Entries by Rabbi Elazar Bloom, LMFT

In the Field, for You. (Re’eh)

This Shabbat we welcome the Jewish month of Elul. Elul is the last month of the Jewish year and a time of preparation for the upcoming High Holidays. The Chassidic masters describe Elul as a time when “the King is in the field”; God figuratively leaves His inner chamber, His palace, His royal city and comes to be together with each of us, where we are – “in the field”.

This is a most beautiful analogy to share with our children, who are naturally and innocently attuned to its message: Hashem wants to be close to us, as we are, in our dirty ‘work clothes’. We don’t have to be perfect; we don’t even have to strive for perfection. We prepare for the new year by showing up and recognizing how Hashem deeply desires a relationship with each of us and therefore comes closer. It is up to us only to recognize it and respond.

Keep It Simple (Va’etchanan)

In this week’s portion Moshe reviews the experience of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. Often translated as the “10 commandments” the aseret hadibrot, given then, are more accurately translated as the “10 Principles”. In fact, there are a total of 613 commandments that we are potentially bound to by the Torah. Yet, G-d chose 10 principles to focus on at the moment of revelation. In fact, the later prophets and sages pared the guiding principles down further to 3 and even 1!

When educating our children as to what constitutes our family values,  we should keep it simple. We should not need to make up a rule for every situation that arises. Rather, the values and principles that govern all members of the family should be absolutely, glaringly clear so that the child can then learn to apply these principles to the small everyday decisions that he makes. This gives him the ability to eventually integrate and incorporate the family value structure on his own, even when you are not around to guide him.

3 Steps to do this:

  1. Clearly articulate your core family values (try and keep it to 3).
  2. Communicate them and use opportunities to illustrate them whenever possible.
  3. Hold everyone (including yourself) responsible to them equally and consistently.

Marriage on The Moon

“Tu B’Av” is the greatest Jewish holiday most Jews have never heard of. It’s the day that our tradition openly addresses the longing for of a loving, intimate relationship.

Like other holidays (Sukot, Passover), it coincides with a full moon. Unlike, those other holidays, the full moon of Tu B’Av follows just a few days after the saddest and most painful day of the Jewish calendar – Tisha B’Av.

Therefore it’s light offers a unique glow; one that emerges from the pit of darkness and whispers: “Pain is difficult but it is not the end, it is only a step, part of a divine, deepening, transformative process which we call growth.

No wonder our tradition connects this day to the power and commitment of marriage. Pain and disconnection do happen, but only for the sake of the light and love they can lead to.

The Longing of Tisha B’Av Afternoon

As we move into the afternoon hours of this sad day our strength grows. With space to breathe, we consider the Eternal longing for intimacy and closeness and with that thought we reconnect with our own.
 
We begin to acknowledge our own loneliness and desire for closeness with God, our spouse, our parents, our children, our siblings, our neighbor.
 
We ask – “What’s holding me back?”
 
And the answer is always rooted in the past and the future.
I was once innocent and open but I was hurt and I am scared it will happen again. So protecting ourselves with the walls of loneliness makes sense.
 
And yet there is a part of us that wants to risk again. That knows that while pain is never pleasant, it’s not the problem. The problem is fear. Our fear of acknowledging the pain and the shame it seems to point at.
 
So, with the comfort and joy of knowing that we (and I truly mean All of us) are longing for the same thing, we commit to bravely risk, to trust, that despite the resentments of the past and the anxieties of the future we will we turn to, not away.

The Genesis of Couples Therapy

The Torah uses very few words to say an awful lot. It’s view on marriage is famously condensed into one brief verse:

עַל־כֵּן֙ יַֽעֲזָב־אִ֔ישׁ אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וְאֶת־אִמּ֑וֹ וְדָבַ֣ק בְּאִשְׁתּ֔וֹ וְהָי֖וּ לְבָשָׂ֥ר אֶחָֽד׃

“Therefore, a man should leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, so that they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

That’s it. And yet, it is in these words that I believe several effective couples therapy models find their origin. For example, a major (if not the) major tenet of Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT)  is that our subconscious seeks a marriage partner that will help us heal childhood wounds.  To illustrate: If a man grew up in a home where he was criticized by one (or both) of his primary caretakers, his subconscious will seek someone who is critical and judgmental with the secret hope that by putting himself in that same environment, he will be able to heal the pain he experienced as a child. In fact, the subconscious uses some clever tricks to make the match happen, because if he marries someone supportive and accepting he won’t have that essential opportunity.

