of His loving discipline.

Hosea makes it very clear that the the ‘betrothal’, the marriage relationship between YHVH and Israel is an eternal one, that YHVH is and will always be the Husband of Israel.

Here are some excerpts from the article that help clarify this point:

“The inner history of humanity is in part the history of the idea of love. And at some stage a new idea makes its appearance in biblical Israel. We can trace it best in a highly suggestive passage in the book of one of the great prophets of the Bible, Hosea.

Hosea lived in the eighth century BCE. The kingdom had been divided since the death of Solomon.  The northern kingdom in particular, where Hosea lived, had lapsed after a period of peace and prosperity into lawlessness, idolatry and chaos. Between 747 and 732 BCE there were no less than five kings, the result of a series of intrigues and bloody struggles for power. The people, too, had become lax:
“There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder” (Hos. 4: 1-2).

Like other prophets, Hosea knew that Israel’s destiny depended on its sense of mission. Faithful to God, it was able to do extraordinary things: survive in the face of empires, and generate a society unique in the ancient world, of the equal dignity of all as fellow citizens under the sovereignty of the Creator of heaven and earth. Faithless, however, it was just one more minor power in the ancient Near East, whose chances of survival against larger political predators were minimal.

What makes the book of Hosea remarkable is the episode with which it begins.  God tells the prophet to marry a prostitute, and see what it feels like to have a love betrayed. Only then will Hosea have a glimpse into God’s sense of betrayal by the people of Israel.

Having liberated them from slavery and brought them into their land, God saw them forget the past, forsake the covenant, and worship strange gods.

Yet He cannot abandon them despite the fact that they have abandoned Him.

It is a powerful passage, conveying the astonishing assertion that more than the Jewish people love God, God loves the Jewish people.

The history of Israel is a love story between the faithful God and his often faithless people. Though God is sometimes angry, He cannot but forgive.

He will take them on a kind of second honeymoon, and they will renew their marriage vows:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her . . .
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will know the Lord.” (Hosea 2: 16-22)”

It is possible that that reference to ‘leading her (Israel) into the desert’ is a reference to the exiles that Israel has experienced. Yet, all these exiles were only temporary for those who were found faithful. The faithful returned from Assyria, they returned from Babylon, and they have in the last 60+ years returned, and are returning, from the final exile to the ‘four corners’ of the earth[1].

Rabbi Sacks goes on to say:

“… One verse in the midst of this prophecy deserves the closest scrutiny. It contains two complex metaphors that must be unraveled strand by strand:

“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call Me ‘my husband’ [ishi];
you will no longer call Me ‘my master’ [
baali]. (Hosea 2: 18)

This is a double pun. Baal, in biblical Hebrew, meant ‘a husband’, but in a highly specific sense – namely, ‘master, owner, possessor, controller.’ It signalled physical, legal and economic dominance.

It was also the name of the Canaanite god – whose prophets Elijah challenged in the famous confrontation at Mount Carmel. Baal (often portrayed as a bull) was the god of the storm, who defeated Mot, the god of sterility and death. Baal was the rain that impregnated the earth and made it fertile. The religion of Baal is the worship of god-as-power.

Hosea contrasts this kind of relationship with the other Hebrew word for husband, ish. Here he is recalling the words of the first man to the first woman:

“This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman [ishah], Because she was taken from Man [ish].” (Gen. 2: 23)

Here the male-female relationship is predicated on something quite other than power and dominance, ownership and control.

Man and woman confront one another in sameness and difference. Each is an image of the other, yet each is separate and distinct.

The only relationship able to bind them together without the use of force is marriage-as-covenant – a bond of mutual loyalty and love in which each makes a pledge to the other to serve one another.

Not only is this a radical way of reconceptualizing the relationship between man and woman. It is also, implies Hosea, the way we should think of the relationship between human beings and God.

God reaches out to humanity not as power – the storm, the thunder, the rain – but as love, and not an abstract, philosophical love but a deep and abiding passion that survives all the disappointments and betrayals.

Israel may not always behave lovingly toward God, says Hosea, but God loves Israel and will never cease to do so.”[2]

The Tanakh repeatedly states that Israel shall be restored to the Land, to Eretz Israel, not because they necessarily deserve to be, but because this return, and re-establishment of their ‘betrothal’ to their Husband, is for His Name’s sake. 

The Almighty declares His sovereignty and His eternal love by returning His People to the Land of Israel.

