Sunday, September 13, 2020

We Should All Be So Lucky

Friday morning, I officiated Mike and Lauren’s wedding ceremony at the Joule in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every couple why they want to get married. Anyone else asking this would be considered quite rude. I mean, imagine walking into the office Monday morning, after your boyfriend, now fiancé, proposed and you accepted. You go up to Susan, your coworker, and show her the ring. She’s supposed to warmly hug you and gush, “Congratulations! Tell me all about the proposal!” Instead, she says, “Why?” Awkward!

Of course, Susan being crossed off your Christmas/Chanukah card list aside, it is an important question for each person to answer. And, luckily, in the context of planning a meaningful wedding ceremony, I can ask this question.

What I like about Lauren and Michael’s answers is that they do not shy away from the fact that relationships aren’t all gumdrops and sunshine. They are hard work. If your answer to why marry does not acknowledge that, if you really think that every moment of your marriage is going to be amazing, we really need to talk.

What Lauren and Michael tell us is that through their relationship, through the hard work they have put in to build it, they have found the sum total of their relationship is amazing. Spoiler alert: Everyone’s answer to the why question needs to be some form of this answer. I wish every couple got it like Lauren and Michael did.

Michael says, “There are always ups and downs in relationships, but in Lauren I found a fiercely loyal partner that is somehow more beautiful on the inside than she is on the outside. To this day I still pinch myself and wonder how I got so lucky.” 

And Lauren articulates this concept, so perfectly: “We… keep each other honest and challenge each other to be better, but at the end of the day accept each other for who we are now. We… let each other down at times, but we always grow and learn… It took time to be comfortable with ourselves and that we are enough for each other… Time has shown us both how much we love each other (and) that we are capable of so much more together than apart.”

That is the answer right there; that is the reason to marry: We are capable of so much more together than apart. We should all be so lucky.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Be Fearless

Friday evening, I officiated Carly and Javier’s wedding ceremony at The Mason in Dallas, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I ask every person I marry to write an autobiographical essay, and I tell them that their essay serves as the raw material for these remarks. I love quoting couples in their own words and learning from what they say. I don’t usually quote three whole paragraphs. However, these three paragraphs with which Carly opened her essay are just incredible. Check this out:

“The moment I knew I was in love with Javier, we were sitting in Houston traffic, stuck at a stoplight. It was a clear, blue skied, Saturday. It was one of those few days we get in Texas between summer and fall where the sun is bright, but the wind is cool. The windows were down. We had been driving around Houston and trading songs back and forth, and I put on Celine Dion’s song ‘It’s All Coming Back to Me Now’.

Stay with me here, because I know Celine Dion conjures up just about every love cliché you can think of. I put on the song, thinking he’d shake it off, and tell me to change it. But he didn’t. He leaned his head out the window and started belting out the words. He knew all of them. I laughed. The car next to us laughed. And I started singing along too. Sitting there in that car with him reminded me of all the road trips I took with my dad growing up – how we would set off onto the open road, play music, and sing the whole way without regard to who might stare into our car and wonder why.

After I lost my dad, the hardest part was feeling like I had lost my own fearlessness. I had lost the reminder that no matter where I was, or what I did, I was good because I was his. But, as I sat in that car, and looked over at a man who knew that a cool breeze meant the windows were down, and a good song meant that he would be singing it, that I had found a man that could hold me and set me free all at once.”

I wasn’t lying when I used the word incredible, was I?

Now it’s interesting. I do ask couples to tell how they met and why they want to get married. I don’t usually ask when they fell in love or when they realized they were in love, but not only does Carly address this, Javier does too. His story also involves Celine Dion. No, I’m joking. It involves The Doors: “The day came when I realized I was in love and was going to marry this beautiful woman. Earlier in the relationship my friend Ricardo had told me, after meeting Carly, ‘She is not the kind of woman you date; she is the kind you marry.’ I remember I brushed it off with a smirk… One night we were in my apartment with friends. She was in the kitchen listening to Ricardo rant about how much he loves The Doors… She was looking at me and smiling and it hit me, I remembered Ricardo’s words… From that day forward I decided I would do whatever it takes to be with this woman forever. My life was with her.” 

Sounds like he is pretty fearless too. 

Check out what Javier’s fearlessness does for him: “I could go on with so many stories of how amazing Carly is, but the truth is I found my person, my favorite person on this earth, my friend in times of need and my companion in life. Every day waking up next to Carly is a blessing and I am thankful every day that I have her in my life. With her I am the best version of myself, my true self, not withholding or hiding anything. I know my life is better with her.”

It is this same fearlessness that allows Carly to say: “Finding Javier was like finding my heart again. He taught me that I could honor what I lost by discovering what I could find. I never thought at thirty, with all the things life has brought my way, that I would somehow feel brand new, like I could learn how to hold someone’s heart, and all the while, find space to grow… There is something eerie and cool and big before us. And we’re ready to give it all the love we got.”

