Entries by Rabbi Elazar Bloom, LMFT

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?!

(more…)

One Matzah, One Process

Matzah, fills you up and keeps you satisfied. Jews ate a lot of it as slaves in Egypt.  Strangely enough, God instructed the Jews to eat that very same food on the night before their long awaited redemption. One matzah, two experiences; slavery and freedom. But is it really? Can you experience victory without the pain of loss? Can you appreciate the sweetness of sunshine without the numbing of darkness. Can you enjoy the expansiveness of laughter without the constriction of sadness? In this polarized, temporal existence, these are all 2 sides of one coin, 2 halves of one matzah, and 2 stages in a much deeper process. Until the time when the source of both experiences is revealed we continue to commit ourselves to the process, step by step, taking it all in and experiencing every moment for what it truly is.

Of Hooves, Paws and the Play of Forms

A ongoing question I ask myself: “Am I losing myself in everyday events and circumstances? Am I too immersed, too bound to the “forms” that never cease to occupy the space of my existence?” When situations hook me into emotional experiences that narrow my perspective and overwhelm my available resources, I know the balance is off. Looking for an appropriate lens to moderate this experience, I recently came across an idea from the Lubavitcher Rebbe that illuminated this crucial area of living for me.

Interestingly, the insight does not come from the mystical dimensions of which he was a great master, but from the mundane arena of kosher animals. Kosher animals are identified by 2 signs: They Chew their cud and they have completely split hooves.

In response to my ongoing dilemma of balancing engagement in the world with presence of being, both of these “kosher” qualities are relevant, but here I will focus on the hooves.  An animal with no hoof, with a paw (like a dog) for example, gives the beast direct, intimate and constant contact with the ground. A “paw like” existence is to completely immerse oneself in the world and its constantly changing forms. There is no space, no separation between form and being, which can result in an experience of feeling lost and disoriented.

On the other hand, animals with a complete hoof (like a donkey), or even a partially split hoof (like a camel), indicate that there is too much separation, too much distance between the being and the forms it interacts with. This divide prevents the individual form engaging meaningfully with the content of his or her life. Human beings have the capacity to transform their environment and a superficial, inauthentic engagement in this process (symbolized by the division of a hoof) prevents this from happening.

The balance to be sought; Maintain a hoof (a separation between form and being) and yet, have that separation be completelysplit, allowing for significant and meaningful interaction with the world of form.  If you find that you are losing yourself in life’s situations or alternatively, that your contact with the world is superficial and meaningless, you may want to question how “kosher” it is. 

Here are a few suggestions to maintain the balance:

  1. Keep yourself rooted in being. Start and end your day with a period of prayer, mindfulness meditation or journal reflection.
  2. Set your phone alarm several times a day and when it goes off, take 3-4 conscious breaths. Just notice that you are breathing….in and then out. This reconnects you with being, and helps you contact the present moment experience.
  3. Have regular conversations with a trusted mentor, friend or coach. Check in to realign your actions with your values. This ensures that you are authentically engaged with your daily life and not just “going through the motions”.

24 Hours of Presence.

Jon Kabat-Zinn describing mindfulness…

“…This is what stopping can do. There is nothing passive about it. And when you decide to go, it’s a different kind of going because you stopped. The stopping actually makes the going more vivid, richer, more textured. It helps keep all the things we worry about and feel inadequate about in perspective. It gives us guidance.”

But he could have been describing the weekly oasis of Shabbat. 24 hours of presence.

The Joyful Parent (Adar – Pekudei)

In communication there are:

  1. The words we use.
  2. The underlying message we transmit with our facial gestures, body language and tone.

In most relationships and especially in relating to our children, the second is much more significant as it transmits the emotional dimension of our message. Because emotion is the language of bonding and connection, regardless of what we say, if we say it in a positive way that reflects our love and closeness, the child will be able to listen.  A joyful parent is an effective parent because he or she is able to nurture the child from a positive state which is filled with energy and vitality.

