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Thought for the Day: K'dusha In Marriage Is Change, Admitting Mistakes, and Managing Details

I spoke at a sheva brachos to a group of people who were not all shomer Torah and mitzvos.  In fact, some of them may have never before seen an Orthodox Jew, let alone attended an Orthodox wedding or been to a sheva brachos.  I wanted to say something true and meaningful that they would not reject out of hand because it didn't fit their narrow view of acceptable reality.  The m'sader k'dushin had already posed the question under the chuppah: Why are you doing this?  (He assured all in attendance that the question was strictly rhetorical, of course.)  You already love each other, you have demonstrated compatibility, and are already playing house.  That last bit really surprised (ok, shocked) me -- not that they were living together, but that he chose to mention it; they took it in stride, though.  His answer was that we were adding k'dusha/holiness.  I decided to follow up with a prescription for what holiness means in a Jewish marriage.

I began with an interesting incident.  A rebbi was having trouble with a particular student; 7th or 8th grade.  The boy was disruptive, inattentive, and unable to sit still.  After several tries at extra homework, detention, and suspensions, the rebbi finally told the father: "Your son is not permitted back into the classroom until you take him to a doctor and get him on Ritalin."  The father was concerned on several levels, including the cost.  The rebbi was intransigent.  The father, seeing no other options, got the Ritalin for his son.  New problem: the parents left for work at 6:00AM, the boy got himself to cheder at 7:00AM; who will make sure he takes his Ritalin?  The rebbi said, "No problem.  Give me the Ritalin and I'll send your son out each morning to make me a coffee.  No one is the teacher's room, he can take the pill and no one will know."

And so it went.  The boy was able to learn, the class was again in control; shalom al yisrael.  After a couple of months, the father asked his son how he felt things were going.  "It's wonderful!  The rebbi doesn't yell or get frustrated and the learning is so fun!"  "Really," asked the father, "and why do you think things have gotten so much better?"  "Every morning the rebbi sends me with the Ritalin and to make a coffee for him.  I just put the Ritalin in the coffee, and everything has been great!"  (I suspect the young man really just misunderstood the instructions; it doesn't seem that he was the kind to willfully do such a thing.)  The rebbi was apprised of what had been happening and admitted that apparently he had been the problem and not the student.  Wonderful.  Wait; we're not finished: who pays for the Ritalin?  The p'sak was that even though the rebbi was the one who needed it, the father did actually get a benefit.  Therefore, the rebbi was not obligated to pay for the initial two months, but would have to foot the bill going forward.

So what does this have to do with k'dusha in marriage?  Problems come up -- sometimes serious problems; actions need to be taken.  One must always be ready to admit, however, that he was wrong.  Lastly, don't forget the details.  Who takes out the garbage, who sweeps under the table after meals, who puts gas in the car; all little things, all important things.

That sounds like reasonable advice for anyone, no?  What makes this a prescription for bringing holiness into a Jewish marriage?  From a strategic view, you can't really know when things are off course unless you have an absolute scale of right and wrong against which to judge; that's the Torah.  From a tactical view, you can't really know how to proceed on a day to day (moment by moment) basis unless you have an absolute set of rules and regulations; that's mitzvos.  From top to bottom, from start to finish, you also need a way to resolve conflict; that's having a rabbi who knows you and is well versed in Torah and mitzvos and can act as your spiritual/technical advisor.

With all that, you have a prescription for success... a success that has been told and retold countless times over the centuries in countless Jewish homes and marriages.

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