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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘TLC’

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 6/25/10

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Dear Readers,

 

Though substantial space in this column over the last several months was devoted to the unsettling issue of disloyalty in a marriage, the tumult has hardly abated. The letter from a married man (back in February) painting himself as a self-seeking and gloating philanderer provoked a wide range of reactions.

 

Needless to say, not every letter to this column makes it into print. In this instance, however, we deem it necessary to highlight excerpts from some of the unpublished letters on this subject – in order to reveal the shocking mindsets of individuals who cheat on their spouses, as well as to highlight the viewpoints of concerned readers.

 

To be perfectly candid, some readers were fit to be tied over the exposure of Unfaithful‘s letter altogether, whereas countless other readers continue to express their castigation of the promiscuous writer and/or relief at having this delicate but pertinent-to-our-times issue finally brought to the fore.

 

The latter argue that this problem has become pandemic and, if met with indifference and left to fester, can chas v’sholom lead to devastating consequences for generations to come.

 

One reader wrote to say that “such disgusting articles” do not belong in an orthodox venue for “we are not to put ourselves in situations where we witness the street gutter just so we should know how to react to it when it knocks on our door we must distance ourselves from wickedness and cocoon ourselves within the framework of a life of Torah and good deeds.”

 

Equally adamant about preserving the sacredness of our heritage, a widely respected community elder has a different outlook: “It is very important that these problems not be swept under the carpet the general public needs to be informed of the critical dangers of these extra-marital flings.”

 

This prominent octogenarian expresses his fears for the future of his great-grandchildren and eloquently but forcefully speaks his mind. “Though only a miniscule number of our people are involved in this unfortunate way of life, we can nevertheless not keep silent about it. Let us learn from the few thousand of our brethren who circled the golden calf in the desert to the disregard of the many on the way to the Holy Land. The latter did not counter-demonstrate against the idol worshippers, and we have suffered through the ages as a result.”

 

Sadly, correspondence received by this column corroborates this gentleman’s view.

 

A woman claiming to be happily married, while at the same time lamenting her dissatisfaction with her husband, wrote: “I cheat on my spouse because I need to feel attractive and I want someone attractive.” In the same matter-of-fact tone used throughout her neatly handwritten letter, she went on to say, “I am a devoted parent just have an extracurricular activity going on in my free time. I am not even looking to get divorced just some well-deserved TLC.”

 

This woman also let it slip that her husband “is not around much.” (Could that be the secret to her “happy” marriage?)

 

A certified psychiatrist weighed in with his professional take. “Some people are more needy and/or more greedy than others. In other words, the problem may be with one person, not both if a person is ‘giving’ elsewhere, there will most likely be ‘less’ to ‘give’ at home.”

 

From another less-than-honorable spouse: “Midot aside and good providing aside, two people must connect physically when getting married or down the road someone is going to stray, or want to stray if they don’t have the guts. I have the guts.”

 

As if in assent, still another defiant reader declares: “I don’t cheat with many people, just one special someone who has the same issues as me This goes on under everyone’s nose. Don’t bother going on about it being under Hashem’s nose. The words are wasted on me.”

 

From a worried grandmother’s painfully revealing email: “The whole subject makes me uncomfortable, but I know it happens. I myself know of a case where there is a little girl who everyone thinks is the child of the parents. Can you imagine when she grows up ? No one will know her status.

 

Yes, dear readers, we can look the other way and hide our heads in the sand. Or, we can face reality about a subject that “makes us uncomfortable.” This column bills itself as “Chronicles of Crisis” – this concern not only qualifies as a crisis but can also lead to tragedy of epic proportions.

 

We are quickly approaching the 17th day of Tammuz that signals the start of the Three Weeks which culminates in Tisha B’Av. What better time to be reminded that G-d distanced Himself from His people when they failed to heed His directives

 

What better time to remember that we are all responsible for one another – Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Ba’zeh – and that to rebuke a fellow Jew is a mitzvah, whereas to act as though the clandestine carryings-on are non-existent is to wantonly allow them to gnaw away at the framework of our holy sanctuaries, G-d help us!

 

In this age of entitlement and greed, I would rather presume that some of our young people naïvely believe that “love conquers all” while foolishly justifying their illicit behavior with the misguided sentiment that “what s/he doesn’t know won’t hurt him/her.”

