Friday, August 24, 2018

Live the Life of Love

Thursday evening, I officiated Sue and Raphael’s wedding ceremony, at the Munro Boutique Hotel, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

I was born and live in the United States, but I grew up in Israel. Last month, on American Independence Day, I posted this observation on Facebook: The great thing about being a dual citizen of both countries is that, unlike my fellow Americans, I have personally met many people who resisted British tyranny, and fought in the War of Independence

One of the most interesting characters of early Israel was Golda Meir, who became Israel’s prime minister. My favorite thing about Golda was her acid tongue. That’s characteristic of us American Israelis. Her best one-liner, in my opinion was something she once said to Israeli bad boy and much feared general, Moshe Dayan. Reportedly, since she had ice in her veins, she kept it together during the dark hours of the beginning of the Yom Kippur War, while he lost it. And, so on another occasion, exasperated with his pompous behavior, she said, “Don’t act so humble; you’re not that great.” I know it took a while to tell that one, but you have to admit, it was worth the payoff!

Why do I bring this up? Well, because I have had the privilege of interacting with Sue and Raphael over these past few months, and the first thing that comes to mind about them is their humility; not the fake kind exhibited by Dayan, the real kind. What’s the difference? Well, the Talmud, the foundational book of Judaism, tells us. It quotes a source that says that, “When Rabbi [Judah, the Patriarch] died, humility and fear of sin ceased.” Then it says that “Rabbi Joseph said… Do not include the word 'humility', because there is I.” Did you get that? Humility is still alive and well, he says; just look at how wonderfully humble I am!

Now, though the Talmud does include jokes, this is not one of them. Rabbi Joseph is being serious. A later sage clarifies what he means. Humility does not mean thinking you are dirt. True humility means knowing your worth exactly, not more and not less. So, Rabbi Joseph was not bragging; he just felt like he knew his true worth. And that quality of Rabbi Joseph is the quality that I saw in both these people, Sue and Raphael.

In fact, one of the first things Raphael said about Sue is how humble she was. Like every brash American, one of my first questions was, “What do you do for a living?” Sue explained what she did, nothing more, nothing less. Raphael made sure to point that out, that she was kind of a big deal at her company. You know what he then did, though? Described what he did, nothing more. Since, I have every person I marry write an autobiographical essay, I discovered later, that a less humble man would have made a very big deal of the success he has had, with his careers, plural. Raphael is very level-headed about it. He truly realizes his good fortune in having had two great mentors, who helped him get to where he was.

Now, you might wonder why I am harping on their professional success? Isn’t this supposed to be about their love story? Well, it is. At the core of their love story lies the same humility, in the sense of truly and accurately understanding your worth and who you are. It is the secret of their relationship. The ideal love story is one where you fully know yourself, and this realization helps you understand how lucky you are to have that special someone in your life.

Listen to what Sue says, and you’ll see what I mean: “I love Raphael with my entire being and I want to continue to grow with him emotionally… He brings out the best in me and makes me very happy. I know that he loves and cares for me… Marriage takes two individuals to spiritual depths that can't be achieved by any other means. I believe that to make a commitment in the eyes of God is the ultimate union between a man and a woman and I want to do this with Raphael as I want to share the rest of my life on earth with him.”

What can you say to that, but wow.

Now, listen to Raphael, “I now know the meaning of love, how it feels to love and be loved. Words do not express the emotion of our love for each other… Sue and I revel in the intense spiritual depth of our togetherness… I… want to share everything that life has to offer with her. We enrich each other’s life so much and bring out the very best in each other… We have both waited all our live to find each other, now is the time to live the life of love, passion and romance that eluded us both for so long.”

I can’t top that; there is no use even trying.

Sue and Raphael, what we wish for you is that you continue to exhibit and practice this true humility that has made you what you are, as individuals and as a couple. With that, your bond will truly be unbreakable.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Overwhelmingly Grateful

Saturday evening, I officiated Rachel and Mark’s wedding ceremony, at the Renaissance Dallas Addison, in Addison, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

In fact, in Rachel and Mark’s relationship they continuously emphasize not only how they try to learn from every circumstance they find themselves in, as individuals and as a couple. They emphasize how much they learn from each other.

