It’s that time of year—the Nine Days—where we talk about ahavat chinam, loving others without judgment. If we really want to understand ahavat chinam, we need to know that we can practice ahavat chinam not only with our friends and acquaintances, but with our very own family and even our spouses.
I had an experience many years ago that drove this lesson home. My husband and I were asked to volunteer to learn Torah with a secular couple. We were excited about the opportunity and when the day came, we were ready. We thought we had so much to offer. We, after all, were the frum couple and products of Jewish day schools. We planned to impart our Jewish knowledge to a couple less fortunate than us.
Our learning partners were a hip and stylish couple, Sara and Josh, who were both doctors and had three kids. We began by getting to know each other and then we cracked open the source sheets that our rabbi had put together for us. We didn’t manage to get far because we started to talk about religious observance and they told us a bit about their journey.
- How they decided together that they would no longer drink milk at their dinner table when eating meat.
- How they have decided to stay home on Saturday mornings and have a family morning.
- How they decided not to send their son to a traveling soccer camp, because it meant giving up their Saturday morning at home.
- How Sara bakes challah every Friday morning before running out to work.
They were a living example of loving each other and putting each other first without judgment.
- How Josh did not feel comfortable at their last temple and even though Sara did, they searched together for new options.
- How Josh really is ready to take the leap in becoming more kosher in their home, but Sara is feeling overwhelmed, so they are putting that on the backburner for now.
They spoke as a united front and the respect they had for each other was palpable. Every decision they made was done with care and consideration for the feelings of the other person. Their journey towards Judaism was very much a joint effort, however, their marriage came first.
I was floored. I listened and I learned. When was the last time I had sacrificed for my religious observance? When had I taken on a new mitzvah? How good was I in taking into consideration my husband’s feeling when we made important decisions? Had I loved him without judging? My preconceived notions about ostensible “non-religious” Jews were turned on my head.
I learned two very simple and important lesson about ahavat chinam from this wonderful couple. I had come to our learning session with judgments about them and their religious observance and yet they taught me to overcome mine. I also learned to put my marriage first and truly listen to what my spouse needed before making decisions.
Now when I am asked to learn Torah with anyone, I know that I have been asked to teach—but the real reason I am there is to learn.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.