 

Regardless of reason or rationale, it is high time to indoctrinate all of our young adults with the “real rules and etiquette” for preserving the wholesomeness of our future generations. A good forum for this type of educational awareness: Chossen and Kallah classes, for starters.

 

The final redemption is in the hands of Hashem; the Torah is in ours. G-d gave us His word that He will redeem us and we gave Him our word that we will abide by the Torah. As we anxiously await the rebuilding of the holy Bais Hamikdash, should we not do our utmost to prove that we are worthy of the Geulah?

 

May that glorious day be upon us very soon!

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We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com  or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 1/15/10

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Dear Rachel,

I think you missed something important in your response to In need of some TLC (Chronicles 12-18-09). By waiting until the end of the day on her birthday to ask her husband if he knows the significance of the day, she is setting him up for a “gotcha” situation. It is not abnormal, nor is it an indication of a lack of caring, for busy people with many conflicting priorities to lose track of or to forget significant dates, even with the best of intentions.

As a mother, I certainly care about my [married] children, and I’ll remember a week or two in advance that a birthday is coming up. However, when the day actually arrives, I usually have so much else going on that the birthday temporarily drops off my radar screen and I end up calling my son/daughter a day or two later excusing myself for my lateness.

Why shouldn’t In Need’s husband react negatively when she expresses her contempt for him in such an open manner? No one likes to be put down.

She would be a lot wiser to start dropping comments a week or two before the event, to the effect that her birthday or their anniversary is going to be “next whatever day”. This will give him a heads-up so that he can be adequately prepared and ultimately feel good about himself, and she can then be pleased by his efforts and the fact that he remembered. She should further express her appreciation to him. That is what one would call a win-win situation. Both end up feeling good about the outcome and about themselves, instead of each of them feeling unappreciated.

People have a tendency to live up to expectations. If the message her husband receives constantly is her contempt for him and her lack of confidence in his ability to please her, he will fulfill that expectation. On the other hand, if she can convey a positive message, that she believes in him and knows that he wants to take good care of her, then he will want to live up to that expectation and belief.

She would be wise to give him some TLC and she may be surprised to find that she will receive it from him in return.

A Wise Granny

Dear Rachel,

I don’t have the problem In need of some TLC has. (The writer complained about her husband’s lack of attentiveness in remembering special days.)

In fact, I recently had a birthday and my husband secretly planned to surprise me with a piece of jewelry. He enlisted our teenage daughter to pick out a necklace and they went to much trouble and expense to acquire it.

Rachel, this may sound petty and mean-spirited of me, but I hated the necklace. And I let him know it! It was totally not my taste and I was peeved that he went to such lengths to get me something I wouldn’t be caught dead in. Besides, I neither wanted nor needed one to start with.

Suffice it to say that he was not exactly thrilled by my reaction. Who in his place would have been? But what was I supposed to do under the circumstance – fake it and tell him how beautiful it was and wear it? Or gush and then stuff it in the back of some drawer and never wear it?

I think he should have asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I would have told him that I didn’t need a necklace at all and would have preferred an iTouch iPod instead.

I wonder how other women in my shoes would have reacted?

Men, use your brain!

Dear Brain,

Oy! I have a feeling that Wise Granny (above) would have liked to give you an earful right about now, if only she could! Talk about expressing contempt for him “in such an open manner” and putting someone down.

Your mention of a teenaged daughter makes this whole thing even more incredulous: You’ve been married for a number of years and yet you haven’t been able to get your message across so that it wouldn’t come to this? And your daughter, a teenager yet, is so utterly clueless about her mother? Hard to believe!

Hate is a strong word. You could have exercised some restraint by expressing your appreciation at his thoughtfulness and then eased the conversation gently to “but you really shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble and expense!”

Before he would have had the chance to delve into the implication of your reaction, you could have cozied up to him and sweetly tried, “I really have my heart set on blah blah blah and don’t want to overburden our expense account. Would you mind terribly if I returned the necklace for now and took a rain check on a jewelry item?”

Not that you wouldn’t have disappointed him regardless, but at least the slap would not have been as stinging. Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you go about conveying your thoughts.

