Blog - Torah Insights

Three Ways to Nurture your Relationship - משפטים


Three Ways to Nurture your Relationship 

What is the secret to maintaining a happy and meaningful marriage? What actions could nurture a relationship and allow it to deepen?

In general there are three courses of action:

1) engage in activities that both spouses enjoy. Doing so highlights the things they have in common, and deepens the bond based on  shared interests. 

2)  spouses should do things to express the love that they have for each other, especially during anniversaries when it is easier to recreate the feelings of love and happiness that were experienced in the past. 

But engaging in shared interests is not enough to sustain the deep bond necessary for a healthy marriage. Because a relationship requires commitment.

3) Occasionally each spouse should do something for the other specifically because the other spouse enjoys it. A relationship cannot survive without commitment. Engaging in an activity solely for the benefit of the spouse demonstrates and exercises the commitment, which deepens the relationship. 

These three aspects of deepening a relationship, shared interests, remembering the intense love, and acts of devotion, are also present in our relationship with G-d. These are the three categories of commandments in the Torah.

The first category is Mishpatim, the Torah’s civil law, which fills up most of this week's portion. These laws are logical. These are the commandments that make sense to us. These laws allow us to relate and share a perspective with the Divine wisdom. In these laws we and G-d have a shared perspective and interest. 

The second category of commandments are called Edut, testimonials, which are designed to remind us of the love and kindness that G-d has done to us in the past. They are the holidays which are the anniversary celebrations which allow us to re-experience the feelings of love. 

But shared interests and love are not enough. Relationships require commitment. 

The Torah therefore introduces the category of Chukim, decrees, which are the commandments that cannot be explained rationally. We do them not because we appreciate G-ds perspective, nor because they remind us of His love for us. But rather, we do them because we know that there is no relationship without commitment. In some ways, they are the deepest expressions of our bond. 

All three categories are critical to a relationship, which is why, even our Parsha, Mishpatim, which highlights the logical commandments, also includes laws that are testimonials, and laws that are decrees. This reminds us that every relationship requires all three forms of love. 

Grasping the Essence - יתרו

Grasping the Essence 

"I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt”, is the opening statement of the ten commandments. 

The common word in Hebrew for “I” is ani, yet the first word employed in the ten commandments is the far less common word anochi.

There are various explanations as to why the less common anochi is used. One interpretation is that ani is used when the “I” relates to something outside of the self.“I went”, “I spoke” etc. expresses how the person interacts with the world around him. Anochi, by contrast, refers to the “I” in relation to self, as anochi refers to the essence of self. “I am the L-rd your G-d”, then, tells us that G-d’s relates to us with the essence of his being. 

The Talmud explains that anochi is an acronym for “I myself wrote and gave . . The Kabbalaists explain the deeper meaning of this Talmudic passage, which, read literally, states: “I wrote and gave myself . This means that G-d invested himself, his own will and wisdom, within the Torah. Therefore when we study and grasp the Torah we are not just grasping a law dictating how to respond in a given situation, but rather we are grasping the will and wisdom of G-d, in which His essence is invested. When we grasp the Torah we grasp G-d’s essence which is invested within the Torah. 

Understanding Torah in this light explains the value of studying all parts of Torah, including the scenarios that are unlikely to ever occur. The study of Torah is not only for a utilitarian purpose, to know what to do, but rather it is a glimpse into the wisdom of G-d. In the words of the Tanya, the foundational book of Chabad Philosophy: 

Even if it never did nor ever will come to pass that litigation occur over these arguments and claims, yet, since it arose thus in G‑d’s will and wisdom that if one person would claim this way and the other that way, the verdict be such and such, therefore, when one knows and comprehends this verdict as a Halachah set forth in the Mishnah or Gemara or Poskim (the halachic codifiers), he then actually comprehends and grasps the will and wisdom of G‑d,  


Miriam - בשלח


She was Moses and Aaron's older sister. The Torah refers to her at the beginning of the book of Exodus, but in this Portion, at the song of the sea, she is mentioned by name for the first time: 

Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women came out after her with timbrels and with dances. (Exodus 15:20)

The Jewish people had just crossed the sea, and Moses led the men in song. Yet it was the women led by Miriam who sang and rejoiced with far greater intensity. They sang to G-d not only with words but also with timbrels and dances.  

