Perhaps this is the kind, compassionate, attentive space where “loving your fellow as yourself” is actually possible.
About Rabbi Elazar Bloom, LMFT
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Entries by Rabbi Elazar Bloom, LMFT
There is a lot of talk about “mindfulness” and its benefits. One benefit that I appreciate and haven’t seen given a lot of air time:
Awareness of and friendly attention to my own inner experience at any given moment protects me from being drawn into the feelings, moods and states of other people, which (by default) I am likely to desirously FUSE with or aggressively REJECT.
With awareness to inner experience, space opens up – space for me and space for him.
My grandparents were married in a DP camp following WW2. They both had just endured unspeakable losses including the murder of my grandfather’s first wife and children and my grandmother’s time with Mengele in Auschwitz. She was 17, he closer to 30. They married to survive. They married to fight off the loneliness and the pain of devastating loss and trauma. They married because that’s what Jews have done throughout our long history – rebuild from the ashes. And their relationship worked.
How did their relationship work?
It worked because it functioned with a very clear purpose – they needed each other to survive. Their roles were clearly defined and everyone did their job with a clarity of how important each was to the overall success of the project. They did not talk about their vulnerabilities, they did not talk about their fears or their longings. Not that they didn’t have them (we all do), they may not have been aware of them (likely) and even if they were, marriage was certainly not the place for those discussions. Who had time when there are so many more immediate pressing needs like physical survival?
In many ways, I long for the simplicity and functionality of that type of union, but gratefully it’s no longer available. With basic needs continuously and generously met, blessed with material ease and comfort, emotional and psychological longings come to the surface and this complicates matters. While caring for each other’s physical needs is more straightforward (it fosters clear role delineation and complementarity (he provides financially, she takes care of the household and children).
This is much more challenging with emotional and psychological needs for a straight forward reason:
- Nobody can really be responsible for another’s emotional well-being.
- Responsibility for my emotional experience lies with me alone. I can CHOOSE to invite you to share that space with me but you cannot ever fix anything inside me. You can respond with your very presence, care and attention, but expecting that you will fulfill, solve, heal my emotional needs and I yours, NEVER works. It ONLY leads to pain and dissatisfaction.
So, while the survival pattern that worked for my grandparents really DID work for them, it will never work for my wife and I. Because of them, we are now blessed to be able to think about our individual emotional and psychological needs and figure out how to create an even DEEPER relationship as we learn how to share that space together. It will never be in the way that worked for them and to them I am grateful.
Can you perceive the divine ember hidden in everything, in everyone?
Can you open up your mouth and fan it with your breath of Life?
At least..please, can you hold back from spitting on and extinguishing it?
In a couples counseling session, the husband was challenged by his wife to name something that he frequently does to show his love for her.
He said: “What do you mean, everyday, I wake up, I work my a– off to provide, to try and give you a life that feels good to you!”
And she, the perfect response:
“Yeah, but you would do that anyway…even if we weren’t together.”
Immediately, he went from anger to deep sadness, sunk into his chair, withdrew and went silent.
She was right, he would still work. But what she did not understand, because he could not put words to it, was that, yes, he would still work to make money
But It would mean something totally different.
It’s often hard for men to explain to their wives what they “mean to them”, not because they don’t mean much, but because..
Their wives make EVERYTHING they do, actually mean something.
That’s a hard (maybe even frightening) thing for a man to put into words.
When he was very young, at times, our oldest son would hit me. I remember how hard this was as a new parent. I did not take it well and responded poorly, often with anger; driven by the fear of “what’s wrong with him?”, worse, “what’s wrong with ME?”
My experience is that the single most challenging aspect of being a parent is noticing a child’s pain (beneath whatever confusing outwardly expression it is being expressed as) and loving him there.
We begin telling the story of the Exodus acknowledging our humble beginnings, as idol worshippers, as slaves. Why? Because the origin and essence of God’s love for us is HERE. In the strange space where our pain seeks confounding expression as arrogance, apostasy, hopelessness, helplessness, anger and dissatisfaction. HERE, God hears the truth of our distress and allows the faithful question of “Why” to be heard; even when it cannot be articulated well. As God listens with loving ears to our most undesirable self, we develop the strength to express our wound more clearly, more confidently, knowing that it is being heard. Knowing He will continue to love us no matter how (poorly) we show up.
This fosters a newfound security; one where our bond is not based on performance or behavior. Not dependent on being “good”. It was, it is, and it will always be. It is here that we begin; everything else a commentary on that eternal Truth.
