shalom bayit

             This post is dedicated in merit that Hershel ben Etya Sarah have a yeshuah.
By Shoshana Rosa

We all know that coming to the scene of matrimony with prior expectations is a recipe for disaster so why do people do it? I've never taken a poll on how many people tie the knot intending to tweak their spouses afterward; however, I recently questioned some married (and divorced) friends in an effort to gain incite into this mystery. Here are a couple of the answers that got me thinking

One of them, an old friend, said that she "tied the knot" at the tender age of twenty-one and had not given the idea much thought. Also, while she chose the man she married, much of the decision lay at the foot of her mother's urging her to accept him. It's likely that Sarah came into marriage expecting it to be as easygoing as she was. To an extent, it was. Her husband, on the other hand, came to the table full of expectations. Now, years after signing a get (divorce certificate), I asked where she thought she took a wrong turn. "I wasn't prepared for the person I married," she sighed. "He wanted things that didn't come to me naturally and neither of us was that great at communicating our needs. Over time, things fell apart." When I questioned her on the subject of expectations, she shrugged her shoulders, "I wanted a happy guy. My ex was really morose. I don't know what he wanted."

My next subject was a girl in her mid twenties. She is also on the verge of getting married. When I questioned her on the idea of marriage, her answer was a diplomatic one. "I've never been married so I don't know what it's like to be disappointed by a spouse. However, when it came to looking for a husband, I kept an eye out for a guy with good middos (character traits). I know I need consideration, someone who will listen and know how to communicate openly. If we do have any bumps, at least there will be someone in whom I can confide."      

 My third and last was also an older friend, one who has been married for over two decades. When I asked her about the ideal marriage she mentioned that after researching the matter, observing other peoples' marriages and experiencing her own, she concluded that the relationship between a husband and wife is meant to be a wholly selfless one. "We, as women, are supposed to build our husbands up. We need to respect and admire them. The focus needs to be on them." In a world of people who are almost totally self absorbed, this piece of advice struck me as inversely revolutionary. In his book Women's Wisdom famed author and Breslover Rabbi Shalom Arush reiterates this point by discussing how men and women should step into their ideal marriages with the full intent of fulfilling their individual roles as spouses. He places emphasis on building loving relationships because "Wherever there is no love between a male and female, and no unity, the Holy One Blessed be He (G-d) does not dwell. Even if the person is a pious individual, if he is in a place where there is no unity between male and female, Hashem (G-d) is not there." 
I want to go back to one point: I had used the phrase 'ideal marriage' but what if the spouse is less than ideal? I'd like to offer perspective with the following story: There was a certain Hasid who hated his wife; however, he could not write her off with a get (divorce certificate) since he had gotten a little drunk at the wedding and added several zeroes to the original amount that grooms must promise their future brides. He approached the Rebbe for advice, "What can I do? My wife's a shrew. How do I get rid of her?" The Rebbe stroked his beard, "There's a saying in the Talmud that if one makes a promise and does not keep it his wife will perish... Make an oath to donate two million dollars to the building of a shul (synagogue) in our neighborhood and when your promise isn't fulfilled, your wife will get sick and pass from this world." Then, he added, "Since it seems she has only a few months left to live, try to be a little nicer to her."  

Time passed and as the wife saw a radical change in her husband's attitude toward her, she too, began to mirror his behavior. Within a matter of months, their marriage was operating smoothly. Then, she got sick. Ashen faced, the Hasid ran to the Rebbe, "Rebbe! Rebbe!" he cried. "My wife is ill. What can I do to make her better?" The Rebbe smiled, "Donate two million dollars." 

While it is not easy thinking that you are the one making all the effort (do not doubt that your spouse is doing a lot -- you may not have noticed), the labor makes for a better marriage in the long run. I have met a remarkable amount of people who, over the years, weathered different moments only to arrive at a wonderful upswing together. After all, investment tastes sweeter than free gifts. In any case, don't forget that the rain may fall today but the sun will be out tomorrow.