I can’t help wondering which aspect drove you to verbalize your disappointment so outspokenly: Was it the fact that the necklace was not to your liking, or was it your penchant for the latest in the electronic gadget craze?

When have we become so spoiled as to place a higher value on non-essential materialism than on the sensitivities of others, let alone our loved ones? Aren’t we losing track of our priorities?

How indeed would our other readers have reacted? I’m almost afraid to find out.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 12/18/09

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Dear Rachel,

I’ll get straight to the point. How do I get my husband to be more attentive in a “giving” sense? I can understand not splurging or wasting. For instance, some would consider spending money on fresh flowers that last for only a couple of days a waste of money.

So I compromised and asked my husband (beforehand) to bring me just one flower, like a rose, to the hospital when I would give birth (this past summer). Needless to say, the baby (and winter) is already here and I am still waiting.

Since he is completely not tuned to important (meaningful) dates, I guess I should have known better. For example: Recently, when the day of my birthday was coming to a close with no mention of anything, I gently prodded him by asking him if he remembered any significance to the day. His response (I’m not kidding): “Is it our anniversary?”

Some people may not call this a problem, but still it would be nice to receive some special attention once in a while.

I wonder if this is related to the trait of stinginess. My husband does have a bit of miserliness in him, I must admit. If my children or I am in need of something, like in the way of clothing, it takes some convincing to make him come around. This can become frustrating, especially since it’s not like I have my own expense account or am independently wealthy.

By the way, I have a close friend whose husband buys her flowers every Friday. This not only enhances their Shabbos table but I am sure promotes good feelings between them as well. But I wouldn’t dare to suggest such a move to my husband!

Do you have any ideas, Rachel, of how I can get him to sit up and take notice?

In need of some TLC

Dear Need,

It is by no means a simple task to alter one’s nature. Your husband may have grown up seeing his father act in this manner; perhaps his parents struggled financially and were therefore watchful of their limited resources.

The reality is that it takes all kinds. The practical-minded, for instance, use their wives’ birthday or anniversary occasions to purchase a badly needed refrigerator or to replace an on-the-wane vacuum cleaner, while the chivalrous type usually treat their wives to a night out plus buy them a present.

Then there are the extremes: the lavish spender who, besides splurging on an expensive piece of jewelry even though she already has more trinkets than she knows what to do with, surprises his wife with plane tickets to the French Riviera – while at the other end the no frills/no bills kind cannot be bothered with remembering any special dates.

And yet all this can work out well, believe it or not, when like marries like. However, when, as in your case, oblivious meets up with sentimentalist, adjustments have to be made by both.

Going with the assumption that your husband has some saving graces (you don’t discuss any) and that the something that attracted you to him is still there and attractive, you might want to start teaching him about some of the finer things in life versus sitting back and waiting for things to change. Try squirreling some money away from your weekly household allowance, then surprise him for his birthday – by getting dressed up to go out for dinner, and, if your savings will stretch that far, with a small gift (or a card). He is bound to be motivated to reciprocate on your special day. In other words, do for him and he will be inclined to do for you.

You may also (gently) remind him that any money spent to enhance Shabbos or Yom Tov is money earned. In other words, Hashem repays us for such expense – hence, flowers for the Shabbos table is money well spent.

As for buying his lady a gift, birthdays and anniversaries aside, our Sages advise a husband to present his aishes chayil with a gift for Yom Tov. Tell your hubby you can do with a new pair of earrings, and that you have no problem accepting a belated Chanukah present. (If you don’t trust his taste, ask him to take you shopping. Or, if you prefer to take your chances, tell him to surprise you.)

Every married couple has to work on working things out; nobody enters a ready custom-made arrangement when marrying a virtual stranger. Action and communication foster a harmonious relationship.

The reader may further keep in mind that not everyone considers a birthday a cause for celebration or gift-giving. In fact, in many a frum household there is no mention of such days, adults considering a birthday milestone simply as an opportune time for self-introspection and prayer – to appeal for His guidance in self-improvement and to express appreciation for His gifts and bounty.

If your children are healthy and your husband is otherwise a decent, responsible and caring man, count your blessings (instead of your years).

