Thursday, August 10, 2006

Is your relationship "looking up"?

Yesterday was "Tu B'Av", a day long associated in Jewish tradition with matchmaking and marriage.

The Mishna describes how the day was celebrated in days of olde:

On this day, the maidens of Jerusalem would go out, dance in the vineyards and look for suitors.

They would say: "Young man, raise your eyes and see which you select for

What would the beautiful ones among them say? "Look for beauty, for a woman is for beauty."

What would those of prestigious lineage say? "Look for family, for a woman is for children."

What would the ugly ones say? "Make your acquisition for the sake of Heaven, as long as you decorate us with jewels"

Besides story-telling, the Talmud wants to teach what the primary ingredients for a successful marriage are.

1) "Raise your eyes", the dancing maidens call out. Your first step to building a successful relationship is to "lift your eyes"- to change perspective. People tend to be attracted to physical appearance, money or self-serving interests in a relationship. So, the wise girls of Jerusalem remind us, "Lift your eyes" and look for lasting and meaningful values and traits in your partner.
2) The beautiful girls suggest that "a woman is for beauty". Judaism doesn't buy into the glossy magazine or Hollywood version of beauty. Not to say that looks are unimportant, but they're not the make-it-or-break-it of relationships.

True beauty, according to Jewish mysticism, is spiritual beauty. Someone who is a mentsch, a good person who exudes kindness and good traits, is called beautiful. Physical beauty may fade, spiritual beauty will mature.

For the single looking to marry, the first thing to look for is "beauty"- is the person a mentsch?

For the married couple, to test if your marriage is headed in the right direction, ask yourselves "Are we making each other more beautiful- more mentsch-like?". A good marriage breeds personal development in both parties.

3) Family. Unquestionably, Judaism places a premium on family and children. We all want the best for our children, in fact, we'd like them to be even better than we are. I often encounter couples who are not very religious but want their children to have a religious education.

Children need a family environment that supports the theoretical messages that their parents and (parents' choice of) teachers preach. Even before the children arrive on the scene, a couple needs to ensure that the family that they envisage and the values that they aspire towards, are already being developed.

4) The "ugly". Every marriage has its ugly moments- stress, arguments, challenges. The real test of a marriage depends on how successfully a couple deals with its "ugly" moments.

Here the Talmud tells us, "Marry for the sake of heaven". Sound like a tall order? Almost like "close your eyes and accept what comes your way"?

Actually, it's the most solid marriage advice anyone could ask for.

When the going gets tough and a couple gets caught up in the cycle of accusation, guilt and blame, they need to remember to "marry for the sake of heaven".

Simply put: When you feel the urge to "have the last word" or "just put the record straight", remember that this is not about "me" vs. "you", it's about "our" marriage, which is larger than both of us. It's not a matter of being "right", it's a matter of keeping the marriage alive and growing.

Instead of basing your retort on what you "have to say", stop for a moment and consider "is this next move/remark/retort going to be good for our marriage". If it isn't, keep quiet.

When you and your partner master this skill, you are well on your way to happiness.

And to master this skill, you need to raise your eyes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So true! i wish it was easier though! i dont think there are too many descent men out there who only look on the inside! PG we should all find that person! By the way, i love your blog Rabbi!