The Ancient Rabbis said, “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” True enough; but I found the use of the word “person”, specifically, interesting. Why? Because of something Rachel relates about their first anniversary of being a couple: “He took me to his parents’ house where he made me dinner and we ate outside a secluded area in the background surrounded by string lights and yard lanterns. I knew from that moment that I couldn’t lose him. He was, and will always be, my person.”

(Gentlemen, could you hear the barely perceptible groan from the ladies here, about this guy being formally taken off the market in just a few minutes? We better step up our game!)

Seriously, though, it’s the use of this term “my person”, on Rachel’s part that caught my eye. Faith Fishkin writes, “The term ‘my person’ originated from the show ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ My own personal definition is the person you go to for everything, the person you can’t live without, the person you can’t stay mad at, and the person that supports you in everything that you do. Being someone’s ‘person’ is a commitment. There is a very big difference between being someone’s boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend and being someone’s person. When someone is your person, you have such a deep connection and understanding of one another -- you pretty much know each other like the back of your hand.”

Now, again, true enough, your “person” need not necessarily be the same as your romantic partner. However, what Rachel is telling us is that sometimes like in her case, you hit the jackpot, and you get both in one tidy package.

Now, conceivably, you could be someone’s “person” without a whole lot of mutual learning occurring. So, what do you need to do to take it to that next level, where you mutually learn from your “person”? You need a specific ingredient. Which one? Well, the quality Mark exhibited when he first met Rachel, “We met at a fraternity party a couple times and whenever I talked to her while I was a freshman I always thought that she was a senior, so I kind of thought she was out of my league.” What Mark is telling us is that you need humility.

Humility, a quality that both Rachel and Mark exhibit, is a prerequisite not just for recognizing how pivotal relationships can be in our lives, but a prerequisite for any learning. After all, if you think you are perfect and know everything already, why try to learn?

So, Rachel and Mark, what we wish for you is that you continue to be each other’s “person”, and continue to learn from each other. Continue to think about each other the way Erin Parker writes about her “person”:

“I feel completely and utterly indebted to you for the part you’ve played in my life, but what’s even greater is that I know you’d say the same. What you do for me is exactly what I’d do for you, and that’s what sets us apart... We do for each other because we want to, never for something in return. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t feel overwhelmingly grateful that you’re on my side.”

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Nothing in Life That Feels More Right to Me

Saturday evening, Lorca Smetana and I co-officiated Sara and Pete’s wedding ceremony, at the Yellowstone Club, in Big Sky, Montana. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Some of you have been to Montana before, and a few of you, like Lorca, live here. So, this magnificent view might be something you are used to. Having spent the last 14 years of my life in Dallas, the Big D, and having never been here, in Big Sky, before, allow me to just say, wow! Northeast Texas is fairly flat, and we have pretty much covered as much of it as we could in concrete, and we have a lot more of that stuff available to us. Y’all here in Montana seem to be differently inclined.

This view being what it is, if someone asked you why this couple chose this location, a verbal response might not even be necessary. You could just snap a picture with your phone and text it to them. Asked and answered. However, if you know anything about these two and their relationship, you know there is a deeper answer. This type of setting is really symbolic of Sara and Peter’s relationship, from the very start. Listen to what Sara says:

“From the beginning it felt easy and it felt right. I was completely myself and it felt great... After our first dinner, we randomly went clubbing (which I never do), and just had the best night together. I realized quickly that we had so much in common and that we both could just go with the flow and were always up for an adventure.”

It sounds so, what’s the word I am looking for? It’s on the tip of my tongue... Hmmm... Ah, well, it’ll come back to me... Listen to Peter’s description of that very beginning of their relationship: “So we met for dinner, I don't remember exactly what we talked about, but we had a great conversation, and everything seemed to just be natural.” That’s the word I was looking for, natural. Kind of like this setting Sara and Peter brought us all to today!

The beauty of nature is that unlike the concrete kingdoms many of us live in, it is here not because of anything we have done. It preceded not only us as individuals, but our very species. We can admire it, we can protect it, we can affirm it, but we are not its cause. This wedding celebration is much the same. We are here not as a cause of this union, one or two Facebook friends 4.5 years ago notwithstanding. We are here to admire, protect and affirm what these two lovers choose to do today.