Speaking of counting, the blessing of le’hadlik ner shel Chanukah consists of thirteen words, reflecting the thirteen divine attributes of mercy (yud-gimmel midos ha’rachamim). This is symbolic of Hashem’s compassion in extending our z’man Teshuvah (that began in Elul) to the end of Chanukah.

May we soon merit to witness the lighting of the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash!

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We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or bymail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215.

The Necklace

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

It was about a week before Chanukah last year when I traveled to Israel to spend some time with my son, who was learning in Yeshiva there. It was a difficult time in my life, as I had made the decision to get out of an abusive marriage and was in the midst of a bitter divorce. At the time, my husband was seeking revenge and trying to do everything in his power to make my life miserable, including trying to sever my relationship with our children. He showed utter contempt for me, the mother, as he played the “victim” and tried to poison our grown children against me.

I was grateful that my youngest son had the opportunity to spend the year in Israel and “be away” from all the chaos going on here. However, as I regularly kept in touch with him and his teachers, it became apparent that my son – even from his yeshiva in Jerusalem – was still grieving the breakup of his family. He was homesick, anxious and depressed. Finally, my sister and parents said that they were sending me to Israel for a week to spend some quality time with my son and give him some TLC.

I was most appreciative and looked forward to the trip. I wanted it to be special, meaningful and stress-free to my son. I also looked forward to spending a week in Jerusalem. I had not been there for several years and my heart longed to be able to walk the Holy City’s streets once again. When I arrived at the hotel in Jerusalem, I immediately felt as if I was truly home. I had always wanted to live in Israel, and was so grateful whenever I had the chance to visit.

Having lived with an abusive and controlling man for so long and having kept the secret of abuse from my friends and community for many years, I had, to a certain extent, “lost” my own identity. Thus it felt great to be on my own and away – be it ever so briefly – from the chaos of the divorce. Looking forward to a week of peace and serenity with my son, I was not going to let anything interfere with that.

On my first day, I went to visit the head of my son’s yeshiva program. He told me that he usually encourages visiting family members to take their kids out only after the school day ends. This way the students do not miss class. However, he had given my son specific instructions to spend as much time as possible with his mother and not to worry about missing class during my visit. He felt that my son needed this time with his mother to help him heal. But the rabbi gave me one bit of advice: please do not talk about the divorce. I agreed. It was a productive and healing week, and my son and I had a beautiful time together.

Toward the end of the week I found myself walking the streets of my favorite place, the Old City, looking for gifts to bring back home to my other children, relatives and colleagues. As I wandered into one of the shops there, I recognized the owner from previous visits. He was a kind and friendly man who had made aliyah many years before. He enjoyed talking with his customers in his shop, and always had a kind word to say to everyone who stopped by.

As I started browsing through the aisles, I began to ponder what kind of gift to bring back to my oldest son. He had also been terribly affected by the divorce, and at this point was hardly having any contact with me due to his father’s pernicious influences. This son was also going through a spiritual crisis, causing me much worry. I wanted to get him a meaningful gift that would perhaps create an opening and a renewed bond in our relationship. As I contemplated what to get him, I fought back tears as I thought of everything my family had been through during the past two years. I was truly worried about this son and wanted the best for him.

As I headed to the counter, I was warmly greeted by the shop’s owner. “Shalom, is there anything I can help you with?” I hesitated and seeing that no one else was in the store, I asked, “What do you get a young man whose parents are going through a divorce because the father was abusive? And now this young man is going through a lot of anger and trauma of his own, won’t talk to his mother and is in a spiritual crisis – including hanging around with a really bad crowd.”

The owner was sympathetic and began to suggest different items in his store. He suggested that the gift have a subtle but loving message. I finally settled on a necklace with Hebrew words inscribed about God’s Angels protecting mankind. I always had a special affinity for angels. My favorite prayer in the “Kriat Sh’ma al HaMitah” is the one about the Angels – including Michael, Gavriel, Uriel, and Raphael – protecting one from harm. In fact, when my two older sons had spent time in Israel during the height of the unfortunate suicide bombings, I spent many a night visualizing God’s Angels surrounding them with love and protection.

As the owner packed up the gift, he bade me farewell and said, “Don’t ever give up hope. You have been through a lot. However, the truth always comes out and your son will see and will eventually come back to you and to the right path.” I thanked him and went on my way.

About 10 months later, around Rosh Hashanah time, I got a call from this son. He asked to return home in order to renew his relationship with me. Apparently things were not going so well between him and his father. I welcomed him back in my life, but told him that I would not engage in any psychological drama regarding the divorce or anything else. I told him I looked forward to establishing a healthy relationship with him based on love, truth, kindness, and integrity. I encouraged him to have a healthy relationship with both his parents, and let him know how glad I was to have him back in my life.

It is now the first night of Chanukah. As I gaze into the flames of the Chanukah candles, I think about how far I have come with the help of Hashem. For whatever reasons, I had to go through an abusive marriage. However, I have come out stronger in the long run. I went back to school, have a successful career, got my divorce and am finally re-establishing a healthy relationship with all of my children. I thank God for all the miracles that he has given me as I sit in my warm home on this cold winter night, staring into the flames and reminiscing about the triumph of the Maccabees that took place so long ago.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 5/24/07

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories by e-mail to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215.

To all women, men or children who feel that they are at the end of their ropes, please consider joining a support group, or forming one.

Anyone wishing to make a contribution to help agunot, please send your tax deductible contribution to The Jewish Press Foundation.

Checks must be clearly specified to help agunot. Please make sure to include that information if that is the purpose of your contribution, because this is just one of the many worthwhile causes helped by this foundation.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear Rachel,

Like most girls (I suppose) I always dreamed of getting married and establishing a home of my own. I would picture myself puttering in my kitchen, keeping things pretty and neat and whipping up meals for my family and guests.

The honeymoon was barely over when I awoke to reality. My heart sank when I arrived home from work on a Thursday evening, all set to dive into food preparation for Shabbos. The kitchen hardly resembled the one I had left in the morning. The counters were strewn with a mess of vegetable peelings, and my shiny new pots were boiling over on my once spotless stovetop. (So much for dreams.)

Call me old-fashioned, Rachel, but I grew up with the notion that a kitchen is a woman’s domain. Sure, a man should have responsibilities − bookkeeping, miscellaneous chores around the house; help with shopping/running errands, etc. But the kitchen?

To make matters worse, my husband (who is not dimwitted in any sense of the word) doesn’t get it. He fails to understand why I am not less than thrilled by his culinary “expertise.” Oh, have I mentioned that he loves to cook? And that sticky countertops and cabinet doors, and spills all over the place don’t faze him? If I dare voice my dismay, he comes back with, “If you can’t stand the heat in the kitchen”

We both work, and my husband − who sometimes gets home before me – insists that he is obliged to “help out.” Sounds great, I know, but how “thoughtful” is thoughtfulness that causes me endless exasperation? And while cooking leaves me with a sense of accomplishment, I wish I could say the same for cleanup − left for me to deal with, of course.

So far, I’ve succeeded in coming off as “critical” and “ungrateful.” How do I reclaim my rightful place in our home? (I don’t mind cleaning up after myself, which is by far less tedious and time-consuming.)

Am I missing something? Has kitchen-duty become a gender-neutral activity? I never thought I’d come to envy the woman who grumbles about her husband’s inability to boil an egg.

Beyond Boiling

Dear Boiling,

Your upbringing was obviously a traditional one, and there is much to be said for the woman who is a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. Yet today, husbands and wives are both often out in the working world − especially before children “arrive” on the scene. Under such circumstances, it certainly behooves the husband to lend a helping hand in keeping things running smoothly, and your husband is to be commended for his noble intent.

Your frustration, however, is understandable. Women (as well as men) who appreciate living in an uncluttered and orderly environment will identify with your aggravation.

The good news is that you don’t need to give up on that childhood dream. There’s this great recipe that you may want to try, which is sure to dissolve the friction that is impinging on your shalom bayis. It combines the ingredients of ingenuity, patience and planning − along with a generous helping of TLC − and may even serve to turn your dilemma into an advantage for you both.

First of all, your husband (is he listening?) needs to understand that a happy wife makes for a happy home. It is the woman of the house through whom Hashem sends down His blessings. With this in mind, your husband should (at all times) show more sensitivity to your feelings. You can, nonetheless, take the initiative to turn the tide.

