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May 29, 2008

Ingredients for a successful marriage

Parshat Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20)

http://www.jewishjournal.com/torah_portion/article/ingredients_for_a_successful_marriage_20080528

What are the ingredients for a successful marriage? A great medieval sage once suggested the following four:

  1. Commit to permanence: We are in this forever, no matter what adversities enter into our marriage, and no matter how bored we may get with each other over time. So long as we're together, I won't fantasize about another man/woman that might be my "next."

  2. Be a team: Share responsibilities; I have some duties, you have others. We'll work out a system that delineates these shared duties, and we'll truly complement each other's good work.

  3. Trust each other: I will tell you about all my secret bank accounts, you will tell me about your circle of friends. We'll never share our more intimate confidences with someone outside of our marriage.

  4. Know your spouse: I will get to know your personality, your emotional constitution, your idiosyncrasies, your likes and dislikes, and you mine. We will both learn to accept, maneuver and compensate for each other.

Sounds like something from Dr. Phil, but it's actually contained in this week's haftara.

The prophet Hosea describes the relationship of God and Israel as a husband-wife relationship. Hosea himself did not have the happiest of marriages. God told him to marry a loose, immoral woman, so that he would know God's anguish over having a "wife" like the Jewish people who behaved scandalously in their religious choices during the prophet's era.

As Hosea laments his own troubled marriage, God commiserates with him and shares about his own failing relationship with Israel, who often call out to their foreign gods and ignore their true "husband," the Holy One, blessed be He.

But there's always hope, God says. Yes, my "wife" may have strayed and forgotten about our love, but I know that things will be better in the future. She'll one day realize that all her alleged "friends" are really not, and that I'm her one, true love.

On that day, we'll be reconciled.

And then God states the most poignant words of reconciliation (Hosea 2:21-22): "I shall wed you forever; I shall wed you with righteousness, justice, kindness and compassion. I shall wed you with faith, and you will know God."

The three "I shall weds" refer to the first three ingredients on our list:

  1. "I shall wed you forever" = Commit to permanence.

  2. "I shall wed you with righteousness," etc. = Share responsibilities. God is saying: You treat your fellow man righteously and justly, and I will respond with kindness and compassion.

  3. "I shall wed you with faith" = Trust each other.

Finally, says God, "You will know God." If you can commit to the first three on the list, the fourth and ultimate intimacy will occur naturally. Your devotion to Me will allow you to understand and know Me as much as I know you.

Our commitment to our spouses -- just as our commitment to our faith -- requires perseverance, integrity and sacrifice. It was as true two and a half millennia ago as it is today.

"Turn it over, and turn it over again, for everything is contained in [the Torah]" (Mishnah Avoth). Not to take anything away from Dr. Phil, but he's got nothing on the Torah.

N. Daniel Korobkin is rabbi of Kehillat Yavneh in Hancock Park and director of Community and Synagogue Services for the Orthodox Union West Coast Region.

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