by Rabbi Wendy Spears
I had the privilege yesterday of participating in a renewal ceremony for a couple married 18 years. They formally recommit themselves to each other every year on their anniversary. Their 12-year-old son spoke during the ceremony to say how much he admired his parents in their love and commitment to each other. When he grows up, he wants to have a marriage like theirs. With so much divorce in our society, it is truly wonderful to experience on-going love and joy.
There seems to be very little support in our society for people to stay in long-term relationships. In film and on television, we enjoy watching romances blossom as much as we enjoy the drama and conflict of divorce. Chris Harrison has been hosting the reality t.v. shows The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for 11 years. He recently told Parade magazine that he never gets tired of the show or the people. In some ways, this makes me feel like we are still living in a Jane Austen novel; conflict, whether serious or frivolous, between various couples resolves in marriages. We rarely get to see couples after the wedding, or even several years down the road.
Even in Jane Austen’s novels, it’s the conflict that moves the story along. Our general society has a prurient interest in the problems of others. We seem a bit gleeful when we hear news of a divorce – “Well, they weren’t that good together anyway.” I was in the check-out line at Target the other day, when a couple of ladies behind me started to exclaim over one of the celebrity magazines in the news rack: “Omigod! I thought they would always be together! I wonder who he seeing behind her back!”
As a community rabbi, I’m also in the wedding business. The average cost of a wedding in Los Angeles is $60,000. That’s a huge chunk of change, but everyone is so happy to be spending it to celebrate together. I truly wish that this kind of money could be amortized over a couple’s marriage to help them build a treasure chest of joyful experiences and sharing together so that they can draw on that account when times get tough.
Judaism has so much wisdom to offer us in nurturing our relationships on a daily basis. It teaches us not to take them for granted. We sit down to a meal together where we share blessings along with the food. We are given the mitzvah (a Jewish way of doing and being) of having sex with our partner on Shabbat. There is a teaching in the Talmud that instructs a man to speak kindly to his wife and to touch her gently. (There’s also a teaching in the Talmud that advises a man that if his wife orgasms before he does, he is more likely to have sons. Hmmm.) At the end of the Passover seder, we read Song of Songs aloud. This biblical book is full of the most lyrical and erotic love poetry. Talking, touching, spending time together so that we can really see and understand our partners. I imagine if we did this, there would be less divorce and certainly a lot more joy in our relationships. We can, and should, enliven each other.
Rabbi Wendy Spears is a community rabbi in Los Angeles. Find her at http://www.rabbiwendy.com.