So, according to this theory, we all grow up and eventually become independent of our families of origin but that does not mean that the work of childhood is over: “A man should leave his father and mother…” and there is more! He should then “cling to his wife”! His wife, his new family, is the opportunity to deal with unfinished business – at least that’s what his subconscious tells him.

But what about the rest of the verse -“so that they will become one flesh” – how does that follow? If anything, it seems that marrying someone that is likely to raise core, childhood issues will not pave the way to “becoming one flesh”, but rather, to the pain of separation and divorce?!

If you wish to continue to explore this question further, click here.

The Genesis of Couples Therapy – Part 2

Last post we were left with a question but first a little background. Genesis tells us that the goal of marriage is for a man to leave his mother and father and attach himself to his wife. I proposed that Imago Relationship Therapy (IRT), of which I am a strong proponent, finds its primary theoretical roots in this biblical source. Imago assumes that our subconscious is on a mission to find an intimate partner that will allow us to recreate our childhood experience and heal its wounds.  We leave our parents home only to cleave to our spouse who will offer us a chance to repair our painful childhood experiences.

The question we were left with was: How does this work? If I am correct in connecting Imago with the first mention of marriage in the Torah than the result should be (as the verse continues) that husband and wife become “one flesh”. With the understanding of “one flesh” as creating a relationship where they feel deeply and essentially connected to one another, how might marrying someone that raises the painful issues of childhood lead to this connection? It seems to be more of a recipe for divorce!

This question is actually directly addressed by the Imago theory itself. The gist of it is: Yes, if you enter marriage thinking that you have found love and will live happily ever after, then the subconscious is playing a dirty trick on you.  It is planting minefields that are just waiting to explode into power struggles and marital strife. After all, each partner is basically using the other to meet a very deep need that:

A. Their spouse is unaware of.

B. Their spouse (without conscious effort) is unable to meet.

But if you enter marriage with an awareness that marriage is work.  That together you are creating an environment of safety and devotion to one another, with empathy for who your spouse is and all she has experienced (as a child and beyond) then you are on the way to truly connecting to and even healing one another.

Try and develop an awareness that your spouse was not born under the chupah with you, but rather that she still wants to heal and grow. Further, she chose you and is looking to you to help her with that because you are the one that can.  By creating safety, seeking connection and looking to grow and heal, a couple can truly become one flesh as they were intended to be.

In the next post I hope to discuss the connection between the idea of a Bashert (“Soul Mate”) and the subconscious search for repair. 

Remember When…(Matot-Masei)

After 40 years, the Jewish nation is on the cusp of entering into the Holy Land and God reviews with them the 42 stops of their long and difficult journey through the desert. God seems to want to communicate that despite all that they have been through together, He did not abandon them. Similarly, as they inhabit Israel and enter a more mundane existence, God reassures the nascent nation that He will continue to be intimately by their side.

When our children encounter difficulties or are anxious about an upcoming experience, we can remind them of previous similar experiences and how they were able to get through them. Regardless of what the previous strategy was, we help them see that they have been here before and can work through this too. Using personal history as context helps them draw on their inner resources to do it again, and perhaps this time, even more effectively.

 

Cover Up and…Connect?

“And she lifted her eyes and saw Isaac….she descended from the camel….took the scarf and covered herself.” (Genesis 24:64-65)

To understand the Torah’s approach to any given topic, the place to start is by analyzing the first instance that topic appears. So, Isaac and Rebecca, which is the Torah’s first description of a meeting between husband and wife can help us understand the Torah’s perspective on marriage.

Why do people get married? What are they looking for when they “take the plunge”?

I posit that they are looking for a deep, intimate connection with another human being that only the commitment of marriage can provide. If we accept that, the next question is: “What promotes connection and what cripples it?”

Sight, the visual sensory experience curbs our ability to connect, while listening deeply facilitates it. When you see something, you think: “I’ve got it”! Your eyes have taken a picture and they tell you: “What you see is real. What you see is truth.” The problem is, it’s not. Our visual perception is constantly misleading us to conclusions that are inaccurate. And even if a conclusion is partially accurate, it’s not the whole truth, and a partial truth is really a lie.

Relying primarily upon one’s sight is most damaging when relating to another human being. When you look at a woman, you are not seeing her for who she truly is, but rather as an extension of your visual perception.

Therefore, the more you rely upon your visual sense to determine the nature of the relationship, the less of a relationship it is.  Who are you relating to? An image that you yourself just produced!

Listening on the other hand is a much different experience. In order to really listen, you have to set yourself aside and create space for that input.  To put it in other words: While seeing begins with you and is nothing more than a projection, listening begins with the other and focuses on their reality. Relationships are thus bolstered by deep listening and handicapped by an emphasis on the visual.

