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.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Capable of So Much More Together

Saturday evening, I officiated Lauren and Michael’s wedding ceremony, via Zoom, in North Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their handful of Zoom 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.

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Jew, a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim

Every now and then people ask me what my favorite wedding was. I’m smart enough not to answer that one, LOL. (If I officiated your wedding, you know it was yours!) Of course, most memorable is a very different issue, because some circumstances are different than others.

Roshni and Kelly were originally going to have a small wedding ceremony in April. With the situation as fluid as it is, they decided to move things up. They called me Saturday to ask if I could officiate their wedding on Sunday.

I first texted back to verify that they would be following CDC guidelines and the rules the Governor put in place of limiting social gatherings to 10 people. They were doing even better; there would be no more than six people there, including me and a photographer.

When I spoke with them Saturday, Kelly joked that we should find an open mosque, because a rabbi marrying a Hindu and a Christian in a mosque would mean we had our bases completely covered.

Luckily, the photographer they found (pictured below), also on Saturday, Urooj of Urooj Photography, is not only extremely talented, but a Muslim!

So, yes, on Sunday, in the shadow of COVID-19, a Jew, a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim did NOT walk into a bar, nor could they because all bars are closed. Instead, they went to Adriatica Village and the Christian and the Hindu walked out of there married!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

True Essence

This last Sunday, I officiated Alex and Max’s wedding ceremony at the Filter Building, Dallas, Texas. (The wedding was held in a fashion that conformed to health guidelines in place at that time.) Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

In fairy tales characters sometimes use a test to discover their true love. Think of the glass slipper in Cinderella. Even the Bible includes a test that our matriarch Rebecca was put through to see if she was worthy for our patriarch Isaac. And, of course, no less a cultural icon than Madonna famously sang, “Put your love to the test.”

Now, Alex doesn’t describe what she put Max through as a test, but it sounds awfully similar. Spoiler alert, in case you were unclear on what we were doing here today, he passed. Listen to Alex:

“On our third or fourth date, he came over to my house for some drinks after we had gone out to dinner. I already knew I was really into Max, but as it turned out, my dog was OBSESSED with him. She would not leave him alone and insisted on sitting on the couch next to him with her head on his shoulder for most of the time he was over. It was not just Maddie’s obvious love for Max that made me start to realize how amazing he was, but Max’s reaction to Maddie really stole my heart. He was so sweet with her and just pet her while she totally invaded his personal space. He even let her kiss his face, which I have since found out he is not that big a fan of.”

Now, you might wonder why this theme that Alex and Max exhibited early in their relationship is found so frequently in literature, be it fairy tales, scripture or songs by Eighties pop singers, who have since adopted weird British accents. It’s simple, really. We may court differently today than we did 35 years ago, in medieval Europe or in Biblical times, however the goal is the same: We are trying to present OURSELVES in the best possible light, while discovering the true essence of the other person, which seems like an exercise at cross purposes with itself. So, we’re not trying to trap or trick the other person, we just want to know their true selves.

Then, ideally, when we find that person whose true essence is good and kind and well reflects and complements ours, we too can be ourselves. This is what Alex and Max found. Don’t take my word for it, listen to Max:

“I genuinely feel at ease and like my true self around Alex. This is not a small deal, as I am pretty introverted... There are very few people I feel that level of comfort with... I am drained after significant interaction, but Alex does not drain me. In fact, Alex does the opposite of drain me. She relaxes and reassures me when I need it, and she inspires and energizes me when I need that...”

Max has had the same effect on Alex: “I feel like my confidence has grown since I’ve been with him because he has made me more comfortable with being myself and realizing that what I am thinking is worthy of being stated or heard, even if I feel that it is not good enough to say out loud.”

This type of relationship is so deep that it is embodied by what Max says, but what you know is a mutual feeling: “Alex is totally comfortable with who I am. This is related to feeling comfortable being my true self around her. She sees and knows me more than anyone and she loves me for who I am...” My friends, we should all be so lucky.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Spiritual Reverence

Friday evening, I officiated Jess and Daniel’s wedding ceremony at Event1013 in Plano, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the things that struck me about Jess and Daniel, from the first moment I met them, is that they are very spiritual people. As Daniel says, “I’m still on this spiritual journey of faith.” This journey has been nourished by their relationship. As Jess says, “When I met Daniel his love for God shined so bright. And I started knowing God through my relationship with Daniel.” In that context, Daniel’s framing of the genesis of as well as the ongoing aspects of their relationship is instructive. “Meeting Jess has been a blessing. I’m excited to see where our path will take us,” he says.

There is something profound in the second half of that statement. You see, in marriage we affirm that not only does the I of today love the you of today, but that my love of you and my knowledge of you makes me confident enough to state that the I of tomorrow will love the you of tomorrow just as deeply. In marriage we affirm that though we cannot predict the future, our love will remain, and the blessing shall endure. 

This is just one of the reasons the Ancient Rabbis saw God’s work in this process. They arrived at this through asking a question: In the Bible, God is extremely busy in a very visible way. He’s creating the world and striking the Egyptians with plagues. He’s parting the Red Sea first and the River Jordan next. He’s raining fire on Elijah’s altar, and saving his servant, Daniel, from the lions. He doesn’t really do any of that flashy stuff anymore. What has he been doing with his time, ask the Rabbis?

They tell us that he spends most of his time playing matchmaker, helping soulmates, like Jess and Daniel, find each other, so they may fall in love, build relationships together, and marry.

The timing of Jess and Daniel’s wedding follows a meaningful spiritual tradition too. Jews in the Russian Empire were confined to a specific area called the Pale of Settlement. They lived in the shtetls, small villages, immortalized in Fiddler on the Roof. They could not own land and were confined to mostly low-paying professions, which kept many of them in perpetual poverty, if not outright serfdom.

It was, therefore, not uncommon to marry on Friday afternoon, so the usual festive Friday night Sabbath meal could double as the festive meal that accompanies a wedding. This is what we might call today a money saving hack.

There was and is, however, something very spiritually appropriate about this timing too. In fact, every Friday night, Jews the world over greet the Sabbath as a bride, with these words of a medieval mystical poem, “Come my friend, toward the bride; let us greet the Sabbath.” Indeed, The Sabbath enriches and restores a person’s soul, as does marriage, and marriage gives us a taste of paradise, as does the Sabbath.

Jess and Daniel, what we wish for you is that the same spiritual reverence with which you enter your marriage and enter tonight’s Sabbath remain with you, that it continue to enrich your souls and that through it you receive your own taste of paradise.