Make arrangements to take your husband out to dinner one evening after work. With both of you at ease in the relaxed environment of a neutral setting, you can casually inform him of how grateful you are to have such a talented mate. Compliment him on his cooking acumen. When you have him eating out of your hand, launch into a wistful “All my life I looked forward to cooking” Maintaining a soft and non-threatening tone throughout, let him know that you are feeling increasingly deprived of the great mitzvah of preparing food for Shabbos.

Ask his help in planning a schedule that will allow you equal billing in cuisine concocting. Heaping lavish praise on a tried and true dish of his that you can honestly admit to having enjoyed, suggest that he continue to make it (his delicious chicken soup, for example) while you will prepare the fish. Prefer your chulent to his? Leave the kishka for him to stuff. If he turns out a super potato kugel, savor it − and bake a cake (and challah, if you are so inclined). Hey, this way you can have your cake and eat it too! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Watching another perform a chore that you would do differently can become quite unsettling. Immerse yourself in another project while your husband’s at the stove and avoid getting all worked up for nothing. (If at all possible, rearrange your work hours to allow you to get home earlier − at least on Thursdays.)

If you haven’t already done so, consider hiring cleaning help for at least a few hours a week − a must-have, especially for the working woman.

A lesson in life to take to heart: A little praise goes a long way. Even where criticism is justified, it can come across as arrogance and turn a potentially pleasant atmosphere into a glum or acrimonious one.

With a growing family G-d willing, today’s nuisance may yet prove to be tomorrow’s blessing (if he won’t tire of the routine). Patience is the key, and teamwork the technique to coordinate your talents for a long time to come. The secret lies in working together instead of against each other.

“Achdus” is our strength, both as individuals and as a nation. Standing at Har Sinai, we were like one − “b’lev echad” − and thus deserving of Hashem’s presence in our midst.

Wishing all a wonderfully inspiring and blissful Shavuos!

The Fur Coats Of Englewood

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

Spring is here, and with it the disappearance of that most exotic of species, the winter fur coat. On any given Sabbath, as I walk to synagogue in Englewood, New Jersey, one can witness whole species, some no doubt nearly extinct, on the backs of women who warm themselves against winter’s chill. On some women one can even see a whole mixture of species amalgamated into one memorable fashion statement. To see such incredible creatures, one would normally have to go to the zoo. But in Englewood, the zoo comes to you.
 
When I first arrived back in the United States after 11 years as rabbi at Oxford University in England, I was not prepared for the blizzard of fur coats in New York and New Jersey. In Britain, as in so many places in Europe, wearing a mink coat is like putting a bull’s-eye on your back for animal rights activists and one runs a serious risk of being attacked with red paint. But in the U.S., the fur coat is to women what the Ferrari has always been to men – the ultimate statement of high-flying, material success.

There are, however, three major differences. First, boys have always had their toys, and a lot of men remain boys specifically because of their toys. One of the great male sins is a constant desire to impress colleagues with the accoutrements of success, as if advertising one’s insecurities could somehow make one stronger. But we always believed that women were more mature and could rise above the insecurities that have often made men so ridiculous.

The second difference is that the metal of a Ferrari isn’t being ripped off the back of a feeble creature that God presumably did not place on His earth to serve solely as the matted fabric by which Mrs. Cohen and Mrs. Schwartz can be made emerald with envy.

Third, one doesn’t drive one’s Ferrari to synagogue (at least we hope not). But the juxtaposition of wearing something as haughtily visible as a mink coat for an exercise as pious as prayer is surely a disconnect that cannot be overlooked.

Let me be clear. I am not judging the fine women of my neighborhood, many of whom lead lives of exceptional generosity and humility, for wearing a rare species as a second skin. We all like nice things, and we all like to occasionally make an impression. And who am I to judge when throughout my life I have also battled my own materialistic inclination, not to mention my own shallow need to impress?

My point, rather, is this: if the lust for materialism in the Jewish community is even beginning to corrupt our women, then it’s time to wake up and smell the money.

The Oxford historian Arnold Toynbee – one of the 20th century’s greatest academics, who unfortunately did not much like Jews – wrote in his monumental Study of History that the bane of every great civilization has been not challenge, but success; not struggle, but prosperity.