What the Story of Pesach Means for Us Today

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah                                                               for her neshama.
By Samantha Hulkower

Even though we tell the same story every year on the first night of Pesach, there is always something new we can learn. When we are children it is a captivating tale, interesting enough to keep us at the table to hear what happens next to our ancestors. As we get older, perhaps we become more interested in the philosophical discussion of the four sons, or how Pharaoh's behavior at the expense of the Egyptian people could be seen in other leaders in the world today. There are many ways to view what is ultimately a simple, yet fantastic, part of Jewish history.
Pharaoh reading the news
For the uninitiated, here is an abridged version for you: The ruler of Egypt (or Mitzrayim in Hebrew), is paranoid about maintaining his power. When his advisers tell him that a leader will emerge from the enslaved Jewish people to bring them out of Egypt and to freedom, Pharaoh orders all baby Jewish boys be killed. We already learned how Miriam HaNaviah convinced the Jews to ignore Pharaoh's decree, and from this Moshe Rabbeinu, the predicted leader is born. Moshe actually grew up in Pharaoh's own palace, but after killing a cruel Egyptian taskmaster, had to flee. While in exile, God catches Moshe's attention through a burning bush and here Moshe begins his ultimate quest to lead the Jewish people to their freedom, albeit quite reluctantly. He returns to Egypt, and with the help of his brother Aharon, warns Pharaoh if he doesn't let the Jewish people leave, he's going to regret it. As we can guess, Pharaoh is nonplussed and the plagues begin. First the water turns into blood, then frogs get everywhere (literally), followed by lice, wild beasts attacking, the domesticated animals dying,  boils, hail that also happens to be on fire, locusts that eat whatever vegetation hadn't been destroyed by the hail, darkness so thick the Egyptians couldn't move, and finally the death of the first born in every family. By the end, his kingdom had been ruined and Pharaoh grants Moshe the ability to let the Jews leave. However, they are barely a few days out into the desert, on their way to Israel, when Pharaoh changes his mind and sends his chariots to recapture them. There is a dramatic showdown where the Jews are trapped between the Sea of Reeds and Pharaoh's army. Of course, at this point, God splits the sea, the Jews cross, and when Pharaoh's army tries to follow, the sea closes and that is the end of that.

One thing that is very special about Pesach is that the events all unfold in front of the entire nation of Israel. All other religions have more intimate gatherings when their spiritual leader has his communication with their god. In our case, the Pesach story happens, including all of the plagues and the splitting of the sea, happens in front of the entire nation, not to mention also in front of all of the Egyptians. It is for this reason that it is a mitzvah to remember every day that God took the Jewish people out of Egypt, to become a free nation in Israel. Because we (or our super duper great grand parents) were able to see the actions of God with their own eyes, it was easier for them to connect with Him. Today, we have so many distractions in the world and ways to rationally explain why there isn't a God (G-d forbid) it can be hard to remember what we were able to see so clearly at this very point in time thousands of years ago. By remembering these things every day, we help to stave off those doubts.

Rav Shlomo Wolbe, of blessed memory, says that this is exactly why we had the various events that not only make for a good story, but physical events that we could feel with all of our senses. Part of the mitzvah while reading the story from the haggadah is to actually feel like you yourself are leaving Egypt, being freed from slavery. There are many ways to interpret this to someone's modern life metaphorically, but sometimes part of getting yourself into the right mindset includes physical action. Part of the idea of 'fake it 'till you make it' is to put on a smile until you feel happy, or if you are working from home, still putting on your office clothes rather than staying in your pajamas in order to be more productive. On Leil HaSeder (the Seder Night) really put yourself in this story. Whether you are reading it in English, Hebrew, or some other language, utilize the descriptive terms to feel like you are there and utilize this metaphorical experience the joy of being freed from whatever personal slavery you feel that you are trapped in (it could be anything from a bad habit you are trying to break or learning how to deal with a Pharaoh in your own life). Don't forget that it is always possible to be freed from slavery, no matter how it manifests itself in your life. Chag sameach!!

Preparing for Passover

Cleaning for Passover

Watch Preparing for Passover on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Recommended video:

Passover: Insights for the Seder

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah                                                               for her neshama.
by Samantha Hulkower