Finally, this setting is so apt because the natural nature, if you will, of Sara and Peter’s relationship has pervaded their relationship to this very day, and it characterizes the reason for this next step in that relationship.

I always ask every couple not only why they want to get married, but why now. Sara’s answer is, “I want to marry him now because there’s nothing in life that feels more right to me.” And Peter further clarifies, “It is a large milestone, but I see it more as a progression then a start or an end of something. Getting married just affirms what Sara and I already have going together.”

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Maybe All We Need is Just a Little Faith

Saturday afternoon, I officiated a celebration of McKenna and Michael’s marriage, at the Southridge Lakes Clubhouse, in Southlake, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the things that most fascinated me about McKenna and Michael’s relationship is their different paths in life, that eventually brought them together. Roll back the tape, and it’s not at all obvious that we stand with them here today. What are the odds of this girl from Fresno and this boy from Southlake, meeting in Italy, becoming friends, and eventually, back stateside, becoming a lot more than friends, leading them to this very celebration?

Interestingly, when I was writing this ceremony, I just happened to be listening to “Destiny” by Jim Brickman, which I had not heard for years. He asks the same question:

What if I never knew
What if I never found you
I'd never have this feeling in my heart
How did this come to be
I don't know how you found me…

Being the nice Jewish boy that he is, Jim actually answers this, unwittingly, with an answer from the Talmud, the foundational book of Judaism. (That’s right, it’s not the Bible, actually; the foundational book of Judaism is the Talmud!)

The Talmud tells us that 40 days prior to the formation of an embryo, a heavenly voice proclaims, “The daughter of so and so, shall marry so and so.” Or as Jim puts it:

… You’re my destiny
You and I were meant to be
With all my heart and soul
I give my love to have and hold
And as far as I can see
You were always meant to be my destiny

Essentially, Jewish tradition tells us that, yes, McKenna and Michael were destined, from before they were even born, to stand with us here today. There is actually a word for this in Yiddish, bashert, which means “meant to be”, or match made in heaven.” Is that incredible or what?

Incidentally, if you continue to listen to the song, Jim, I am sure unwittingly, reflects something that we find not in the Jewish tradition, but in Mormon theology, where marriage is, “for time and all eternity”:

I wanted someone like you
Someone that I could hold on to
And give my love until the end of time
But forever was just a word
Something I'd only heard about
But now you’re always there for me
When you say forever I'll believe

Pretty wild, huh?

So, what was it that did the trick for McKenna and Michael? We need not guess. McKenna tells us: “Since I was little, I knew exactly what I wanted to find in my future husband… I knew I wanted someone who was always kind and gentle, and that I could depend on for anything. I knew I wanted someone who loved God more than he loved me.”

This fascinated me, because it reminded me of a story from the Midrash. The Midrash is not a book, but a genre of Jewish literature. The Ancient Rabbis in the Midrash fill in gaps in the Biblical narrative. One of the most dramatic moments in the soap opera that makes up the latter part of Genesis, is when Jacob, who thought his favorite son, Joseph, was dead, gets to see him, again. The teenager he thought long lost, twenty-two years prior, is now the sagely viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, the god-king of the mightiest country on earth.

It is a very emotional moment. The Rabbis tell us the strangest thing, though. They say that right before they embrace, Jacob recites the Shema, the proclamation that is first and last on the lips of devout Jews every day; the same words that are supposed to be the final words uttered by every Jew, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Through this legend, the Rabbis wish to express the idea that McKenna expresses, that the love of God must precede everything.

Even if you are not a Mormon, not a Jew, and yes, not even a theist, this is an important idea. It is paramount that your values, your beliefs, your convictions precede everything. And, guess what, THAT makes you even more lovable! That makes you even more ready, in Michael’s words, to “take on all of life’s adventures together.”

And in the final words of Jim Brickman’s song, he speaks of embracing his beloved and loving her, “with all my heart and soul,” the exact phrase used in the second verse of the Shema. However, once again, he precedes that with these words, “Maybe all we need is just a little faith…”

And, then Jim unites the two complementary ideas we started with, one from the Jewish faith and one from the Mormon faith, which come together in McKenna and Michael’s union:

I believe that love will find a way
Baby you’re my destiny
You and I were meant to be
With all my heart and soul
I give my love to have and hold
And as far as I can see
From now until eternity
You were always meant to be
My destiny