In short, from the ancient Roman Empire to the more recent British one, what has slowly undermined every great society is the inability of human beings to handle their good fortune. From an abundance of blessing, corruption ensued, eroding the very foundations of government and the pillars of basic human decency and integrity. It turns out that money is even more corrosive than poverty, and living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan can be more injurious to one’s soul than living in a ghetto.

Indeed, Spinoza, the great Jewish philosopher and heretic, surmised in the 17th century that when anti-Semitism died out, the Jews would cease to exist. It was hatred that defined their identity and made it impossible for them to assimilate. The great French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre made much the same argument three hundred years later.

This does not of course mean that we should ever move back to the ghetto or invite hatred as a means of curbing our own spiritual disintegration. It does, however, mean that we must embrace Maimonides’s articulation of the purpose of material wealth – namely, the facilitation of good deeds like charity, hospitality, and the proper provision for the needs of one’s family.

Any cursory examination of the global Jewish community would have to conclude that we are giving in to excess. The forest of fur coats trooping toward the prayer house is only the most visible sign of a new Jewish decadence. The extravagant, and much commented on, bar and bas mitzvahs – not to mention the Jewish royal weddings – are an even greater sign of how we are converting religious celebrations into opportunities to impress our friends.

My son’s bar mitzvah will take place, God willing, in a couple of weeks. I am a TV host and author, thank God. But the only way I could afford anything like the bar mitzvahs that some of my son’s classmates have recently staged is by selling an organ – a spare kidney, say – or renting myself out for medical experimentation.

With eight kids to put through Jewish schools, and a home that we try to keep open to the community (not to mention some of my own material extravagances that I am reluctant to discuss lest this column turn into a confessional and I expose myself as a hypocrite), blowing our spare cash on a bar mitzvah that features digital holograms of my son skateboarding just does not seem like a great family priority.

But even if I could afford it (did someone say network television?), what would my son learn from an extravagant bar mitzvah other than his father is a show-off and the message of his coming of age is that he should be one too?

It is time for some humility in the American Jewish community, and I am speaking to all of us, myself included. My own insecurities have at times made me an attention-seeker, subordinating my honest desire to do God’s will to a superficial desire to gain social acceptance. Looking at oneself in the mirror and acknowledging corrosive tendencies like the search for recognition is one of life’s most painful experiences. But it is an act of self-reflection that the global Jewish community – which has the understandable insecurities of a minority that has been severely persecuted for many centuries – must begin.

Because, trust me, while fancy and costly minks may warm your body and raise the eyebrows of friends, they will leave your soul cold and your sense of self punctured.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of TLC’s national prime-time TV show “Shalom in the Home,” which airs Mondays at 10 p.m. The author of several international bes-sellers, his newest book is “Ten Conversations You Need to have With Your Children” (ReganBooks/HarperCollins).

Shalom In The Home

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

When I was a boy of about eight, I remember feeling helpless to bring my fighting parents closer together, and then seeing a vision of myself, running from home to home, rescuing those who could still be saved. I even gave myself a moniker: “the marriage missionary,” and later, “the Love Prophet.”
 
I would sit for hours thinking about the secret to keeping a husband and wife happily under the same roof for the duration of their lives. When I flew on airplanes I would watch the couples sitting together and try to discern the difference between those who were smiling and laughing, and those who barely spoke to one another.

I have spent much of the past year traveling around the United States with a camera crew and a state-of-the-art studio-trailer, living with distressed families. The TV show that resulted, “Shalom in the Home,” airing every Monday evening at 10 o’clock on TLC beginning April 10, is the culmination of a lifelong dream to transform the pain of my parents’ divorce into the healing of broken families.

If war is hell, it follows that heaven is peace. Harmony is life’s greatest blessing, without which human existence becomes a nightmare of insufferable conflict. The ancient rabbis said that when God created the world in six days, it still lacked the most important ingredient of all: peace. Hence, when He rested on the seventh day from a whirlwind of activity, the world was now perfect.

For centuries the Christian and Islamic faiths focused their creative energies on building empires and governing kingdoms. But we Jews, bereft of sovereignty and diminished of power, turned our energies inward instead. We sought to master not the outer world, but the inner; not the state, but the home. While other religions built soaring cathedrals, we built passionate marriages. And while other faiths fielded armies of colossal strength, we sought to raise children of towering moral character.

