Marriage and divorce in Judaism

Disclaimer: Sheesh, how did this happen that I wrote a piece about marriage? I always feel like I don’t have the right considering the fact that I’m not married but I’ll be brave here and post it, since I do believe that what I wrote makes sense. Please feel free to give your two cents (or as mTp says, 7 cents with inflation). Thanks

My friend just told me that at Friday night dinner, someone asked the rabbi how you know if you’re married to the right person. He said that you need to always realize that you don’t only marry Rachel but you also marry Leah. The idea being that you marry the whole package. The good the bad the ugly the beautiful the part you connect to the part that you don’t the part you love the part you try to put up with the part you respect the part you wish would change the part you are crazy about the part you can’t stand…

I must say it seems a bit simplistic. I do think it’s very true. If you don’t realize that there are things about your spouse that will be difficult for you, you’re setting yourself up for failure. To go into it knowing you’re marrying a human being, flaws, beauty and all, is a great start. But it’s not the only thing needed for a great start and marriage.

We also need to be extremely honest with ourselves. See the person standing before you. Truly see them. Is this the person that’s good for me? Are there possibly things that bother me on the most important level that I’m ignoring, pretending I don’t actually care about or assuming, consciously or subconsciously, that it’ll change and then it’ll be OK?

STOP IT!!! We must must MUST be as honest with ourselves as possible about what we’re getting ourselves into.

Also, sometimes things happen before we’ve fully committed that make us feel like now we have to commit – get engaged and married. But it’s important to realize that there is almost nothing that can make a person get married to someone else. Even if, to you, sleeping with the person means you have to marry them, it’s absolutely not true. It is better to back out of a not good relationship at any point rather than go forwards just because you feel you have to. I cannot think of any scenario where you really have to.

I have heard the idea that most people whose marriages don’t work out, if afterwards you ask them if they had a bad feeling to begin with, they did. Yikes. Be honest with yourself.

So we don’t want to marry the wrong person. But we also don’t want to not marry the right person! One thing my mom just said to me recently that her friend said to her was that we need to make sure that we aren’t full of ourselves. Someone might find that they don’t want to be with someone who is otherwise really great for them, because they are… and I HATE this word… picky.

I hate the word because it’s so absolutely, positively, unbelievably important to be picky when choosing – or picking, shall we say – the person with whom we’ll spend the rest of our lives. But it still is possible to be too picky. And as my mother explained it to me, if you think you’re God’s ultimate gift to the world – more than other human beings – you might turn down someone less than perfect because they just aren’t perfect enough for you. But you need to remind yourself that you ain’t no perfect ride either. You can be annoying or not nice sometimes, just like everyone else. It is a wonderful thing that someone sees past your flaws and wants to be with you in the ultimate way. You need to find someone who is great for you with their imperfections.

A friend told me that when she met her beshert (soulmate) she saw that she was compromising on things that she thought she needed in her husband but she was getting so much more than she’d imagined.

As for what the rabbi said, I think it is important in both directions. You are marrying a full person, for good (symbolized by Rachel) and for bad (symbolized by Leah). Sadly and thankfully, divorce is part of Jewish law for a reason. Sometimes it isn’t good enough and if it is bad enough, it’s important to get divorced. So you need to carefully look at what you’ve got and if it’s really not good for you, you need to move on. (I am obviously NO expert. This is just my feeling and of course you MUST talk to a professional, and hopefully your spouse, to figure these things out.) If there’s too much Leah and not enough Rachel, it’s time to take a good look at what’s going on. Are you guys not working hard enough at the relationship or is there something that is beyond work?

Finally, as I started mentioning above, don’t you dare think that things will stay good if you don’t constantly keep working on them. Both partners must be committed to putting constant effort into the relationship and into the other person in order to make sure that the relationship stays strong and loving for ever and ever.

What work? That’s for another post.

Things in Judaism we don't mess with

It’s fascinating to look at Jewish practice and see which practices a large majority of Jews generally don’t mess with. I know it’s far from written in stone (unlike the tablets?) but it’s a feeling of, if you’re going to do it, do it right. Or maybe it’s the idea of, I’m Jewish, I’m going to keep doing this. Here are some examples. What other examples can you think of?


The other day I was talking to a woman whose mother passed away over a year ago. We were saying how our experience always has been that for yizkor (the remembrance prayer said during some of the holidays) everything else is dropped. No one wants to miss going to synagogue on those holidays at that specific time in order to say yizkor for their parent who passed away. I’d go so far as to say that most/all things connected to death are observed quite religiously by many/most Jews.


Mezuza might be another. In the book “The year of living Bibilically,” the author, A.J. Jacobs, writes that he comes from an extremely secular background. But then when he writes about the mitzva of having the parchment with the shema written on it, stuck to the doorpost, he writes as if it’s obvious that Jews have this. Totally “secular” yet doesn’t think twice about a mezuza?

The Sefer Torah

I have heard that all Torah scrolls in every synagogue or temple are identical to each other. Including the way they are written?


