Sustaining Relationships

A bit of Torah, which I learned from Cantor Lorel Zar-Kessler this past week and shared in my d’var Torah this morning.  It is based on the following passage:

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not be freed as male slaves are. If she proves to be displeasing to her master, who designated her for himself, he must let her be redeemed; he shall not have the right to sell her to outsiders, since he broke faith with her. And if he designated her for his son, he shall deal with her as is the practice with free maidens. If he marries another, he must not withhold from this one her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. If he fails her in these three ways, she shall go free, without payment.”(Exodus 21.7–11 JPS)

שְׁאֵרָהּ כְּסוּתָהּ וְעֹנָתָהּ

Three things are obligated to to the woman sold into servitude:  Food, clothing, and ona, which might mean ointment, but which has been understood by most commentaries as (sexual) pleasure.

We can read each of these three things as metaphorical instructions for what we need to do within our marital or other relationships to sustain them.  Consider the three questions below.  I’ve suggested answers for each of them, but you might find your own ways to express the concepts of food, clothing, and pleasure in your relationships.

In our relationships, what do we give/receive that is nourishing?  We give:

  • Simple attention.
  • Loyalty. The assurance that the other is a priority in our life.
  • Support and encouraging the other’s growth as a human being with unique talents.

… how do we give protection, how do we need to be protected? We provide the clothing of physical and emotional support:

  • We can be a provider in a financial sense.
  • We give support when our partner fails, we give a hug, an encouraging word.
  • We can also honor accomplishments, affirm a sense of self-worth.

… what makes the relationship pleasurable and fun?

  • How do we laugh together?
  • How do we create moments in which we enjoy each others company?

Moses and The King’s Speech

The story of Moses is of a second born son who grew up with royal privilege but never expected to be the King. When he is called to be a leader, he tries to get out of it because he has some kind of speech impediment. He asks God to choose someone, anyone, else but him.

There are striking parallels between the story of Moses and the story of Prince Albert, who rose to the throne of the British empire as King George VI.

The second born Prince Albert never expected to be King. He never wanted to be King, because of his speech difficulty. When his brother David, who became King Edward after the death of their father, insisted on continuing a relationship with the twice divorced American Walis Simpson, it became clear that King Edward was going to have to abdicate the throne and Prince Albert was going to have to step up. He ascended to the throne at an extremely difficult time — the beginning of WWII and the beginning of the end of the British empire. He remained in London during the Blitz, ate rationed food along with the rest of his people, visited bomb sites, munition factories, and the troops abroad. He became a symbol of national resistance.

The movie “The King’s Speech,” tells this story of a reluctant Prince, struggling with his royal role and ultimately the responsibility to become King after his brother abdicated the throne – a responsibility that he feels is a Divine mandate – and his dread of public speaking because of his stammer.

Although the movie is based on historical events, it takes some liberties with history and the precise timing of the resignation of Chamberlin and Churchill’s ascent. However, the main point of the movie is not to teach us history, but to explore the relationship between Prince Albert/King George, played by Colin Firth, and his speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush.

My colleague Rabbi Philip Pohl wrote:

As I watched the film I more clearly understood the power that must have been evident to the Israelites in the example of Moses, biblically documented as being deficient in speech, persevering through many bouts of self-doubt and lack of success. Watching the actors in the film portraying the disappointed King’s advisors and worried public made me think of the Israelites who had to wonder how it might ever be possible for the speech impaired Moses to face up to the glory and power of Pharaoh.

And then finally when success is achieved, the inspiration provided just by courage and personal persistence is palpable. The film manages to demonstrate how it is possible for a person’s ability to eventually defeat his own individual demons can serve as a model for an entire nation to be victorious over demons who threaten to destroy the world.

Imagine what the Israelites were thinking, sending Moses off to meet with Pharaoh, especially after he comes back and gives them the bad news, that they are now going to have to gather their own straw to make bricks. What did they think of Moses at that moment? What did Moses think of himself – a failed leader? One whose inability to speak well has cost his people dearly?

My colleague Charles Savenor wrote:

We might assume that God wants an eloquent speaker and someone who feels ready and eager to assume a leadership role. But instead, Moses – hesitant, scared and almost the epitome of a broken vessel – is chosen. In addition to his humility and wisdom, God chooses Moses because of his imperfections. The irony of the story is that God accepts Moses as he is. It is Moses who needs to learn to accept himself. Ultimately, Moses was able to be a leader in spite of his limitations.

It is precisely when the task seems so large that we need to remember that Moses’ inadequacies and hesitations did not hold him back from being a leader. In fact, when exposed firsthand to injustice and cruelty, he takes immediate action without stopping to consider the personal ramifications.

…. We are all like Moses in that each of us has our own challenges and shortcomings. Similarly, each of us has a unique contribution to make – to our communities, to society, to the world – if only we learn to accept ourselves as we are.

Dale Carnegie, in his books and in the course that bears his name, teaches that the quality that makes a speaker compelling is not having mastered the mechanics of speaking with a powerfully resonant voice or the words one uses, but rather the passion and enthusiasm and commitment to the message one is trying to deliver. We find the fullest expression of ourselves when we both accept our limitations and work to transcend them.

The Reuben

I’ve been trying to write something about the movie “The King’s Speech” (which was the subject of my d’var Torah this past Shabbat), a must-see movie, but haven’t quite gotten it right yet.  In the meantime, see the movie and think about Moses.

For now, take a look at this video on Youtube:

What are we talking about here?  A sandwich, yes, but much more.  What is the role of “tradition” in Judaism?  Just because something is an ancient custom, should we take it more seriously than if it were a newly invented ritual?  Does a ritual that has its origins in New York – or Mount Sinai – have more authority than one which comes from a different place or time?  What makes a ritual Jewish?  How much can we remove from a traditional Jewish practice before it no longer is Jewish?

The video raises these delightful questions, and at the very end should make you laugh … and if you enjoy eating Reuben sandwiches, should make you think twice!