Judaism places an incredible premium on peace in the home in general, and peace between husband and wife in particular. In the Bible God decrees the desecration of His own holy name in order to bring husbands and wives closer together. When a woman was accused by her husband of adultery, she was taken to the Temple, where God’s name was written in ink and then erased into a potion which she drank in order to prove her innocence to her husband.

Likewise, the whole purpose of lighting Sabbath candles, one of the most important and meaningful of all weekly Jewish rituals, is to illuminate the home with warmth and light so that a loving ambiance can govern the home on God’s holy day. And the Talmud says that on the Sabbath married couples are to be physically intimate because passion between husband and wife is itself holy.

But in our time we focus far too much on peace in the world at the expense of peace in the home. We’re dispirited with the war and the daily carnage in Iraq and we wish our troops could come home from Afghanistan. We’re wary of using military force against Iran to halt the development of nuclear weapons, even when there may be no other option. Even when we’re forced into war, we still want peace. We all await the realization of the ancient dream of universal brotherhood becoming a reality.

Our mistake, however, is in not understanding that even if all the world’s terrorists laid down their arms and all the rogue dictators were swallowed by the earth, we would still have no peace because our very homes have become war zones. If men beat their swords into ploughshares, would that stop husbands from verbally assaulting their wives? If the ancient prophecy were to be fulfilled and no man ever again taught his son the art of war, would that stop our children from fighting with each other over every silly provocation? Even if the world had peace, our homes would still be filled with divorce. Even if all the rifles were silenced, our living rooms would still be filled with shouting.

You cannot have a peaceful world without having peaceful people – a tranquil earth without tranquil families. The wolf will not dwell with the lamb until parents and children are also defanged of their claws. The lion and the kid will not lie down together until husbands and wives first learn how to live together.

We are losing our minds because we have no peace. We are losing our inner equilibrium because we have no respite from the noise of blaring TVs and phones that forever ring. Our conversations are comprised of words that hurt rather than heal.

No wonder our children, in an effort to escape the madness, would rather be at their friends’ homes than their own houses. And even when they are at home, they’re not home. They shut out their parents with IPods in their ears and video games in their bedrooms.

I was raised in an environment filled with fighting. I absorbed much of that chaos and I now have strife, rather than stillness, in my skeleton. And I have made a lifelong effort to bring back serenity to my center. But today’s families are so distant from the idea of peace that they consciously invite drama. They find fault with each other as a way of relating to each other. And in so doing, they lurch from extreme to extreme, from arguments to apologies, from ripping in to each other to reconciling with one another.

Peace is supposed to be the apex around which all families revolve. The home is supposed to be a place of comfort rather than conflict, a haven from hostility, a sanctuary from life’s sting. In your spouse you are meant to find passion rather than pain. Your children are supposed to see in you a hero rather than someone they’ll do anything to avoid.

My program “Shalom in the Home” is all about teaching families how to find the fountain of peace from which flows the joy of family life. We have taught parents how to inspire their kids with conversation rather than harangue them with hollering. We have influenced husbands and wives to put down the cudgel and pick up Cupid’s arrow.

We have taught moms who medicate their ADD and ADHD kids that a far healthier medication is more attention and patience. We have persuaded parents and kids to douse the fires of rage rather fuel their fury and anger. We have educated children to forgive their parents’ mistakes and to try to not judge them in the first place. We have tutored spouses in recapturing desire and mining the dormant spark of their once passionate relationship.

We have done all this not by using the dominant TV and radio therapist’s approach of making people feel useless and stupid, but by making them feel heroic and noble. We have helped people discover not their underlying ugliness but their neglected blessings. We have re-dedicated them to family life not by showing them their past mistakes but their future potential and overall promise.

Above all else, we have helped them to improve not by having them listen to the wishes of a television host but to their own inner voice of what they wished to be before life made them something else.

Rediscover peace. Cherish your blessings. Enjoy the show.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the host of TLC’s “Shalom in the Home.” The author of several international best-sellers, his newest work, “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Your Children,” has just been released by ReganBooks/HarperCollins. His website is www.shmuley.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/shalom-in-the-home/2006/03/29/

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