When Rebecca noticed her future husband, she got down from the camel and covered herself with a scarf, both acts of modesty. Why? Because marriage, if it is going to accomplish its goal of facilitating deep and meaningful connection between two human beings demands modesty.  Modesty turns down the visual sensory experience and creates a more neutral space where two people can begin to listen to and truly experience one another. They connect.

Modesty is not prudish. Rather, it serves the couple as they create a marriage permeated by deep passionate connection on the emotional and physical level. Modesty creates a shared space that the couple can inhabit safely, listen, be heard, and become one.

 

Getting Married? You Need to Know This.

A young couple on the precipice of getting married once asked me: “What is the most important thing that we need to know about marriage”?

I love questions like this. It forces me to put aside the “techniques” and tools that are often the merchandise of a marital therapist and delve into my fundamental beliefs about the project of marriage, its foundation and purpose.

To preface, in addressing this question I am speaking specifically about marriage in the traditional sense: Two people committed exclusively to one another for as long as they are able. Not “living together”, “dating”, “going out” or any variation thereof. Further, I am speaking about marriage based upon a deliberate choice that this is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, not a means to an end like wealth or citizenship (to name just a few of the many ulterior reasons people get “married”)

My most fundamental belief about marriage is: The person that you marry is the person that you were destined to marry. Always.

This is a belief. It is based on my understanding of the spiritual and psychological purpose of marriage. Beliefs are powerful motivators, and whether you believe that two individuals are destined for each other or not, you’re right!

The source of my belief is not primarily anecdotal experience but based on my understanding of Biblical text.

The Bible uses very few words to say an awful lot. It’s view on marriage is condensed into one brief verse:

“Therefore, a man should leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, so that they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

 

The verse is telling us three things:

  1. A man should leave his family of origin.
  2. A man should attach himself to his wife.
  3. This attachment should be so complete that they become one.

In order to truly understand the injunction of becoming one, we have to look at the story that precedes it, which can be summarized as follows:

God creates Adam, an androgynous human being, that cannot find a mate. Adam sees the other animals connecting and unsuccessfully tries to connect to them as well.  Seeing Adam’s distress and acknowledging that a state of loneliness is indeed undesirable, God performs a surgery and separates the female dimension from Adam and presents her to (what remains of) Adam, who is thrilled to finally find his soul mate, someone he can truly connect to on all levels.

Precisely at that point the Bible gives the above command regarding marriage. Therefore, my assumption is that “becoming one” in marriage is seeking unity on a physical, psychological and spiritual level. Two halves of one entity, striving to deeply connect and reclaim their original wholeness. That is the marital mission and the person that you marry is the one that you can accomplish this with. If you are willing to work at it.

The core belief that you have found, not just a great guy, but your husband. Not just someone you love, but your wife, is fundamental to your commitment to one another. This is the person with whom you can achieve the level of wholeness that is the raison d’etre of marriage.

If your guy is successful, sweet, kind, handsome, intelligent, funny, etc. that’s great, but good qualities alone do not make a marriage.  I promise you, there is someone out there that has all your guy’s qualities, and more. When the going gets tough, really tough (and it will), why settle, why struggle? What reason do you have to stay married to this guy (who is making you miserable) and not go search for another that has all his great qualities and more? AND the new guy won’t make you crazy!

But if he is your husband, the man you were supposed to marry, the other half of an ontological existence that you share, there is work to be done. The question becomes, not: “Who else is out there?” but “How do we figure this thing out? What’s getting in the way of our connection and how do we create the relationship that we have always wanted?”

Marriage is a beautiful, lofty ideal to strive for. If you believe in marriage, believe that the person you are marrying is not just a “great catch” but your husband. Believe that you were brought together by forces beyond your conscious mind and that the ulitimate goal you are working towards is the deepest connection humanly possible.

This faith will bolster you with the courage to push through hard times with the conviction that you will succeed. It will provide you with the energy you need to achieve the goal of marriage, to “become one flesh” and reunite two halves of one soul that have been longing for one another. Forever.

 

 

“Please Don’t Make Your Child Behave”

I was browsing the library when two children, a boy and a girl were running up and down the aisles of books playing a noisy and apparently very enjoyable game of tag. The elderly gentleman sitting on the other side of my laptop station got up and found mom who was at one of the library computers.

Are you their mom?” his question burned. “Yes”, the blond thirty something distractedly responded. A glare, and then: “Well, can’t you get your kids to behave?!

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