The name Miriam contains within it two seemingly opposite meanings. Miriam contains the word mayim, water. [Indeed, three of the four stories where she is mentioned in the Torah occur in the context of water: she stood at the Nile to see what would happen to baby Moses who was placed in a basket at the Nile; her song at the crossing of the sea; her passing caused the lack of water]. Miriam also contains the word mar, bitter, because, as the Midrash points out, she was born at the darkest point of slavery in Egypt, described in the Torah as "they embittered their lives" (Exodus 1:14.)  

Miriam's unique quality was that despite living in profoundly dark and bitter circumstances, she was a source of life-giving "water" to herself and the people around her, sharing encouragement, positivity, and hope amid the darkness. As Rashi explains:  

Miriam, the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took: When did she prophecy? When she was known only as "Aaron's sister," before Moses was born, she said, "My mother is destined to bear a son" who will save Israel.  

Some people react to pain and suffering by freezing their emotions, some people remain positive by suppressing the pain; not so Miriam. Miriam empathized with the people and experienced their emotional and physical pain, yet the pain did not lead to despair, rather, the pain led to hope. Indeed because she felt the pain more than others, her joy at the splitting of the sea was more profound.

The letters of Miriam can be read as meirim - uplifting. Miriam responds to the pain by uplifting herself, by offering hope, ultimately transforming the painful experience into joy.  

When facing a challenge, each of us must learn from Miriam. We should not ignore the pain nor lose hope. Instead, the pain can motivate us to find water; the challenge can lead us to the deeper reservoirs of our soul, which can unleash the hope and enthusiasm necessary to transform the bitterness into water. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Hisvaaduyos 5752 vol. 2 page 187. 

Bread of Freedom - בא


Bread of Freedom

If Egypt represents constraints and limitations, then Pharaoh, the source of the oppression, is our inflated ego. Our desire to preserve and defend our inflated ego often keeps us trapped in negative space. Whether it is fear of rejection, the inability to apologize to a loved one, refusing to take responsibility, or blaming others, it is the fear that we will not survive if our inflated ego takes a hit that holds us back from growth.  

The antidote to the trappings of psychological Egypt and the key to liberation is the matzah, which represents humility. As the Torah commands in this week's Portion: 

And you shall watch over the unleavened cakes, for on this very day I have taken your legions out of the land of Egypt, and you shall observe this day throughout your generations, [as] an everlasting statute.

In the first [month], on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening, you shall eat unleavened cakes, until the twenty first day of the month in the evening.

For seven days, leavening shall not be found in your houses… (Exodus 12:17-19)

The Hebrew words for leavened bread, chametz, and unleavened bread, matzah, share two of three letters (they both have the letters mem and tzadik), the third letter of chametz is the chet (ח) whereas the third letter of matzah is the hey (ה). The shape of the letter chet (ח), the leavened bread's inflated ego, is an enclosed structure that traps the person within it, whereas the hey (ה) of the humble matzah has a small opening on the left which is the path to freedom. The caveat, however, is that in order to take advantage of the freedom, one must deflate the ego to enable himself to escape through the narrow opening. To break free of difficult circumstances often requires ignoring one's inflated ego and focusing on the required task, despite the fear that our ego will be bruised.  

Our nature is such that we spend much psychological energy protecting our ego. The matzah teaches us that, counter-intuitively, when we release ourselves from the grip of our inflated ego, we escape the narrow straits of our existence and open ourselves up to the expanses of new opportunities and reservoirs of untapped potential. 

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekuteu Sichos, Bo volume 1.

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