What a fabulous lesson. If you take one thing from today, be like Carly and Javier: Be fearless. 

Anything But Crazy

Saturday evening (8.22), I officiated Chanel and Ben’s wedding ceremony on Zoom. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Chanel and Ben first contacted me back in early 2019, and from the get-go they knew what they wanted to open their wedding ceremony with, Let’s Go Crazy by Prince. I feel like there is something prophetic about this choice. 

Why do I say that? Well, weddings have many expectations attached to them in this country. Many a bride and groom will hear that there is a certain way to do things, or at least parameters, within which their choices need to be confined. 

Prince, on the other hand, says, in a word, nonsense, or in three words, let’s go crazy. It’s your wedding. Forget about what everyone else says or thinks. You do you. I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume that Chanel and Ben did not realize how crazy it was going to get, but there you are!

Seriously, though, there are tremendous lessons here for life. After all, despite the word play that opens the song, Prince is not really talking about weddings, he is talking about life. This might be the non-prophetic reason that Chanel and Ben chose this song, in the first place, and the reason they ended up choosing to conduct their wedding in the iconoclastic way we are conducting it today.

Ironically, the best wedding ceremonies are those that make clear what this couple felt from the start: What we are doing here today is but a preamble. Chanel and Ben’s marriage, the life that they will live together from this day forward, is what really matters. 

That is why when I asked Ben why he wants to get married now, his answer was, “I could have waited… but why? I’ve found the person who I want to be with, who I want share great news with first, who compliments me. who pushes me, who makes me want to be better every day.”

That is why Chanel’s answer to the same question was, “We openly put it on the table, what we wanted for our lives. From the beginning I knew what kind of man Ben is. A serious one. When I say serious, I mean a man with goals and values... a good, kind, reliable, and patient partner to me… We’ve been consistent with one another through it all. So, when I try to answer, ‘Why, now?’ my answer is, ‘Why, wait?’"

That my friends, it seems to me, is anything but crazy.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Plow Forward and Overcome

Thursday night, I officiated Ellie and Edwin’s wedding ceremony at the Springs Events in Aubrey – the Lodge, in Aubrey, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

You might wonder why Ellie, an off the beaten path LDS member and Edwin, a (likely) undefined theist of Christian origin, would choose a rabbi to officiate their wedding. Not if you know them, however; if you know them this makes perfectly good sense, precisely because it doesn’t. They are both very deep thinkers and to say they are iconoclasts in their thinking is an understatement.  

Now, though I am not your average rabbi (another understatement), to a hammer, everything is a nail. So, naturally, when I think of Ellie and Edwin, I am reminded of a comment made by a 16th Century Polish rabbi. 

Rabbi Moshe Isserles was one of the most important authorities in the history of the development of Jewish Law. His rulings take the form of glosses on the text of his Spanish counterpart, Rabbi Yosef Karo’s compendium, the Shulchan Aruch or Set Table.

Sometimes he is silent regarding his counterpart’s rulings, sometimes he has a short comment about them, and sometimes his glosses are much lengthier than Karo’s text. The first gloss in this compendium is an example of the latter. Isserles, commenting on just ten of Karo’s words, goes on at length, quoting not only scripture and previous legal sources as he is wont to often do, but even a philosophical work.

And then, in the very first gloss in this lengthy multi-volume compendium, he makes a comment that might seem curious for a religion focused not on beliefs or emotions, but on action, “And he should not feel shame because of those people who ridicule him in the work of the Lord, blessed be His Name.”

Most people are deathly afraid of what other people will say. And, so they conform. They just go with the flow. They never step out of line. I’m not sure how you would say this in 16th Century Polish, but what Isserles says here is, basically, screw that.

Recognize that those who try to do the right thing will always face opposition. This is just the nature of the world. Inoculate yourself, so you may continue to do the work. Know that there will be forces arrayed against you, and plow forward and overcome them. And, just like Ellie and Edwin, do not feel shame because of those people who ridicule you in the work of the Lord, blessed be His Name.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

We Forge On

Saturday morning, I officiated Cydney and James’ wedding ceremony in Farmers Branch, Texas. All participants are in this picture! (Masks were removed just for the ceremony, in case you were wondering, which under the Governor’s executive order, is kosher.) At the end of the ceremony, before James broke the glass, I shared these words with them:

When the Temple was destroyed, many responded by going into a perpetual state of deep mourning, refusing to eat meat or drink wine. 

A great sage, Rabbi Joshua, challenged a group of these people: “My sons… why do you not eat meat nor drink wine?” They indignantly replied: “Shall we eat flesh which used to be brought as an offering… drink wine which used to be poured as a libation?” 

Rabbi Joshua challenged them not to eat certain fruits or even bread, since these too were offered in the Temple. They managed to wiggle out of those challenges, with their idea intact, saying they would eat other foods. He reminded them that once a year, water was offered, and so, by their logic, they could not drink water. Now, they were stumped. 