The Ibscha Relief from the tomb of Khnumhotep II,
showing Semitic traders (possibly the Hyksos) coming to Egypt some 4,000 years ago.
            NebMaatRa, Wikimedia Commons
This Friday night, the holiday of Passover begins. While the annual tradition of the Seder is always fun, after doing the same thing year, after year, after year the four questions can start getting as stale as last year's matza. We might be left wondering, after reading the same story for so long, what can we really get out of the Seder this year?
The fact is, how much we get out of the Seder depends on how we approach it, which leads directly to the four sons - four possible attitudes. Perhaps we can even find within ourselves elements of each of the four. At times wise, curious, fascinated and probing; at times cynical. Sometimes we are just simple, and sometimes we don't know how to ask; we have lost the curiosity,we are no longer interested. Here are a few insights into the Seder that should satisfy your curiosity, no matter which of the four sons you identify with:
What does 'Seder' even mean?
There is no meaningless ritual in Judaism. The more we make an effort to examine the reasons behind the actions we do on Seder night, the more we will be able to appreciate the richness and meaning behind each step. The word 'Seder' means 'order.' The traditional sequence of 15 incremental stages is specifically designed to catalyze our critical thinking and to prompt important questions of Jewish identity, and what freedom means to us. Jewish tradition teaches us that our attitudes are shaped by our actions. As a result we engage in what could be described as a series of behavioral stimuli that comprise the traditional Seder service. The multifaceted experience of eating, drinking, dipping, reading, discussing, questioning, leaning and singing of Seder night presents us with an interactive educational framework within which we can begin to take a fresh look at our own personal freedom.

What does matza have to do with slavery and freedom?
True freedom comes from a genuine openness to learn and discover. If we can just shethat cynical or 'know it all' blockage, we can gain so much that night.We'll have already attained one giant leap away from slavery, towards freedom. Matzah is literally free of all additives, externalities and superficial good looks - it is bread without the hot air. It represents the bare essentials. Everything we pursue in life can be divided into necessities and luxuries. To the extent that a luxury becomes a necessity we lose an element of our freedom by being enslaved to a false need. Jewish thought teaches that we should not submit to peer pressure, viewing ourselves as competing with others. It is far better to focus on our 'personal bests' rather than 'world records'; life is an arena in which we do not need others to lose in order for us to win. On Passover we can focus on the essence and leave the externalities behind. It is a time to get rid of the ego that powers our self importance and holds us back through distracting us from our true goals.

Happy Passover!
Content from Aish.

The mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisrael

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.

North Israel-Mt Hermon
Many new immigrants who move to Israel are often met with astonishment from Israelis (and more than a few Americans) as to why they would leave the US to make a new life for themselves in Israel. Of course, there is something exciting about being part of the 'Start-Up Nation'. There are mystical reasons to live here: according to tradition, while the rest of the world was flooded in the mabul, no waters crossed over the boundaries of Israel, leaving the land and air here with the original qualities imbued with the whole world during creation. Related to this, the Jewish Sages say that just breathing the air of the land makes people wise and that Divine Intervention is felt more strongly here. Beyond good food, and holy air, many people actually move here for a more substantial reason: because it's a mitzvah.

There are different accounts of what all of the 613 mitzvot laid out in the Torah are, but almost everyone agrees living in the Land of Israel, Eretz Yisrael, is one of them. The source for this is in Bamidbar 33:53 which says, "...dwell in the land because I gave it to you". The famous Torah scholar and Kabbalist, the Ramban, expounds on this passuk, saying "It's better to live in Israel, even in a town that is mostly non-Jewish, than to live in the Diaspora in a Jewish town." Those are strong words. 

Living in the land is considered so important that one needs a valid reason to even leave! There are three reasons given for why one is allowed to leave Eretz Yisrael: for parnassah (they can't make a living here), for shidduchim (to get married), and to learn Torah (if there is an opportunity for a better or safer place to learn, which was a valid reason for many years, but less so today). 

Let us consider how special this mitzvah really is - it's one of only three that you do with your entire body (the other two being dwelling in the sukkah and mikvah). Basically, even if you are just taking a nap while in Eretz Yisrael, you are doing a mitvah. One of the mitzvot that are contingent upon being in the land is that every dalet amot you walk (about 8 ft), is a mitzvah. Just strolling down to the corner makolet (small supermarket) to get milk you are racking up those mitzvah points.

As mentioned before, there are certain mitzvot that only apply in Israel when a majority of the world's Jews live in the Land - such as many agricultural laws, the forgiving of debts, tithes given to Kohanim. In addition to the individual mitzvah of living in the land, these laws have a communal aspect - since the majority of Jews need to live here for them to be mitzvot, then it suddenly becomes everyone's responsibility to live here to help one another fulfill all the mitzvot. That is part of being a Jew - helping each other in life. So what are you waiting for? Come live here, help yourself, and your fellow Jew, do a mitzvah! 

Yashar LaChayal

The majesty of the Western Wall

Nefesh B'Nefesh