All You Need is Love

It’s February, the month of love. Valentine’s Day has passed, proposals have been made and accepted, and for those who are planning spring and summer weddings, it is rush season.

I’ve met with three couples in the past three weeks to plan their nuptials.

I love the work; I am hopelessly romantic. I always believe that the couples I am working with will live happily ever after. I imagine them in their old age remembering their ceremony and the little rabbi who stood before them with kind and affectionate commentary. “Remember when she told us to kiss a little longer? Wasn’t that cute?”

So far, only one couple I was involved with hasn’t stayed together. I comfort myself with the fact that I was more or less a sidekick in that ceremony, present to give a blessing to two former students. Both were practicing Christians, though I do not thing this had much to do with the fact that they moved to Splitsville within a year or so of settling at Wedding Bliss.

Certainly, I have learned a lot doing these ceremonies.

I have learned, for example, that it is Most Silly to send a small boy down an aisle with an empty pillow and call said boy a “ring bearer.” I understand the problem: Neither the groom nor the bride can be expected to trust a five year old with diamonds and white gold.

Suggestion?  Forget the fluffy pillow. Instead, have that endearing little boy walk down the aisle with his grandmother. He will be much cuter than the pimply teenager you thought of asking, and grandma will make certain he makes it down the aisle by applying a firm grip to his little hand.

Typically, there is also some lovely little girl who is given a basket of rose petals to toss about. I will never forget the three-year-old who stopped ten feet from the aisle, offloaded all the petals in a heap at her feet and then squatted down to pick some up. It was great fun to watch grown-up women waving from the first row and calling out in high-pitched tones: “Brittany, go to Mommy now!”

Not all children are willing to accommodate the adult need to find them adorable.

By the by: You want adorable? Then please find that little girl a dress that will not slip off her little shoulders. You have no idea how often I see a four-year-old girl with a wardrobe malfunction á la Janet Jackson.

Make sure you have enough music. At one wedding I officiated, the D.J. didn’t realize that the Beatle’s “All You Need is Love” simply would not cover the exit for the happy couple as well as twenty (yes, you read this right) bridesmaids and groomsmen. Three attendants on each side were left standing in a deafening silence after the last “love is all you need” faded out. Awkward.

I have oodles more to say about women of all ages yanking at strapless dresses and bridesmaids hanging on the elbows of men they don’t know and may not like all that much. I have seen the Realization of Imminent Disaster as bridesmaids made ready, in outdoor settings, to navigate grassy aisles in spiky high heels. People invent funny ways of walking at weddings.

But I shall cease declaiming. It’s February, and just after Valentine’s Day. Instead, I will indulge my super-soft romantic spot and remind all couples in the world, whatever your age, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, of the Important Stuff.

Honor the hours before the wedding, don’t just rush through them. Take stock of the fact that your life is about to change enormously, no matter how long you have known your beloved. Consider the time under that chuppah sacred. Consider your marriage holy. It is.

May it be sweet and richly blessed with all you need… love.

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Valentine’s Day — Jewish Style

It’s almost Valentine’s Day. Now: Imagine having a Valentine’s Day each and every week. That, folks, is totally Jewish.

I explained this fact to a young couple who recently began conversion classes with me. We were chatting after services were over. We’d all chanted the Kiddush and the motzi and had started noshing on little miniature cheesecakes and other delectables.

I asked them if they knew about the “special rules” about Shabbat practice.
They did not. So, in very gentle language I spoke about the way Judaism encourages intimacy. “Intimacy,” I said, “creates bonds. Torah tells us that a husband has to make sure his wife is, um, regularly made happy so the bond is strengthened and renewed. The husband’s obligation is good for their entire life, even when there is neither the possibility nor the wish to have children. It’s a double mitzvah on Shabbat!” I smiled.

They got the idea. They smiled. Our temple’s Director of Religious Services, who had joined the conversation, also smiled.

Said director decided to help out by summarizing Talmudic discussions about exactly how happy a man had to make his wife each week. I noticed that she did this with a certain verve.

Just in case you need a refresher, here’s the text: “The times for conjugal duty prescribed in the Torah are: for men of independence, every day; for laborers, twice a week; for ass-drivers, once a week; for camel-drivers, once in thirty days; for sailors, once in six months. These are the rulings of R. Eliezer” (M. Ketubot 5:1).

The rabbis also insisted that loving couples should be nude during intimacy. Otherwise, the husband must divorce his wife so she can find a righteous dude who knows how to behave in bed: “R. Joseph learnt: Her flesh implies close bodily contact, viz, that he must not treat her in the manner of the Persians who perform their conjugal duties in their clothes. This provides support for [a ruling of] R. Huna who laid down that a husband who said, ‘I will not [perform conjugal duties] unless she wears her clothes and I mine’, must divorce her and give her also her ketubah” (Ketubot 48a).

Some rabbinic direction even includes how to progress through foreplay. I am not kidding. In the spirit of Rabbi Hillel, I say unto you: Go, and google.

Why did the rabbis decide it was especially meritorious to be intimate on Shabbat? They were especially concerned about balancing the need for study with the need for a family life. Some came to the conclusion that once a week was essential for scholars, and that since all work stopped on Shabbat, Shabbat was the perfect time for play.

Rashi calls the “Sabbath a night of enjoyment, relaxation and physical pleasure” (Rashi commentary on Ketubot 62b). Elsewhere Rashi advocates that not only scholars, but laypeople also should engage in this practice Friday nights (Rashi to Niddah 17a).

The rabbis claim’ that if a woman is the first to achieve “satisfaction” and becomes pregnant, she will surely give birth to a boy who would be a Torah scholar. Harumph, I say. The child could be a girl who might grow up to be a rabbi…

When we had concluded our explication of the double mitzvah deal on Shabbat, I turned around to get some more cheesecake.

I cast my eye upon the remains of the challah.

When we had unveiled the challah, I certainly had noticed it was in the shape of a heart and had raised it high for everyone to see. I exclaimed about its general liveliness. Crowded by the many children, I hadn’t much paid attention to the details.

Go back and look at the picture above. That was our challah.

I don’t know about you, but that has to be the most curious arrow I have ever seen.

I pointed this out to my Director of Religious Services.

“What does that look like to you?” I asked.

“It’s an arrow,” she said. “No, wait, no, um, oh my,” she said. “Oh my.”

I pointed it out to the treasurer, who began giggling uncontrollably. When she could control herself, she asked: “Should I tear it off?”

I won’t repeat what I said in that moment. You might find it rather unrabbi-like.

On the way home, in the cold and the dark, I looked at the stars twinkling overhead. I was happy that we had had a challah like that at our oneg. I hoped that whoever had made it, male or female, had gone home that very Friday night to a beloved, male or female, and engaged in an intimate pursuit of happiness.

Love, and its beautiful expression, should be a double mitzvah at any time.

Happy Valentine’s Day.  Happy Shabbat.

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