Then he said, “To not mourn at all is impossible… to mourn too much is also impossible… The Sages, therefore… ordained: A man may stucco his house, but he should leave a little bare… A woman can put on all her jewelry but leave off one item.” This is, likely, the origin of the next custom. 

We are currently experiencing a calamity, without precedent. One could respond in different ways, just as Jews responded to the Temple’s destruction in different ways. Obviously, response to trauma does not follow logic. However, we should aspire to respond as Rabbi Joshua suggested then and as you do today. 

While not minimizing the suffering we see around us, we adapt, and by the grace of God, with hopes for a better future, we forge on. 

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Meaningful Yet Simple

Saturday evening, I officiated Raylea and Eric’s wedding ceremony at the Renaissance Dallas Hotel in Dallas, Texas.

Raylea and Eric’s love story is a testament to the power of true love to help one learn, better oneself and transform. It is also a testament to an important correlate to that: To truly love your partner, you must learn to love yourself. And, it is a testament to the symbiotic nature of both propositions. Check this out; you will see what I mean.   

Raylea says, “We had something special. He was always there for me… He only wanted me to think for myself… I refocused my energy… Before this I never had a goal and now, I’m accomplishing every one. Without Eric’s continued love and support I truly believe I would not be the person I am today. We’ve grown up together and for the better. I want to be better not just for him but more importantly myself… It was only when I learned to love myself was I able to provide him the love he deserved. With all my being he is the love of my life, forever and always.”

And, Eric says, “Just as Raylea has grown while being together I have been able to do the same. Sometimes I also have to learn things the hard way, and Raylea has shown me just as much forgiveness as I have for her. Raylea has also always been there for me when I need her. Although we may not agree on everything we have both learned to work together… We have learned not to sweat the small things. Being able to care for Raylea is also something that makes me want to actively continue to try and learn and work to better our lives.”

It is the power of this love that enabled Raylea to go from doubting that she knew what real love was to do something that not many women do. As a child of ardent feminist, McGovern voting, ERA supporting parents, it pains me to say this, but, yes, she is the very first of more than 450 hetero brides I have married who proposed to her groom. “It was the most legitimately surprised I have ever been in my entire life…” says Eric, “It could not have been more meaningful yet simple.”

Now, there is a great wish for any relationship, and one I am confident Raylea and Eric will achieve, “It could not have been more meaningful yet simple.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Medicine and Prayer

Tuesday night I participated in an interfaith Zoom discussion on healing through prayer vs. healing through medicine.

The question being considered here reminds me of an old Jewish tale about two Jews who had a dispute. They came to the town rabbi and asked him to resolve it. The rabbi carefully listened to the first man and said, “You’re right!” Then he carefully listened to the second man and said, “You’re right!” His wife, who was sitting just a few feet away, exclaimed: “ They can’t both be right!” The rabbi said: “You’re right, too!”

Seriously, traditional Judaism favors the rabbi’s first instinct. You could say that it follows the one rule of improv comedy: “Yes and”.

The foundational book of Judaism is the Talmud. In truth, it is less a book than an edited multigenerational discussion. In the Tractate or volume called Bava Kama on folio 85, it says as follows:

''ורפא ירפא'' (שמות כא', יט') מכאן שניתנה רשות לרופא לרפאות.

It quotes from Exodus 21/19. That scripture says that a person who strikes his fellow is obligated to pay for the cost of nursing him back to health.

So, the Talmud says, from this we understand that it is permissible for a doctor to heal. For if this was not permissible, obviously there would be no obligation for this man to pay to heal his fellow.

The Tosafists, who studied the Talmud in France in the 12-13th Centuries expound on that, that once it is established that it is permissible, what stems from that is that it is actually obligatory. Because, elsewhere it has been established that saving a life is so important that one is obligated to transgress almost any commandment in order to save a life.

At the same time the Talmud tells us in Tractate Bava Batra on folio 116:

כל שיש לו חולה בתוך ביתו ילך אצל חכם ויבקש עליו רחמים.

Whoever has an ill person in his home, he should go to a wise man and have him beg for mercy on his behalf.

And the Amidah, the central prayer around which each Jewish worship service is built includes this blessing:

רְפָאֵנוּ ה' וְנֵרָפֵא, הוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ וְנִוָּשֵׁעָה, כִּי תְהִלָּתֵנוּ אָתָּה,
וְהַעֲלֵה רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה לְכֹל מַכּוֹתֵינוּ.
כִּי אֵל מֶלֶך רוֹפֵא נֶאֱמָן וְרַחֲמָן אָתָּה.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה', רוֹפֵא חוֹלֵי עַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל.

Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed, save us and we shall be saved, for You are our praise. Bring complete healing to all our wounds, for You are God and King, the faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You, O Lord, Who heals the sick of his people Israel.

So, once again, traditional Judaism favors the rabbi’s first instinct: Not either/or, but yes and.