3 takeaways from this:

  1. Self Care – Take the time to manage your own state with enjoyable activities and experiences so that you can be a positive joyful presence for your child.
  2. Self Control – Try not embark on any significant behavioral redirections or modifications when you are not in a positive state.
  3. Self Disclosure – If you do discipline your child in a negative, angry state and hurt him/her in the process, take responsibility for the damage.  Once you calm down, apologize, share that you were not in a good frame of mind and while the lesson is still important, you wish you would have transmitted it differently

Crushed to Illuminate (Tetzaveh)

“..They shall take to you, pure olive oil that is crushed, to illuminate…” (Exodus 27:20)

Teaching your child how to deal with challenges and difficulties is one of the most important and difficult things a parent has to do.  Our inclination is to rescue, but our responsibility is to guide and support.  A beautiful analogy that can help us understand the benefit of helping our children work through challenging times is the symbol of the olive.

In order for the olive to reveal its precious oil which can be a source of light and luminescence, the olive must be crushed.  Challenges are painful and we empathize with his experience. Yet, as parents, our responsibility is to help our child frame it as a call to respond from a deep place within his being. The goal of the “crushing” is to release the “oil” rooted deep in his soul and “illuminate”; to grow and share that newfound strength with others.

A Parent’s Honor: A Child’s Privilege (Mishpatim)

“One who curses his mother or father…..” (Exodus 21:15)

The Torah takes the honoring of parents very seriously. Some parents are not comfortable in this role. They don’t feel they deserve such honor and don’t want to impose these requirements on their children. While sounding noble, such an attitude is destructive. Parents should remember 2 things:

  1. Your honor as a parent has nothing to do with you personally, but the role and responsibility you have been entrusted with by G-d.
  2. Honoring you is your child’s mitzvah and is for him. For you to disregard it is to rob him of the opportunity and harm him psychologically and spiritually.

Please be firm and insist that your child honor you (and your spouse), some day he will thank you for it.

10 Suggestions for Encouraging a Jewish “Growth” Mindset in (ourselves and) Our Children:

EMPATHIZE AND MODEL  

1. Be open with them regarding your own past struggles and share the work and the process that led you to overcome the challenge.

2. Admit that there are (many) things that you still struggle with every day, haven’t yet mastered, and continue to work on and improve in.

NORMALIZE AND EMPOWER

3. Normalize the struggle by explaining that God created us with “competing voices” and that every time we overcome the self- centered voice and educate it with the God centered voice we fulfill the reason we are here.

4. Help them identify their own unique inner struggle(s) and strategize together how to overcome the challenge or temptation. (If this is an area you are familiar with you can be especially helpful).

5. Embrace the mission. You never “graduate and finish” but you can keep on learning, growing and fulfilling the will of God.

6. When a mistake is made – DO NOT JUDGE, SHAME OR “GUILT TRIP”. Give them space and perspective. Help them see the mistake as an opportunity to grow closer to God by learning from it and improving.

PRAISE THE WORK NOT THE PERSON

7. Instead of praising them as “Tzadikim” (Saints) when they do the right thing – Praise their effort in overcoming challenges that are especially difficult for them.

TRUST IN THEM AND THEIR PROCESS

8.Their connection to God is innate and at the core of their being. It is our job to encourage and help them define what this means to them in their everyday life.  For example, rebelling is an understandable response to what they perceive as an empty and shallow religious experience.

9. Encourage them to think with nuance and sensitivity. Distance from “black and white” categorical terms like religious/not religious, good kid/bad kid, especially when discussing spiritual issues.

10. Embody for them God’s faith in us. God believes in us infinitely more than we believe in Him and sincerely wants us to give it all we got.

 

 

 

 

Consequences? First, an Alternative.

Moses is sent to redeem the Jewish nation from Egypt. Despite their lowly spiritual state he is not instructed by God to rebuke them or insist they change their ways before they can be taken out. It’s time and this is their destiny. It is only later on, when they are given their first divine commandment that they are warned not to engage in the pagan practices they had become habituated to in Egypt.

Similarly, as parents, when we seek to help our children and encourage them to change their behavior we must first communicate and show them what we WANT THEM TO DO. Only after that has been clearly established can we reinforce that expectation with an appropriate consequence.