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Home » Chayei Sara, Marriage

Chayei Sarah: Finding Sacred Space

Submitted by on October 24, 2010 – 12:52 amNo Comment | 2,785 views

The Quest

Human beings are full of aspirations and regrets, ambitions and failures, cravings and discipline, obsessions and the ability to control them. We are fractured beings with fragments that pull us in every direction. This is because we are unable to focus; every time we set our sights on a particular goal along comes a distraction and dissolves our resolve.

It is from within this uncharted and fragmented paradox that we seek a connection with the sublime. G-d is everything that we are not; where we are fractured He is complete, where we are fickle He is steady, where we are finite He is infinite. Have you ever heard of a more absurd marriage?

Yet in marriage opposites attract. Our relationship has dynamism because we are such polar opposites. G-d has a great relationship with angels, but it is routine almost to the point of boredom. He likes us because with us, life is always an adventure. One day we soar to the highest peaks, our souls expiring for love of Him, the next day we descend into pits of depravity. One moment we are noble, the next crass. One moment we are generous, the next self absorbed. One never knows what to expect. And it is within this crazy paradox we call the human experience that G-d seeks an abode; a place He can call home.

When we succeed in carving out a peaceful island in our roiling sea for G-d He appreciates it most. (1) To Him, our efforts are holier than celestial yearnings and angelic hymns because they do what comes naturally to them; while we do what is most unnatural to us.

A Marriage

it is no wonder that the relationship between G-d and the Jew is metaphorically described as a marriage. (2) G-d is our groom and we are His bride. Women are different from men; as different as different can be. Yet despite the differences or perhaps because of them, the marriage thrives. G-d is different from us, yet because of those differences our marriage also thrives.

Still, even though opposites attract, our differences form a barrier between us that requires a bridge. And the bridge, as we will soon see, is the moment of meditation before prayer.

Daughters of Canaan

The first biblical courtship was between the patriarch Isaac and the Matriarch Rebbecca and from its description we can learn much about our relationship with G-d. When Abraham dispatched his servant Eliezer on a mission to find a bride for his son he issued precise instructions, “take not a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell.” (3)

Surely Eliezer knew that Abraham lived among Canaanites. Why did Abraham find it necessary to add the final words, “among whom I dwell?”

Perhaps Abraham wanted to teach us a lesson. Though I live among Canaanites and in many respects have grown comfortable with them, they can never be marriage material for my son. On the surface a Jew and a Canaanite are similar. But on the soul level they are not made for each other. The Jew is directed toward G-d and the Canaanite is an idol worshiper. The two can never meet.

This lesson speaks, of course, to intermarriage, but I want to take it deeper – to our marriage with G-d. Though opposites attract, daughters of Canaan cannot be married to G-d; to be G-d’s bride we must first become daughters of Abraham. We are composites of body and soul; within us there is a piece of G-d and a layer of human. Though our marriage to G-d encompasses both body and soul, the entry point for this marriage must be within the framework of the soul. Our material concerns are not a jumping off point for our marriage to G-d.

Thoughts during Prayer

To give this idea practical expression we turn to prayer. Every day we affirm our marriage vows to G-d through prayer. Throughout the day we engage in material, selfish and G-dless concerns, reinforcing the fragmentation of our corporeal selves. Then, in prayer, we break away from the confusion and focus on our unyielding connection to G-d.

When we approach G-d in prayer we must take a note from Abraham’s book and carefully select the thoughts that we permit into our minds. “Take not a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites,” even though, “I dwell among them.” The Canaanites, in this sense, represent the material self absorption of our corporeal selves. The thoughts that flow from that aspect of ourselves are the daughters of Canaanites and those daughters are not marriage material for G-d.

In our ‘non prayer’ state of mind our materialism dominates; when we pray we essentially make a pact with our inner beast and say give me a few moments. I want to direct my thoughts heavenward; do me a favor and stay silent. You can have the rest of the day; just give me this hour. But our material side is not easily swayed; it fights back with vigor unwilling to cede its time. As soon as we try to focus, it sends every distracting thought, from grave to foolish, parading across our minds.

To counter this we take a moment before prayer to transfer from the daughters of Canaan to those of Abraham. We wrest ourselves away from our worldly, material concerns and focus on G-d, our souls and the majesty of prayer. We choose a Torah teaching on which to meditate with an overall objective of divorcing ourselves from the routine and attaching ourselves to the sublime. (4)

This sacred moment acts as the bridge between G-d and our corporeal selves. From this sacred space we embark on the journey of prayer and affirmation. From this entry point we bring not only our soul, but also our corporeal selves; the urges, obsessions and vicissitudes. This moment sparks our attraction for G-d, the attraction between opposites, and makes our marriage work.

In the immortal words of our patriarch, “though I dwell among the Canaanites,” though I have adopted a material life style and have grown comfortable in it, I recognize that to affirm my marriage to G-d, I must return to my soul. I cannot “take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell.

Footnotes

  1. Sifri, Numbers 28: 8. See also Torah Or 21b.
  2. The entire book Song of Songs is devoted to this metaphor.
  3. Genesis 24: 3.
  4. The Talmud (Brachos 30b) teaches that one should always approach prayer in a somber frame of mind. One cannot jump into prayer directly from the office, gym or ball game; it requires a moment or two of preparation. We must quiet the mental chatter of our minds and attach our minds on high.

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