A rabbinic mentor of mine loves to tell brides and grooms that his job is “save your marriage before it starts.” I don’t present my role in such dramatic terms, but I do think he is on to something. Judaism has much relationship wisdom.
It starts with recognizing relationships take work. But it’s not just marriage. All important relationships do.
But marriage is a good vehicle to examine relationship wisdom that works. The marriage ceremony conveys this wisdom. Here’s how…
1. Honesty: Prior to a Jewish wedding ceremony, the bride and groom typically undergo a ritual called bedeken. During this ritual, a veil is placed over the bride’s face.
At the end of the ceremony, the groom lifts the veil. This act makes them a married couple.
Some scholars trace this practice to the biblical Rebecca, who placed a veil on her face when he met her future husband Isaac. Others connect it to Jacob and Leah, but the symbolism of the veil is clear.
The veil represents the distance between people. We tend to hide our full selves from others. We wear masks. We play certain roles in life. And that is appropriate. We have jobs and responsibilities.
But we need someone in our life with whom we can shed our masks. Our true self comes when we lift up our veil and show our face. We are honest, open, real.
And we need someone who embraces that fullness. We need a person before whom we can be fully seen, and who loves and sees us as we are.
For many people, that person is their spouse. That’s why the wedding ends when the is lifted. But for others it can be a dear friend or sibling.
For people of faith it is also God. Acceptance cements the relationship.
During a Jewish ceremony, the bride and groom share a cup of wine called a kiddush. The word kiddush in Hebrew means holiness or sacredness.
As they share the wine, I also tell them they will share all of life together, its ups and downs. The downs will be made more endurable by their sharing them together. And the happier times even better by their sharing them together.
Sharing magnifies the good and halves the bad. When we share experiences with others, we grow closer. This is true throughout life.
I know widows who miss traveling with their husband, but they have found great joy sharing the experience of travel with friends old and new. Sharing experiences is a glue that binds us closer together.
A Jewish wedding ceremony concludes with the breaking of a glass. Typically the groom will step on a glass (you can also use a lightbulb) wrapped in a special bag or handkerchief.
No one knows the origins of this custom. It may have started as a superstitious ritual to ward off evil spirits from a happy couple. The loud noise of the shattering was said to scatter the spirits.
Over time, however, the breaking of the glass came symbolize memory. Even at times of great joy, we remember painful moments of history. Life is rarely utter joy or sorrow. It is a mixture of both.
In the realm of relationships, memory is a powerful force. In counseling couples, I have often found it helpful to suggest they try to remember what brought them together. What part of the other person set off the spark that began their relationship?
Remembering those feelings helps couples recover the warmth of their relationship. The same is true in friendships.
Sometimes we grow distant from others because of a move or busyness. We wonder what we have in common anymore. But if we remember what made us friends—what bonded us—we can recover some of the closeness and warmth.
Memory matters. The Hebrew word for remember—zachor—appears over 300 times in the Bible. Memory can deepen our relationships. It can also make us happier!
Research by Noble Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has shown that our memories can often feel better than the events we are remembering!
In Judaism memory is an act of faith. We remember the gifts God gave us so we can add our own gifts to this world. As Rabbi Leo Baeck once suggested, “Life is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift back to God.”
What Is Your Best Biblical Relationship Wisdom?