In this week's parsha, Naso, we have two seemingly unconnected ideas. One, the priestly blessing, is the age-old formula for the kohanim to bestow blessings upon the people. The other is the trial by ordeal of the "sota," the accused adulteress. We will see that they are not so far apart, that everything in Torah deeply connects in an organic, integrated whole.
Children, in order to become healthy adults, need Attention, Love, and Limits. If they don't receive healthy attention, they will seek out unhealthy attention. If we don't praise them for all the good things that they do, they will surely seek out attention for all the bad things that they are certainly capable of doing.
We must give them love. We must give our children unconditional love, a love that is not tied to anything except to their being who they are. They must know that even if they fail at something, we will always be there for them, cheering them on just for trying.
And lastly, we must set limits. Children crave knowing boundaries. Deep anxiety will set in for the child for whom no limits are expressed. The child will constantly push the envelope ever harder and with greater intensity searching for limits which never seem to be indicated.
The same thing with a marriage. We must not ignore our spouse. We must pay them due attention and be attentive to the nuances of their psychic lives. We must love them unconditionally. In Pirkei Avoth we are told that a love which depends on something will fade away when that something disappears- whether it is looks or money or status. But a love which depends on internal, spiritual qualities will endure, for these are qualities which are linked to the Eternal One.
Lastly, we must set limits in a marriage. A marriage without limits will grow so expansively that it will lose its center. Marriage partners should limit their speech- only offering praise, encouragement, and constructive criticism. To be an ezer kenegdo, a "helpmeet," each spouse should carefully praise when praise is called for (ezer) and gently correct (kenegdo) when criticism is needed. They should limit their touch, so as to never grow bored with each other. They should limit their gaze, being careful not to place themselves in situations of temptation. And they should limit their expectations. No one is perfect, and to expect perfection is surely a recipe for unhappiness.
We read about the sota in this week's sedrah. The woman, accused by her husband of infidelity, drinks a potion, whose effects then reveal, it is said, the state of fidelity or lack thereof. Having thus cleared her name and status, the couple are psychologically freed to move on with the marriage. The male's pent up jealous rage is now assuaged, allowing the couple to leave behind crippling suspicions and insinuations.
The sota is indeed a victim. She is a victim of a marriage where partners did not give their A.L.L..Perhaps she did not get the Attention she deserved. Perhaps she did not get the Love that she deserved. And because her spouse did not set Limits upon himself, perhaps she herself was accused of the same projected guilt with which he was consumed.
To reiterate, this ceremony was a merciful ceremony. If she was actually guilty, she would know, and in all likelihood refuse to perform the ritual, fearing the dire consequences. But being innocent, she could thus finally clear her name and her reputation and the couple could then move on. It would end once and for all the endless, merciless accusations destroying an already problematic relationship. If the crazy jealousy he feels can be transformed into a healthy love, by making a fresh start, then the sense of redemption they will feel as a couple will be infinite.
The Shabbos table offers that taste of the infinite. When the husband praises his wife, showering her with poetry of appreciation in the words of the "eishes chayil," he is making a vessel with which to express the deepest love he has for his wife. In our busy lives which we lead, it is often so hard to find those moments of deepest sharing with with which to show our appreciation. Life gets in the way. Without those vessels of sharing, those feelings get bottled up until they burst out in a consumption of manic rage and jealousy. His possible guilt for being a poor husband is then psychologically projected onto her as being a lousy wife. A true shabbos is the antidote to all of that.
And when we bless our children with the three-fold priestly blessing at the start of our Shabbos meal, we are doing the same thing. We are giving them Attention. We are stating our Love for them, and we are Limiting their unruliness by telling them how UNlimited is our love for them.
And these are G*d's blessings for us: to know that He is attentive to us by watching over us, that He loves us by shining His countenance upon us, and that there are limits to the hardships of life because in the end He will grant us His blessing of peace. And what about the husband who showers praise and blessings upon his wife and children? Who blesses him? No need, for in thus becoming a blessing to others, his life itself becomes a blessing.
Good Shabbos. Shabbat Shalom.
© 2000-2012 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua HaKohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.
Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)