How to have an Amazing Relationship using Jewish Wisdom from the Holiday of Shavuot (this weekend!)
Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Yehoshua (Joshua). And Yehoshua to the Elders …. (Pirkei Avos 1:1)
Didn’t Moshe (Moses) receive the Torah from G-d? While he received it on Mt Sinai, the mountain didn’t give him the Torah! The Maharal of Prague (Derech Chaim) explains that while Moshe received the Torah from G-d, Sinai was a necessary component to enable that transmission to occur. In order to have an encounter where one truly receives from another, a special place must be designated for the encounter. Otherwise the experience is random. For a truly amazing relationship, keep reading!
When G-d revealed Himself to the non-Jewish prophet Bilam, the Torah describes it as a chance encounter, (vayikar), as there was no special place designated for the revelation. When G-d gave the Torah, He did so with intention to transmit to a receiver, and therefore he designated Sinai as a place to accomplish that goal. When the Mishna says that Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, it teaches us the uniqueness of Moshe’s reception in that G-d designated a special place for that event.
Our Sages liken our receiving the Torah on Shavuos to a marriage between G-d and the Jewish people. Just as it was necessary to designate a space for there to be a true encounter, relationship, so too in our own relationships it is necessary to make space.
Relationships don’t just function on autopilot. If we do not work on them and create space for them, they will not achieve their full potential. While a husband and wife can live together and go through the motions, and this may be even easier if they have kids to distract them, such encounters become random and happenstance. A true encounter, a revelation of one’s self to the other, can only occur when we create space.
Here are three practical ways that you can make space for your relationship:
1) Space in Time
It is crucial for couples to make time for each other. We often forget that at one point we really enjoyed each other’s company. It is necessary to have fun time together, such as a weekly outing or “date night” as well as time for more serious discussion. Designating that time in your schedule can make your relationship feel like an intentional experience. You know how much easier it is to “show up” for your spouse and be present if you consciously create a special time rather than your spouse hoping that it will just randomly occur during your everyday interactions.
Furthermore, the concept of designating time to talk makes it much easier for you to receive things that may be uncomfortable to hear. If you are walking in the door from work and are tired and hungry, the last thing you want to do is listen to your partner’s frustrations with you. However, if you are not caught off guard, rather you are ready and willing to listen, you will likely be able to take it much better and approach a more productive outcome. If you want your partner to receive you, ask if it is a good time to talk. Just as G-d designated the space of Sinai so that we could truly receive the Torah, making space in time will allow your spouse to receive you in a meaningful way.
2) Space in Self
If you want to receive your spouse fully, you must also make space within yourself for him/her. When we experience another, it is hard to remove ourselves from the equation. We process their words through our filter and we desire to respond. When we can temporarily put our reality aside and receive our spouse, without reacting from our experience, we are able to engage with them in a deep encounter. Our Sages (Medrash Tehilim 68:16) say that one of the reasons the Torah was given on Sinai, even though it was the lowest mountain, is to teach us the lesson of humility. Precisely because it was the lowest mountain, it was able to make space for something greater than itself, G-d’s revelation. In order to make space for G-d’s revelation in your relationship, you need to make space for an “other”. Next time your spouse shares something with you, try to really listen to where he/she is coming from without putting your two cents in.
3) Relationship Space
The final way you can make space for your relationship is to honor the “in-between”. The Talmud (Yerushalmi Shekalim 6:1) describes the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moshe by commenting that the tablets were 6 handbreadths long, leaving two handbreadths for G-d to “hold onto”, two for Moshe to hold as he received them, and an empty space of two handbreadths in between. The Maharal explains (Netzach Yisroel 2) that this image represents the highest form of connection one can have, as the empty space in-between is a joint shared space which reflects the partnership, so to speak, between the two parties.
Instead of asking yourself, “what can I get out of this relationship?”, ask yourself “what does this relationship need from me?” We often view a relationship as two separate parties who are engaged in a give and take. In truth, the relationship is a joint entity which is bigger than two individuals in it. When we make the relationship the focus, instead of ourselves, we allow the Divine presence to rest in between.
One helpful thought to have in mind can be learned from the following Talmudic story (Shabbos 31a) of the convert who asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah on one foot. Hillel responded, “That which is hateful to your friend, do not do. All the rest is commentary-go and study it.”
Commenting on this passage Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch translated “your friend” to mean your “connection”(as they share the same root word in Hebrew). That which is hateful to your connection with G-d, do not do!
Let us ask ourselves, will this thought, word, or action be helpful for our relationship with our spouse? Will it nurture the relationship or will it damage it?
As we work to make a special space in time, within ourselves, and for our relationship, may we experience the revelation of the Divine in our marriage.
With best wishes for your relationship success,
Shlomo and Rivka Slatkin