Shaarei Shamayim

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Shavuot is here and with it—both before and after—comes the wedding season. It’s not just in the Jewish world. June is the month that has become associated with weddings and marriage. How did it happen? My friend and colleague Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg writes: Some say it goes back to ancient Rome where the Romans believed that Juno—the Goddess of Marriage—would bring prosperity and happiness to all those who wed in her month. Others claim that the basis of the tradition was that ancient Rome, being an agricultural society, marriage in June meant that the bride was likely to bear her 1st child the following spring, giving her enough time to recover and resume her full duties picking the crops for the fall harvest. Still others find the roots of a June wedding coming from the Middle Ages where people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June! However, because they started to smell, brides were given a bouquet of flowers to hide the odor; hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Well, if that be the case, then bouquets are necessary today more than ever before. I hope you’ll excuse me for putting it so crudely, but the state of marriage today really stinks! And if you have any doubt about that, just ask Dominique Strauss-Kahn or Anthony Weiner. 

Dominique Strauss-Kahn had it all! He was the head of the International Monetary Fund and, if the polls are to be believed, the next president of France; he is a multi-millionaire, and his is married to Ann Sinclair—a well known French television personality. How could such a man be accused of attempting to rape a chambermaid in a New York hotel? 

And what about Anthony Weiner, powerful member of Congress from New York…he had it all, including a new beautiful wife who is a special assistant to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He was married by Bill Clinton. Maybe that explains some of it? Seriously, he now admits that he had “several inappropriate” electronic relationships with 6 women over 3 years. For more than a week he publicly lied about a pornographic photo he took and sent over Twitter to a college student in Seattle, saying “I was hacked!”

I want to speak to you about these 2 men today 1st of all because there is a Jewish connection. Strauss-Kahn is Jewish. His wife, Ann Sinclair’s original name was Ann Schwartz! Strauss-Kahn’s attorney is Jewish, as is his accuser’s attorney. And Anthony Weiner is Jewish although his young Pakistani-Indian bride, Huma Abedin, who was raised in Saudi Arabia, is Muslim.

I speak to you about this because Strauss-Kahn and Weiner are only the tip of the iceberg. For the 1st time in American history married couples have dropped below half of all American households. It’s unbelievable! The majority of Americans are not getting married, or are not staying married. 

And so today I want to give you the Jewish perspective on a question that sociologists, psychologists, media consultants and just about everyone else has asked in regard to Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn: What were they thinking?

The central idea of Shavuot we celebrate today is that on the day Gd gave us the Torah He entered into a covenant with us and made a commitment that He would be our Gd and we would be His people. And according to the Torah we entered that agreement eagerly, with total commitment to be faithful to Gd—that’s right—until death do us part. Our rabbis, to underscore just how binding and powerful this commitment at Sinai really was, compared it to a marriage. The Midrash has Mt. Sinai held over the heads of the Jewish people as the chupah and the Torah as the ketuba—the marriage contract. The sages compared our accepting the Torah on Mt. Sinai to a marriage because for them—here’s the key point—marriage is the most important of all commitments.

The Jewish perspective is that love is a decision and that marriage is a commitment. You marry someone because you decide to love them and, in doing so, you make a sacred commitment to them. So Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn…What were you thinking? Even Congressman Weiner said it in a press conference on Monday: “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Today we read Megilat Ruth. After the death of her husband, Ruth resolves to abandon her birthplace, her noble family and her people and go with her mother-in-law Naomi to the unknown-to-her land of Israel. She pleads with Naomi: baasher tamut amut, usually translated as, “where you die I will die.” But the true meaning of the word baasher means not “where,” but , “for that which”—for whatever you are willing to die for, for whatever you are willing to give your life for, for that very same thing I too will sacrifice my own life. Thus, Ruth commits herself and is prepared to bear the same sacrifices for the same reasons as her mother-in-law. Orpha, Ruth’s sister, on the other hand, threw goodbye kisses to Naomi and to Judaism and returned home. Ruth who makes a commitment becomes the progenitor of King David and the messiah. It is this commitment that changes her life.

Where was the commitment of Strauss-Kahn and Weiner? To me, the only logical answer to the question of: “What were they thinking?” is: they weren’t thinking! In the Shema we are told: V’lo taturu achrey l’vavchem v’achrey eyneychem, “Do not go after your heart and after your eyes which lead you astray.” Yes, following your eyes and following your heart can lead you astray to do some very crazy things! The best thing to do is to follow your head. American tradition says, “look before you leap.” Jewish tradition says, “think before you leap.” Anthony Weiner and Dominique Strauss-Kahn would be better off today had they done so! And in this month of marriage, we should look at their lives and learn to use our heads in thinking about our loved ones.

And we can use for models our parents we come to remember this Yizkor morning. They loved each other and stayed together because they were committed to each other. Most of them couldn’t even think of a life apart. Their marriages weren’t perfect and after many years of marriage they may not have had the same ingredients that were found in the early stages of their marriage as expressed in the 1st part of the blessing of marriage recited under the chupa. There may have been an absence, at times, of gila, rina, ditza, v’chedva, “mirth and song, delight and rejoicing”…yes, the music can stop at times and the flowers wilt but they used their heads and were grateful that they still have the 2nd part of that blessing: ahava v’achva, shalom v’reyut, “love and harmony, peace and companionship.

Yes, it’s Shavuot and it’s June and love is busting out all over. For those of you who are not married—if you so desire—may you meet this month the love of your lives; and for those of you who are married, you commit yourselves anew to each other with a commitment as strong as your parents and grandparents had—a commitment as strong as the Jewish people had with Gd on Mt. Sinai—so that you don’t have to carry a bouquet to hid the smell of a marriage without commitment. Amen!

                                                                                                            Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis


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