High Holy Days

Relating to God in Elul, on Rosh Hashanah, and on Yom Kipur

The Husband/Wife Relationship

(Editor's note: In order to simplify the text, we have referred to the mates in this chapter gender specifically. Certainly, the roles can be reversed.)

The sin against one's spouse is the sin of insensitivity — the lack of willingness and openness to actively identify with him. What pains a spouse more than anything else is when the "rules" are being kept, and when consideration for his uniqueness is shown — but there is no real interest in his inner thoughts and deepest feelings. An outsider might be most impressed with the level of mutual consideration that the couple projects. Deep in his heart, though, the offended spouse desires more than just mutual consideration. He wishes to ascend to a point where he can truly share the intricacies of his soul with his beloved mate.

Married life, with it daily frictions and demands invites one to build walls around the depths of his soul — to define boundaries and to admit that his spouse is totally different than he and beyond his understanding. Furthermore, he adds, it is her privilege to be just the way she is. This approach is legitimate only if the separations are used as tools to release superficial tension and to unlock one's inner world. If the couple identifies these separations as the strong foundation of their lives together — if they despair of immersion in the inner soul of the other — a persistent inner sadness will erode their feeling of "togetherness" and their love for each other will fade.

Exploitation and Enthusiasm

While the father /son relationship is defined by the tension between disregard and recognition, the relationship between husband and wife is defined by the tension between exploitation and enthusiasm. The spouse expects his mate to relate to him as he is dear to himself — to be excited to meet someone new and different who wants to immerse herself in his very being. The thought that his mate may see him as a depersonalized object conveniently placed for use in her life spiritually "kills" him.

Further, more than the spouse fears being exploited with total disregard for his inner experience, he fears exploitation of his inner experience, itself. He fears that his awakening toward his spouse and his devotion to her will be met with the cynicism of cool practicality.

God As Our Spouse

When we sin toward God as our spouse we may remain faithful to His commandments, without internalizing the experience of Him in our lives and without trying to identify with Him. We do not meet God with enthusiasm, allowing Him to permeate our very being, to enter into our deepest experience and to transform it. When we don't relate properly to God as our spouse we also do not truly pray to Him. Deep down, we do not believe that He is actually interested in us and in our innermost desires.

"Cleanse Us"

This type of sin needs kaparah, "cleansing."  Married life demands continual detailed cleansing and examination. Even a small insult reveals an internal, practically essential coldness and unwillingness to be "overly involved" in the world of the other. This coldness descends to the very depths of the other's soul. He feels that his efforts to give of his essence to his mate have been exploited, while his spouse has not awakened in return.

On a deeper level, we can understand that God's Divine Presence (Shechinah) dwells between the married couple. It is His Divine Presence that allows peace and affection to reign between the two diverse souls. If we are not sensitive to God's Shechinah, it simply leaves. To merit His Divine Presence in our midst, we must constantly cleanse and purify ourselves, examining the intricacies of our actions and thoughts and creating a true dwelling place for Him in our world.

Other chapters in this series:

  1. Introduction
  2. The Father-Son Relationship
  3. The King-Servant Relationship
  4. The Husband-Wife Relationship
  5. Relating to God in Elul
  6. Relating to God on Rosh Hashanah
  7. Relating to God on Yom Kipur

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