Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Love Grows

I know it's been a while; the yom-tovim (yomim-tov?)[fn1] have been keeping me offline for the past few weeks. I've got a logjam of entries in my head, but only time right now to punch out a quick one.
[fn1:] yom = day, tov = good. It's a way of saying holiday. The difficulty I'm having with the plural is because the gramatically correct Hebrew is to pluralize the "day," making yomim-tov (good days.) But the phrase is used as a single word now, even if you're not speaking Hebrew, as in, "I was away for yom-tov." So if you pluralize the new-ish word, you get "yom-tovim." I don't know that it's really that important.
In a few days it will be Simchat Torah, an all-Jew crazy celebration of the Torah and the beauty it brings to our lives. If you've ever seen a frum wedding, there are similarities.

A few months ago (late May this year, I think) was Shavuot, the celebration of the day that we actually received the Torah at Sinai. It's actually a little more complicated, in that we accepted it, sinned, and then had to get it again, kind of. And then later on (hundreds of years) we had to accept it again (Purim). But leave that alone for now.

Way back in March, I mentioned that "one of my favorite voorts   for sheva brachos   [you can go read footnote 1 in the original post] is about how love has to be something that always grows, that's always moving forward, and that should, at some level, always surprise a person."

This is that voort. It's a little heavy on the "frum" and light in the "dad," so I hope that's okay. I'll be back for real once the holidays are over next week, and then we'll try to get some of these ideas out on virtual paper.

The question comes up as to why, if we got the Torah on Shavuot, we only celebrate Simchat Torah now, some five or six months later. You would expect them to happen closer together.

The answer is given in a moshol (parable): There was a wise and wonderful king, who, with his wife, had all that could be desired, except children. After much anguish and seeking, the king was told to go to a particular holy man in the deep woods, for a blessing. So he did.

The holy man blessed him, and told the King that his wife would soon be with child. It would be a daughter. But, the holy man warned him, there was a catch. If any man (barring the king himself) should even catch the slightest glimpse of the young lady before she was married, she would die.

The King returned with the puzzling blessing, lay with his wife, and true to the holy man's word, the Queen was soon with child.

The King immediately ordered a special palace built, on an island far in the sea. Special troops and retainers and servants were trained – all women – and even the ship on which the Queen traveled to the island was "manned" by women.

In due time (pun intended), the Queen gave birth. And while the King did occasionally visit, most of what he learned, he learned by letters from the Queen and from their daughter. From those letters he learned how, over the years, she grew into a beautiful and modest and sweet and caring and wise and wonderful and holy young lady, a princess perfect in every way.

And eventually, the time came to find her a husband. So the king gathered all of his nobles and vassals and knights. He announced that his daughter was available to be courted and wed. Everyone was excited by the prospect at first, but then the King explained that no one could see the princess or even meet the princess until after   the wedding.

Well, you can imagine that cast a pall on the proceedings, and many of the assembled nobles found reasons to leave. Then the King noted that for safety's sake, no man could even travel to the island to speak with the princess, even through a curtain or a wall, in case they should accidentally see her and cause her death. Which brought on more polite but urgent departures by the various assembled nobles.

Only one of the vassals was left at the end of the speech; Not even the highest among them. But, he thought to himself two things. First, that the King was a good king, and had never done wrong by him before, so the princess was probably okay, even if (as everyone assumed from the restrictions the King had placed on the courtship) she was hideously ugly had a lousy personality. Second, that it would embarrass the King if he had sought a husband for his princess and was faced, at the end of his speech, with an empty hall.

And so the date was set, the wedding was planned, and the two got married. If you think a Chassidish bride wears a thick veil, you can only imagine what this bride wore, in order that no one of the men present at the wedding should see even an inch of her flesh. And all the other nobles present snickered to themselves, glad they had escaped what they could tell was a terrible fate.

Of course, once the two were wed, she could remove her veil and wear a normal dress. And everyone saw she was beautiful, but assumed that it must be either a hidden defect or something wrong with her personality. In any event, the wedding was glorious and glamorous and, like every wedding, it eventually ended.

. . .

About three or four months later the Vassal – now the Prince – requested an audience with the King.

"When I agreed to marry your daughter," he said, "I did so out of concern for your honor, and a trust in your good intentions. I was joyful at my wedding, as is any groom, really, but to be honest, I did not really expect much of your daughter."

The King raised his eyebrow, but let the Prince continue.

"I have lived now with your daughter, my wife, for four months. And I have come to you now to offer the deepest thanks to you, to express the deepest joy. I married her for your sake, but in knowing her for this time I have grown to realize just how wonderful and sweet and wise and gentle and loving and exquisite she is. Her beauty struck me on our wedding day, but as we have grown together even this short time I have grown to see the depth of it, and she is more beautiful to me now than I can even explain. I sought this audience with Your Majesty in order to truly and fully thank you."

So it is with us Jews and Torah. When we originally agreed to accept the Torah, we did so on two premises. First, it was being offered to us by Hashem, who had done so much good for us so far, and had never misled us or done us harm. Second, out of concern for His glory and honor, because He offered it already to so many others and they refused it. So we accepted it, and we even recognized it as lovely, in an amorphous kind of way.

But only after we had lived with it for a few months, really been involved with it, brought it into our daily lives and tasted of its sweetness could we really appreciate the depth of Torah's beauty. Only after we had immersed ourselves in it and glimpsed the transcendent beauty could we really and truly, and with a full heart, come to Hashem and say "thank you," and mean it. Only after we had a better idea of what we had accepted could we adequately rejoice.

The Torah is often compared to a bride to the Jews. And that's a lesson for a bride and groom, too. Sure, a groom is happy when he first meets his future wife. And he is happier still when they get married. But the secret to a Jewish marriage is that every day, every week, every month – that love and wonder and joy grows and deepens. You go to bed at night thinking, "I can't possibly love this person any more." And then you go to bed the next night thinking, "Wow. It turns out I could love them more; I do love them more."

This is something that speaks to the essential nature of Love: it grows. It grows or it's not real. When I tell this story and make this point at wedding or post-wedding events, I turn it into a blessing for the bride and groom, that they should be surprised a little every day at the growth of their love for each other, that they should discover with every turn of the seasons a deeper aspect of some beauty in the other that they had thought they understood.

And that's a nice blessing. It's doable, though sometimes difficult, in the context of a marriage.

But being a father, and looking at Rachel. . . well that brings it to a whole new level. Because every time I look at my daughter there's whole new rooms being built in my heart just to accommodate the aching, overwhelming love I feel. Every time I think I couldn't possibly be more crazy about this sometimes cranky little girl, I suddenly find that I am.

Have a good and sweet holiday.

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At Oct 6, 2004 12:14:00 PM, Barak said...

"Yomim-Tovim" perhaps?

At Oct 6, 2004 12:52:00 PM, Frumdad said...

That can't be right. That's like "Good-Dayses." This is like the whole question of the parents or siblings of one's spouse. The right way to do that is "parents-in-law," or "brothers-in-law" and if you're going to add a possesive, then it's "parents-in-law's." But there are those who would argue that "brother-in-law" (for instance) has become a word on its own, so that if I'm talking about my wife's theoretical two brothers I'd say, "my two brother-in-laws," and if I were talking about a boat they bought together it'd be, "my two brother-in-laws' boat."

It's erev Yom-tov! What am I spending all this time on this question for? Somebody call William Safire!


At Oct 7, 2004 4:19:00 PM, Anonymous said...

What a beautiful story. Welcome back.
-Anne (Inland Empress)

At Oct 10, 2004 2:25:00 AM, Jack's Shack said...

The hagim were great, but it is nice to have some normalcy again. Mostly for my son's sake. He was in and out of school a lot, which is pretty hard for a 3.5 year-old.

At Oct 10, 2004 2:39:00 AM, Anonymous said...

It's "yamim tovim." In Hebrew, both the noun and the adjective are pluralized--unlike English, but correct in Hebrew. Yom singular becomes "yamim."

At Oct 13, 2004 10:39:00 PM, Anonymous said...

What a wonderful way to teach this lesson. Welcome back, and thank you for the food for my mind.


At Oct 15, 2004 3:46:00 PM, Digital Dad said...

Thank you for the story and the explanation!

At Oct 22, 2005 8:21:00 PM, Anonymous said...

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