VaEtchanan begins with the plea of Moshe Rabbeinu to enter the Holy Land of Israel. Chazal tell us that the numerical value of VaEtchanan is 515 and suggest that this is the number of requests that Moshe made of Hashem to allow him to fulfill his life’s dream of entering the Promised Land. Additionally, the word Tefillah (prayer) has the identical numerical value of 515 which indicates that Moshe’s heartfelt supplication and passionate desire to enter the land was expressed incessantly in prayer. This Avodah sh’ Balev was a powerful tool invoked by Moshe to convey his longing and yearning to be in the Holy Land and close to G-d .
Interestingly, the letters of Chatan a derivative of chatuna (groom/wedding), are also found in this word Va’etchanan, and may well be a hint for the renewed verve and passion required of our generation to find their mate. Marriage has drastically declined over the past several decades while the global divorce has reached 50%, with Israel at 38%! These phenomena must be addressed immediately to ensure the integrity and strength of our People.
While it has become increasingly fashionable and acceptable to pressure one’s children from toddlerhood to excel in school in order to be accepted into Ivy League schools in order to land a lucrative and prestigious job, it is politically incorrect and frowned upon to “encourage” our children to focus on finding a mate. The message imparted throughout a child’s schooling years is that the key to success is achieved by endless hours of studying and top grades. While education is extremely important, our kids sense our enthusiasm for their achieving a golden career path, which conveys the message that it supersedes marriage which can wait indefinitely.
The end of high school and the year of Torah learning before college are sadly much too late to inculcate in our children the most basic Jewish value of marriage, children and family. As we begin to teach the story of Creation, we must impress upon our children the Divine Plan in which all was created in the Universe in pairs: heaven and earth, light and darkness, day and night, man and woman, husband and wife. Adam and Eve as well as the numerous and impressive couples in the Tanach serve as excellent role models and encouragement to learn about relationships and about the importance of marriage, the only means for providing continuity and stability in the world.
The passion to marry and consequently the passion to parent are sorely lacking in a narcissistic world that does not seem to have been enriched or improved by the vast majority of women entering the full time work place.
To avert these selfish tendencies, we are urged in the central and most fundamental prayer of Sh’ma: v’shinantem l’vanecha. We are commanded to teach our children the Torah and instill deep inside of them the everlasting precepts of the Torah. This is the primary goal given to men at Har Sinai alongside their role as the “breadwinners” which was but a punishment for disobeying G-d’s command forbidding Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Over time, the secondary goal of providing sustenance for one’s family became intertwined with one’s ego and one’s job has become an end unto itself rather than a means to a greater aim, that of serving G-d with “all of our heart, soul and being.”
Instead of women assisting men to return to their original G-d given mission of training their children to follow G-d’s path, women have indeed mimicked men’s frailty of needing great ego stroking, by competing in the world of business, medicine, law and essentially all professions. Stay at home Moms who are home raising their children often feel inadequate. Society has made them feel that Motherhood alone no longer has legitimate and inherent worth.
Women whom I taught at a mainstream seminary studying to be Kallah teachers responded to a discussion on roles in the home: “I’d go crazy if I had to stay home with my kids!” Children have become a burdensome chore while the allure of a glamorous career and rewarding pay check gain more appeal.
A Rebbetzin was approached by a young woman with a dilemma who emphasized her love for her job, and yet needed the money, but her year old baby cried each day that he was left at the daycare center. There are many families today that require two incomes and this being the case, the young woman must continue working but seek alternate daycare arrangements. Yet in trying to advise this young woman, the Rebbetzin noted that her older kids and younger kids were both quite well adjusted despite the fact that she was away a lot teaching when the younger ones were small. This would seem to imply that Motherhood has become obsolete; children who are raised by their mother and those raised at daycare or by nannies, are all the same. I can’t help but wonder who the Baal Shem Tov and others of his caliber would have been if their mothers were out all day and they were left with a stranger to impart the heart and soul of generations with their yiddische neshama.
Va’etchanan repeats the warning against forgetting Hashem and the precepts of the Torah which will result G-d forbid in idol worship.
Chapter 4 verse 23 states:
הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם, פֶּן-תִּשְׁכְּחוּ אֶת-בְּרִית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר כָּרַת, עִמָּכֶם; וַעֲשִׂיתֶם לָכֶם פֶּסֶל תְּמוּנַת כֹּל, אֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ
The Torah exhorts us lest we forget our holy mission and follow in the ways and mores of the host society we may find ourselves in.
Marriage and parenthood must be made a priority! It is truly the singular vehicle for tikun, self-improvement and world perfection.
We must passionately and persistently yearn and beseech G-d to help us find our zivug. Parents and teachers must stress this from the beginning of children’s education.
Toward this end, Tisha B’av is followed by Shabbat Nachamu, a Shabbat of consolation and but a few days later, the Jewish celebration of love, Tu B’Av. The young women all dressed in white and danced before the men to entice them to propose and marry, thus providing the framework for connection and closeness to a spouse, a family, a nation and ultimately to G-d.
The 3 week period of mourning and sense of distance and longing for closeness with the Almighty ought to be a time of soul searching and a time to remember that although most say “you can’t turn back the clock, we as Jews must declare persistently and unequivocally:
השיבנו ה אליך ונשובה; חדש ימינו כקדם””
May we be zoche on this Shabbat Nachamu to greet Moshiach with a renewed passion for the true meaning of life, love and healthy lasting marriages!
Sherrie B. Miller, MA. is co-founder of Bechirat Halev, an organization that promotes marriage education in Israel. Sherrie is a certified Kallah teacher and marriage counselor with a private practice in Jerusalem.
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