It’s a little iffy. So many Jews don’t eat pork but so many do!

Yom Kippur

Now this is an amazing one. Almost everyone, all Jews worldwide, keep Yom Kippur in one way or another.

What other mitzvot/commandments/traditions can you not imagine giving up even if you’re not very religious in the conventional sense?

Goodbye Pessach, hello Omer

No, omer isn’t my friend (though I’m sure he’s a great guy). It’s the counting we do from the beginning of Pessach until Shavuot. The one where we celebrate receiving the Torah. No no, not that other holiday where we celebrate receiving the Torah – the one called Simchat Torah. This one, Shavuot, is the day on which tradition says we actually received the Torah.

(On Simchat Torah we start reading the Torah from the beginning again.)

Anyway, Pessach just ended, at this moment it’s been over for 10 minutes exactly, here in Vancouver, B.C. It’s really been a lovely holiday for me. Didn’t do much. Socialized, wrote, went to seders and meals… But it’s been nice. And the culmination was, in honor of the parting of the Red Sea, my Moving of the Furniture. It actually is on the 7th day that the Israelites crossed the sea.

Exciting indeed.

You probably don’t realize this but I’m always trying to think of good content for you here on Blog Midrash. My own and from guest writers. Over the Passover time, I started quite a few posts that, for one reason or another, I never finished! Among them:

Freedom is…

…not being controlled by anything external of yourself.

This is the definition the rabbi gave in shul on Friday. I like it. It feels like a correct definition. Do you agree? Anyway, then you can easily figure out if you’re free or not.

“Does my computer, email, work, social life, etc., control me? Am I capable of making decisions 100% independently of these things?” And there you’ve got it.

Another post I started but never finished:

Enslaved by my guilt

I had a very helpful conversation with some friends on Friday night. I told them my religious journey story and ended up talking about the ongoing guilt I experience.

“If the Torah is truth, shouldn’t I be keeping Shabbat?”

Who told you Torah is truth?

Mommy and Daddy.

And who told them?

Their parents.

So who said it’s true? You have to live your life. and you can’t control everything.

The topic of guilt is a very important one to me because I do experience a lot of on-going guilt. We have a guest writer who will share her insights on this topic. In honor of the holiday of freedom, I pray not to waste so much energy on guilting myself. Same for you. : )

And just as quickly as the holiday began (which wasn’t that quick for those of us who worked hard to prepare for the holiday) we will return to our regular life.


It’s been painfully slow here over Pessach but now I look forward to exciting things! I have a few people who have offered or agreed to share really interesting pieces here. I’m psyched for all of them. Hopefully one will already go up tonight and the others, hopefully very, very soon. Don’t want to make any promises (that’s just how I work) but I hope you’ll see some really interesting stuff up here very soon.

So, enjoy the counting of the omer. Read more about that here. And keep visiting Blog Midrash!

Birkat hachama systematic explanation

Birkat hachama, the blessing of the sun, is a custom that Jews can perform once every 28 years. It is believed that every 28 years the sun returns to the place – relative to earth – where it was created. Why once every 28 years? It has to do with the day of the week, the season and the time of day… It gets complicated. But a friend of mine sent me this video that explains it really well. It is around 45 minutes long but very worthwhile.

A very cool matza idea

Wow, it’s always excited to hear an idea that I’ve never heard before.

This very cool idea (which I read in the Washington Post – On Faith) points out that matza is called lechem oni לחם עוני which means the bread of poverty but the word oni has the same letters as the word o’ne עונה which means, to answer. Pessach is a holiday of asking questions so the matza helps us on that conquest of also getting answers.

What an amazing connection, which I never noticed!

Thou shall not murder.

As I drove home, I was thinking of the passover story. I was struggling with this.

The story begins in Egypt with Moses the prince of Egypt. Moses is living a pretty good life as far as we can tell then he murders some one. He murders a person who is beating on a slave.

Moses banishes himself and then is picked by G-d to save his Israelite kin. Why would G-d pick a murderer? Why does Moses become our greatest prophet? Why do we not hear of this again even after Moses walks down Sinai with the words of G-d?

Thou shalt not murder. לֹא תִרְצָח -Exodus 20:12

So does this mean that it is sometimes ok to murder? You can murder and become the prophet of a people. Or is there something different because Moses had not learned about this law yet?

mTp – With Intention

Jewish Journey: Mitzvot

This is part IV. Read: Part I, part II, part III.

Ah now I am Jewish, all the hard stuff is behind me right? All I have to do is continue on living the way I have always been living? What changed? One day I was a goy the next a Jew. You cannot tell me that the day makes a huge difference.

So why not jump into doing all the halacha? Why not do all the mitzvot at once? Whoa nelly. I do not jump both feet into anything and with this I did not even have an idea where to begin. It is not even something I had ever encountered until a few years before.

So my wife and I (yeah we got married in there somewhere) decided that together we would start incorporating different mitzvot into our lives. (Since she is not orthodox we did not venture down the halachic path.) The first thing we did was to incorporate Shabbat into our lives. We made Saturday the day where our professional jobs were not allowed and we would not watch TV or use the computer. Slowly we added more and more things into our lives.

