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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Yes, it seemed somewhat strange! We all laughed, but it was a little awkward. It was at our wedding. As I was about to put the ring on my wife’s finger, a rabbi standing under the chupah said to me loud enough that other people could hear, “Remember, there is no way out!” Those words echoed in my ears for quite some time and continue to do so today. It’s not only me; my wife has often spoken about that awkward moment as well. I actually have never asked the rabbi who made the comment exactly what he meant. Instead, we have interpreted as a couple how those words under our chupah shaped our marriage over the past 18 plus years. Realistically, of course there is a way out of marriage! Hashem created the rules of marriage as well as the rules of divorce. Just as we have a tractate in the Talmud of “Kiddushin,” we also have a tractate called “Gittin.” Yet what we determined the words at the chupah to mean is that when a couple experiences conflict, they should take the appropriate approach with each other of understanding that their marriage can withstand any challenge it faces, simple or complex. If the mindset of a couple is one of stubbornness, not toward each other, but toward the success of the marriage at almost all costs, the likelihood is that the couple will be more creative in seeking to repair and recover from their natural moments of conflict. All healthy relationships experience moments of conflict and despair. The challenge is to transform moments of conflict into moments of learning about each other.

In response to the Chet Haegel, the sin of the golden calf, Hashem told Moshe that Bnei Yisrael were an “am k’shei oref,” a stiff-necked people. Chazal explain that Hashem’s description was not one of praise. Rather, am Yisrael were a stubborn group, who were inflexible, unyielding and who would never change. It is for this description and reason that Hashem desired to “wipe away” the people and create a new nation from Moshe. Rabbi Avraham Besdin, zt”l, the longtime rav of Congregation Etz Chaim in Brooklyn, as well as a distinguished talmid of Rav Soloveitchik, zt”l, explained that Moshe used the very same term of “am k’shei oref” to convince Hashem to forgive Bnei Yisrael and give them a second chance. Moshe suggested to Hashem that the very stubbornness that caused the nation to sin could guarantee the survival of the nation in the future. Moshe sought and attained Hashem’s commitment and love for the Jewish people because their stubbornness would preserve the Torah and their legacy in the face of adversity and tragedy in the future. I believe that this idea can serve as a very important lesson for us when it comes to marriage. On the one hand, we need to be honest with ourselves when it comes to conflict, and recognize when we are being stubborn instead of being attentive and understanding. Such harsh positions during even the most minor of conflicts can cause a major conflagration to erupt. There are, at times, situations when one spouse insists that a couple get professional help, while the other spouse refuses to do so. In such a situation, stubbornness can play a pivotal role. If one is stubborn to get help, they can be undermining the future of the marital partnership. Whereas if the other spouse is stubborn and insists on fighting for the relationship, their stubbornness can serve as a catalyst for dramatic change in the marriage. While there are relationships that cannot and should not be sustained, others may end too quickly when couples conclude prematurely that there is nothing to be saved.

The difference between being stubborn and having perseverance is interesting. A person who is stubborn will continue doing the same thing until they accomplish their goal. A person who perseveres doesn’t give up and tries different things in order to accomplish their goal. When it comes to overcoming adversity, and finding success in life, our stubbornness and perseverance can truly define us. However, when it comes to conflict, most often found in our relationships, our stubbornness could at times be stifling and paralyzing. Without the flexibility that necessitates any human interaction, our stubbornness can set us back when it comes to connecting with others. At times our stubbornness can even be blinding and destroy the potential for connection that we are wired to seek and attain. At those times it may help us to think of Moshe and his stubbornness when it came to standing up for and saving the Jewish people.

Rav Avraham Pam, zt”l, used to talk about the importance of the wedding album. He said that the reason the album is a critical item is that it serves a very important purpose particularly when a couple is in conflict. If one looks at their wedding album and remembers the happiness of their wedding, they are more likely to be reminded of how they once were endeared to and endeared by their spouse. This memory, he said, will hopefully give good reason for the couple to try their very best to resolve and grow from the conflicts and challenges that naturally arise even in the best of relationships. The relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people has seen quite a few difficult moments through our history. Yet this relationship has been repeatedly repaired and strengthened in the face of much adversity. May the same hold true for our own relationships.

By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler, LCSW

 Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, New Jersey, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected]