I have a good friend who recently confided in me that his wife, once again, proved that her "women's intuition" was spot on. Unfortunately, he grew up in a very emotionally-dysfunctional household. No need to go into all the details, but despite the fact that there was certainly no abuse, there was still … well … abuse of some sort. It was mainly emotional, and it's something my friend and his siblings were able to track to the generation above their parents. It's not that they hate or even blame their parents, but they now understand that they did not grow up in a normal way, and they have to work a bit harder to make sure it doesn't get passed on to the next generation.
However, when his wife predicted several years ago that his parents will eventually go their own separate ways, he living in one place and she living in another, without getting divorced, he thought that she was a bit crazy. When he spoke with his father last week and heard the news, he realized that his wife really has a "second sense."
"How did she come to dwell alone, the city of a great populace become a widow?" (Eicha 1:1).
When he was describing his parents' relationship with each other, he said that they were like two rivers, both travelling in the same direction, side-by-side, never touching each other. So, when all the children leave the house, what's there to really hold them together? So, it's only natural that without any hatred, one would go and do one thing and the other would go the other, even without a divorce. Yes, they plan to eventually come back together, but in the meantime…
"When the Jewish people would ascend to Yerushaliyim for the three yearly festivals, the Kohanim would pull back the curtain of the Kodesh HaKodashim and show them the cherubim entwined with one another, and say to them (the Jewish people), 'See how much Hashem loves you!'"
The relationship described throughout the Torah between Hashem and the Jewish people is often compared to a husband and wife. It's more than a friendship, that comes and goes, it's more than a business partnership, which is built on two people profiting from each other's talents. It's based on a relationship which is forged through the "ups and downs" of life. Marriage is about two individuals, using their inner strengths, their pros and cons, to navigate through life as one entity. So too, our relationship with Hashem. Whether things are going well or things are not so well, we cling to Hashem. While we do whatever we must to see through such times, we depend on Him to "do His part" as well. Our relationship is supposed to be a real, meaningful relationship.
Yet, certainly in our generation, we don't feel that relationship. In fact, most times, we don't feel as if we're in a relationship at all!
"My people committed two evils. They abandoned Me, the source of living waters, to dig out for themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Yirmeyahu 2:13).
One thing my friend started noticing now about his childhood, was how much his father wasn't around. While his mother always did her own thing and was not interested in spending time with her husband, his father too, started volunteering at this place or that. He joined social clubs and kept busy there. He wasn't doing anything wrong, per se, it's not like there was another woman involved. It's just he needed some time with people who cared, and he found those people outside the house. Was he (or she, for that matter) doing anything forbidden? No, but they certainly were not building a relationship together. Instead, they were chasing "empty cisterns." Those friendships that he made lasted as long as the social club or the volunteering did. But once the social framework was lost, so were the relationships lost. So, in the end, both of them had nothing. No relationships from outside of their marriage and no relationships from within the marriage.
And what of ourselves?
When we wake up in the morning, what's the first thing we do? Do we say "thank you" to Hashem for another day? Or do we check our email? When we eat, do we say "thank you" or do we mumble something resembling a bracha? Do we speak to Hashem in davening, or do we focus on the upcoming day? When things get tough, do we turn to Hashem, or do we lose ourselves in a good movie or book? Are we moving through life with a partner, or are we making other "partners" via social media, work, books, movies, etc.?
I remember around 25 years ago, there was a small documentary made called "Trekkers," about Star Trek fans who literally lived out their lives as if they were in Star Trek. One of them was actually a juror in one of the Clinton trials. She even showed up to court in a full Starfleet uniform, making nationwide news. Why do these people live their lives in such a way? Clearly as an escape from reality.
In what ways do we try to escape reality, and in the end, does that escape really help?
Tisha B'Av is not only a time to cry over the loss of the Beis HaMikdash or Eretz Yisroel or the 2000 year exile that we have been suffering from. It is also a time to cry over the fact that we can't cry over any of that. Our relationship with Hashem is so far removed that we don't even know what is reality and what is fantasy, what is real and what is fake. We are already used to the idea that the "husband" does his thing and the "wife" does her thing, and as long as there are no actual extra-marital "affairs" involved, all is good. We go through life thinking, "If I don't do any sins, then I'm making Hashem happy." Is a woman, whose husband does want to see her, yet doesn't see any other women, happy? Of course not! So why should our relationship with Hashem be any different?
So, how do we build that relationship? Each person has their own ways, each according to their individual strengths and weaknesses. One possible idea is try to at least focus on the brachos that we make on food. Even just the bracha we make beforehand. We eat throughout the day, so if we don't have any concentration once or twice, there are plenty of other possibilities. And if one is successful to have concentration on most of his brachos on that day, he can look back and say, "I spoke directly with Hashem throughout the day". It's a small thing, but an important one. A husband and wife who cannot even speak to each other throughout the day, will not be able to build any relationship. Are we any different?
With this, I wish us all a wonderful Shabbos and a meaningful Tisha B'Av.