So now I want you to think of this situation. My family is all Christian or something like that and my wife’s family is a participating assimilated Jewish family who used to attend a conservative synagogue. And we live in an assimilated American neighborhood.

The more we do to incorporate Jewish traditions the more different we look to our families. Why don’t we just follow all of the halachic laws? Because that would and does skewer the relationship we have with our parents, family and community we participate in. We have been warned of becoming “too” Jewish by the Jewish relatives. 

I do not live in a Jewish world. I live in a world that contains a good number of assimilated Jews but it is an assimilated American world. Some would say “ah that is too easy if you really believed you would do it all and become orthodox.” I think that sentiment is not fair and very particularistic.

I am proud to be Jewish and I am proud of the participation and ways of my family and myself. It is perfect for where we are today. As I learn more I try to incorporate what I am learning. I am willing to stand out and be different but I am not willing to separate myself from my family and community as a strict halachic experience requires.

Outside of the orthodox world everything is done by my will power. I am learning everything new. The language, the customs, the rituals, the traditions – everything is new. It is not necessarily better than what I had before. My parents did a fabulous job of raising me. They are great parents and in their honour, do not deserve throwing everything out just because I picked a new way of doing things.

As I get all wrapped and emotional about the expectations of the relentless external eyes questioning “how Jewish are you?,” all I can think of is back off. We are all people. How we do our Judaism is way more important then grey line rules. Living as a good Jew in this world is more important then living as a rule abiding Jew secluded from the rest of the world.

If I can be so bold, don’t make excuses for what you do and don’t do. Just do what you do with intention. Make sure that everything you do is done with the full beauty of Judaism in your eyes. That may mean that you do not live up to expectations of your neighbors. However, the most important thing is your family and the community you surround yourself with. They all should see the beauty of the Judaism you practice.

Peace, Shalom

mTp – With Intention

Cheeseburger for the soul

by Yosef Levenstein

I was on 1 local train going downtown yesterday, and as usual on a New York subway I could overhear 5 different conversations on the train. The conversation that caught my ear was between two young girls. They were chatting about boys, and clothes and then one of them said, “let’s get a cheeseburger as soon as we get off the train”. It did not matter to them where they got off because in Manhattan you can rest assured that there will be a McDonald’s near by.

I thought to myself, how great it would be if where ever I was I could just walk into an establishment and get a delicious cheeseburger. It would make life so much more simple, and social planning even easier if we could just go where ever and not have to worry about what we will be able to eat there. Which lead me to another though, how lucky are we that we can’t do that!

Granted some people may be more liberal about kosher in their eating out, and some may not observe at all. But for people that do (and I’m not claiming to be either way) it means you need to put thought into your day. And that thought is I am Jewish, I am kosher observant, and so no matter what I do during a day I have that in mind.

As Jews even the most simple actions lead us back to thinking of G-d, or our traditions, or just our Jewish mother’s guilt, but regardless it makes us think of who we are as a people, and a religion.

Mitzvah: Telling your spiritual journey

In every generation, each of us must see ourselves as if we, ourselves, came out of Egypt , as it is written: And
you shall tell your child on that day saying, This is what God did for me, when I came out of Egypt . (Exodus 13:8 )

What are you? Are you a Jew? What is your story? What do you tell your children? Do you tell the story of coming out of Egypt? Do you tell it as your story?

Describing our challenges and proudest moments help define a picture of who we are. This helps frame and set a context for our story. We tell our story of a great people to keep our history alive. Stories of our families and our people are important for children to learn about who they are and to provide an identity and a connection to their heritage.

Our people have a long and brilliant history of underdogs struggling and overcoming. Over the years we have lived under many difficult regimes then succeeded beyond the expectations of the nations we embraced.

Under slavery and horrible conditions of an oppressive kingdom in Egypt we struggled. We left Egypt and made our way to the land of Israel and built a great nation. Then the story repeats itself in history. In every generation we encounter a struggle against rulers. And in every generation we succeed and change the world. Within the ups and downs, each year we connect our children with the story of coming out of Egypt.

This is our history. Interestingly, G-d knew this would be valuable to sustain and connect this group of people we call Jews. We are given the mitzvh “And you shall tell your child on that day saying, This is what God did for me, when
I came out of Egypt .
” Our tradition helps define regular intervals and the context to tell the story. We created a Haggadah and seder so that every year at Passover we tell our story.

Our history, traditions and beliefs help sustain and empower us as a community. G-d did this — brought us out of Egypt to accept the Torah, to teach it to our children and to remain a special community in the light of G-d. Teach this to your children as a personal journey and your children will identify and be proud to be Jews.

This Passover is your opportunity to tell your children about the family struggles and family triumphs. You have an opportunity to do a mitzvah and include the story of Exodus this Passover holiday.

Happy Pesach and good feasting.


Written for Temple Shir Tikva and cross posted on With Intention