Today this understanding carries little favour in the Hellenistic Christian world which embraces Replacement Theology. I have a chapter on this issue in my book ‘Doctrinal Pitfalls of Hellensim’ – see http://www.amazon.com/Doctrinal-Pitfalls-Hellenism-Studies-Greek-ebook/dp/B00DO17CK8/

 

 

 

[1] see my article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ – http://goo.gl/hwBeoO

[2] – quoted from “http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/16788#.VTGfkGSqqkp

Isaac and Rebekah: A Failure to Communicate?

At the heart of the world is the family. At the heart of the family is the relationship between a husband and wife.

This relationship is the foundation upon which a family is built, children are raised and they in turn become contributing adults and normally marry and become parents and begin the whole cycle over again.

For a marital relationship  to work well, good communication is vital and yet, there are few courses that offer the in-depth and strenuous training needed for couples to enter into a relationship with the communication skills needed to cope with the inevitable tensions and relationship break-downs that occur.

No marriage is immune (or at least I am not aware of any). Few, if any couples, begin a marriage with perfect skills in communication. Effective, supportive and helpful communication is easy when times are good; when the full bloom of the relationship is in its ascendancy. When the inevitable disagreements arrive and the tension and separation occurs, good communication is difficult. If the tension escalates; normally the emotional separation grows and the barrier to effective resolution rises and begins to seem insurmountable.

A wall is built up, a dividing wall of pain and misunderstanding, of hurt and frustration and fear. How is this dividing wall to be torn down, but even more importantly, how can the communication skills be improved so that it rarely begins to build in the first place?

Well-developed communication skills are needed in great measure. It is at this point that we all need guidance. This guidance surely includes an appreciation of how serious the consequences can be to relationship breakdown and poor communication, even while the marriage remains intact.

This brings me to this weeks Torah Portion, Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9). In this parshah, we read about the deception of Rebekah.

While some may search hard to excuse Rebekah’s apparently immoral and unethical behaviour, on reading and reflecting on the narrative here, most would feel that Rebekah acted in a deceptive manner. Rather than try to find excuses for her behaviour, let us instead accept it at face value and ask the question, what can we learn from this mistake of Rebekah’s? What lead to this inappropriate behaviour and what life lessons should it teach us.

There is a link below to a brilliant article from Chief Rabbi Sacks of London about this very situation. He argues that there was most likely a power/position imbalance in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah that made it difficult for Rebekah to be as direct and up-front with Isaac as she should have been. This meant she kept things to herself and when suddenly faced with a potential calamity in her eyes, her reaction was underhanded instead of open and trusting.

Isaac was much older than Rebekah when they met and married. It was also some 20 years before Rebekah fell pregnant with her first babies, the twins Esau and Jacob. And yet, Isaac knew the promises that the Almighty had made to his father Abraham, that through him (Isaac) would come a great nation. The tension of these barren 20 years would have had some impact and perhaps negatively affected their communication and harmony.

Add to this the great, yet troubling message that Rebekah received while pregnant: “And the LORD said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” – Gen 25:23.

It appears she never shared this prophecy with Isaac. So when the time of the blessings arrives, it is quite possible that there was a significant communication barrier, a dividing wall, between Rebekah and Isaac, and therefore she looked for an ‘easy way out’.

I would suggest that there are at least two central lessons we can take away from this:

1)   Honesty and good communication are central to all relationships and in particular to the relationship at the centre of this world, the marriage;

2)   We can often learn more from the imperfect lives of the great characters of the Bible, than from the explicit teachings contained therein. Often, it is the mistakes that the Biblical heroes make that help us to better see ourselves reflected in their human frailty, and in turn, this enables us to reject their mistakes and instead turn from error to truth, from distance to close communication, and heal our relationships. I believe an appreciation of the conflict of the ‘good’ and ‘evil inclinations’ also helps with this – see the 2 part series of podcasts on the Hebraic Mindset for some more details on this – at http://aubreyandpaul.podomatic.com/

The great Chief Rabbi of London, Lord Sacks explains this all brilliantly in his blog post ‘The Tragedy of Good Intentions’, which I strongly recommend – at Aish.com –  http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/134230588.html

Update: 2nd December 2016

Since writing this short reflection over 4 years ago, I have revisited this Torah Portion and few times and read a number of books that discuss these events surrounding Rebekah (including Gary Rendsburg’s brilliant ‘The Redaction of Genesis’ and Rabbi Sacks great ‘Not in God’s Name’.

I wrote a couple of articles related to insights gained from Gary’s book – see Feeling for Rebekah – http://circumcisedheart.info/Feeling for Rebekah.pdf

I have also read a number of books on marriage, and now would argue that the best book on marital relationships that I have ever read (of 10’s of books on Marriage and Divorce), is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s ‘Kosher Lust: Love is Not The Answer’.

I strongly recommend all three books!