Yesterday evening I was irritated, with my wife, with our kids; snappy, uncomfortable. I couldn’t trace it. Nothing especially stressful happened at work, dinner was hot and delicious, where the heck was this coming from?
I continued to feel uneasy the rest of the evening and finally, in the shower that night it hit me..
The wine order.
Earlier in the day I had placed an order for wine to be sent to my in-laws in Charlotte, NC, where we will be spending Passover. We have spent just about every Passover for the past 18 years with them and with my brother and sister-in law,
Sarah Dukes, Yudi and their family. This year Yudi will not be there.
With that realization, I became sad, really sad. Ofcourse I was sad, how could I not be. And as I allowed myself to feel the sadness, the irritation subsided. There was softness, vulnerability and I began to feel a deep connection to all of the people that I was previously annoyed with. Once again, the world came into focus. I was able to apologize for my abrasive behavior and share what I was truly experiencing. What if I wasn’t able to make sense out of the experience? What if I wasn’t able to connect my feelings to the wine order and all that it represented to me? I probably would have continued to hurt the people I love for the rest of the evening and perhaps beyond, causing them pain and still not feeling any better.
In thinking about this and connecting it to the Passover holiday, I realize why it is so important to TELL THE STORY. We tell the story so that we have a clear, coherent narrative of who we are; where we have been and as a result, where we are headed. Without it, as a people with a long and often painful history, we would wander into aimlessness and confusion, rubbing up abrasively, hurting, rather than helping others.
Reacting, rather than RESPONDING to our experiences.
Telling the story keeps the narrative alive so that we have the ability to continue to show up, come what may, and live in connection with our deepest values and sense of divine truth and purpose. That capacity elevates and transforms the experience to resonate with those values as we light the way to a better future.
So, returning to my small narrative. My feelings of sadness and pain connected to Yudi’s death; understanding what his loss means to me, will allow me to smile warmly like he did, to lovingly reward the kids with chocolate after the 4 questions like he did, to dig into deep reserves of patience for family and guests like he did, to sing and pray passionately and share words of Torah like he did, and to be there for his family, not like he did, but like I can.
Because his deepest values are my values and that is why I feel the pain of his absence, and that is why he WILL be with us this Passover.
L’chaim Yudi, to your freedom and to mine.
*picture is from a pre-passover meal, a bunch of years ago.
“Where there is no memory, there has been death of the heart”
I often sit with someone and they tell me that they do not remember much from their younger years. That despite having had a “good childhood”, the particular memories remain elusive. It appears that the beautiful person in front of me has had to turn off his heart. Emotionally lonely and unseen, the heart goes into hiding. It is too painful to remain open. When this happens, the world becomes more dull, more gray.
And the heart still hopes. Those longings often come out sideways: Blame, pleasure seeking and people pleasing are some of the ways the heart’s signals are sent out “sideways”. The heart cannot send a clear signal from exile, it’s too risky.
Trust that underneath the anger and blame there is sadness, behind the pleasure seeking is a longing for love and connection, and hidden in the people pleasing a fear of loneliness and rejection. Trust that the heart is close and that a willingness to feel the pain, fear and longing will lead you directly into its warm embrace.
In that embrace you will create new memories, some joyous and some painful, all of them very alive. That experience is waiting for you, right now.
At the very end of the marriage ceremony, the last thing a Jewish bride and groom do before becoming husband and wife is shatter a glass.
The common explanation of this custom is to bring to mind the exile and destruction of the Temple even at the very height of one’s joy.
And perhaps there is something deeper as well. Perhaps the last message the fledgling couple is being sent is:
Your marriage, your commitment to each other, is strong enough to contain brokenness.
It can hold the brokenness WITHIN you and the brokenness and pain BETWEEN you when you cannot find one another.
If you allow, not only can it hold it, it can heal it as well.
And that may be why you are getting married in the first place.
There is no such thing as “Unconditional Love”
Love is by definition unconditional and can be nothing else.
If it’s conditional it is not love, it is approval.
One of the Hebrew word for grave is “Sheol”. The 3 letter root of this word שאל is the same as the word “borrow”.
Every time I define myself by another person, every time I borrow my identity from your opinion, from your judgment, I turn on myself and step into the grave of a borrowed life.
Living a life borrowed from others is a betrayal of the divine life force that is yours and yours alone.
I wish to allow myself and you to live in full alignment and connection with that life force.