SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 – Do you remember when you were dating? I remember meeting my wife-to-be, at a “secret” location, the Mercedes dealership near the highway in Morristown, NJ, lest her community of friends, see that she was dating. This is the chassidic way … these things were kept under wraps until you were sure you wanted to marry.
I was ever the gentleman. I opened the door for my bride-to-be. I covered the tab at the restaurant. I sent flowers on random occasions, and I never forgot her birthday or any other sinful thing like that. I basically cherished her for all she was to me at that time, and for all I hoped she’d ever be.
It is such a heady time of life. Every glance, comment, or random act of expression of romance, was so totally loaded with hopes for a lifetime of happiness and joy.
Following the dating period is the marriage and the wedding celebration with the privacy and intimacy that follows, the honeymoon, and then there is the regular life. That is usually when the real work begins. When it isn’t just the easy fun and games, but when the deepest love is forced out into the open, you need to be as selfless as possible.
These days, in the Facebook world particularly, people not only celebrate their anniversaries, but also the anniversary of their first date. On the surface, it seems silly and just another excuse to go out to dinner and help support the Hallmark card industry.
However, with a bit of perspective, one could make a case that this concept is deeply rooted in Judaism.
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According to Kabbalah, this dating and marriage process is a parable for the season we have just entered.
The holy preparatory month of Elul is the courting period, where we date G-d. He decides if he wants us and we decide if we want him.
On Rosh Hashanah is the proposal. G-d doesn’t say yes until Rosh Hashanah morning. (It is a frightful night. The mystics couldn’t sleep as they knew what hung in the balance.) Rosh Hashanah day, G-d agrees to get married. A date is set for a week later – Yom Kippur.
On Yom Kippur, we marry; the bride and groom, (Jew and G-d) can finally spend time in seclusion (both in the yichud room and following the ceremony and party). We join in an intimate spiritual embrace when we abstain from food or other human necessities. We are, for but 24 hours, G-d-like, and completely one with G-d.
On Sukkot, we celebrate. It’s a party that lasts for 7 days, like the Sheva Brachos, with a final hurrah, represented by Simchas Torah.
Then real life begins.
Now, reflecting on the above drama that makes up our marriage, which part of the process is most important? The answer, of course, is every step is critical. However, the one that starts the process and sets the stage for this journey of a lifetime is when you start to date. If you don’t get that right, everything else either doesn’t happen, or is much more difficult to perfect. It’s like getting on a roller coaster after it has already left the station.
This is the gift of Elul. Hashem says, I am out in the field. I am available to you without all the rigid protocol normally associated with meeting me. Hit me up!
Hashem is offering us an annual chance to renew our vows, but not just of the marriage but of the very first date and the dating process. Let’s grab that opportunity, let’s seize the moment, and get it right, if we got it wrong before, or do it even better if we did do it right the first time. Your marriage will benefit, and your relationship will thrive because of it.
Similarly, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah will come and go. However, Elul will strongly impact how the rest of the ride goes.
Hop on board, keep your hand and legs inside the vehicle at all times. Hold onto your personal belongings, and enjoy your ride, here at G-d’s Kingdom.
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman is the spiritual leader of Chabad of Peabody, a branch of Chabad of the North Shore.