Occasionally I meet with couples determined to work on their marriage. My first response is to tell them not to.
I don’t say this because because their marriage is particularly strong. I say it because “work” is a terrible way to think about how we grow closer to the person we love.
I happen to love my “work,” but words matter, and the term “work” is, for better or worse, associated with a burden, with drudgery, with arduous effort. We work during the day so we can enjoy the evening. We work all week so we can savor the weekend. Who wants to add more “work?”
Less Work, More Play
To think of a marriage as needing work is to think about it as a burden. This view rooted in traditional imagery—just think of the ball and chains metaphor for marriage popularized in the nineteenth century. But it is not productive or helpful.
At a recent funeral where I officiated, a family member spoke. As he began, tears started to flow.
Then he started apologizing. His eulogy alternated between sobs, beautiful words, and apologies.
What he did is not uncommon. At a funeral and in my study, people begin to cry and then apologize for doing so. They see tears as a sign of weakness or vulnerability.
In truth, however, tears are a sign of strength. They are a sign of life. They are a sign of real feeling. We cry because we are alive. We cry because we care.
A few years ago I was putting my oldest daughter to sleep. She asked me what a rabbi does.
Before I had the chance to answer fully, she told me she thought the answer was. “Here’s what you do, daddy,” she said. “Blah Blah Blah…God…Blah Blah Blah.”
After I finished laughing, I told her about some other parts of the work–teaching, pastoring, counseling, and so on. But listening to her words crystallized the essential task: I search for God everywhere, and I listen to voices of wisdom.
She is one of those voices, but there are many more.
Richard Weaver once wrote that the “trouble with humanity is that it forgets to read the minutes of the last meeting.” We are wise to consider his words as we think about the nuclear deal with Iran.
Others have spoken more knowledgeably about its security shortcomings and lack of safeguards. My concern is different. It is captured in a story from my colleague Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin. He spoke with his close friend, a pastor, who adamantly supports the deal. He said to him:
The legendary Golda Meir once revealed Israel’s secret weapon—the reason this tiny state survived amidst a sea of countries committed to its destruction.
It was not the nuclear arsenal. It was not the military training. “It’s simple,” she said, “we have no other place to go.”
That insight epitomizes why Israelis today are terrified by the nuclear deal the United States and other world powers has reached with Iran. A country whose leaders routinely call for the destruction of Israel may well have the capacity to build a nuclear weapon, if not now, then in 10 to 15 years, as the deal spells out.
Can’t Israel defend itself? Of course it can. Yet, a potentially nuclear Iran undermines an entire dream and vision.
Michael Oren’s book Ally has unleashed a wave of anger at the former Israeli Ambassador to the United States.
In the wake of his severe criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy, respected Jewish voices have said he has no appreciation or understanding of American Jews. Several have pointed to his renunciation of US citizenship in order to become an Israeli politician as clear evidence of his underlying disdain for his native country.
Others describe his view of American Jews as naive and teeming with “amateur psychoanalysis” and “cheap gossip.” One writer in the Jewish Forward said Oren’s book should be in the “self-help” section rather than in history or current affairs.
Why The Anger?
What explains this vitriolic reaction by American Jews? Oren’s book is both nuanced and empathetic toward opposing arguments. He is a highly-respected historian.
One can certainly disagree with his conclusions, but many of the responses have crossed the line to expressions of personal disdain. This hyperbolic reactions proves one of the arguments Oren makes.
American Jews do feel a distance from Israel. They lack an emotional connection. (You can see the statistics that prove Oren’s argument here)
I didn’t become a rabbi when I finished seminary. I became a real rabbi after my first eulogy. Nothing can totally prepare you for the task of comforting mourners and making sense of death.
And nothing better teaches us what makes for a meaningful and well-lived life.
At its best, a eulogy is a work of art. It takes the events of a person’s life and reveals its beauty and meaning. It gives us a glimpse of the holy amidst the commonplace.
Jews don’t tend to have mega-churches. First of all, we’re a small population. The Sunday attendance at one mega-church could well be greater than the entire Jewish population of a mid-sized city.
That was true when I spoke at a mega-church in May in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Jewish population of the city does not match the more than 2,000 people gathered there that morning.
I was at the church to talk about my book on Passover for Christians. But I was also there to build bridges. (The video of the sermon is here.)
It has been said that the task of a rabbi is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Today we are all afflicted.
We are afflicted by the horrific murder of nine people gathered for a Bible study at a church in South Carolina. We are afflicted by the plague of violent racism rearing its ugly head in a House of God.
All of victims were black. All were members of an historic black church. All of them had family, friends, loved ones grieving in shock and horror. Four of them were ministers.