Thursday, June 14, 2012

Knock knock. Who's there? Hashem!

I was at a "vort" (engagement party) this week, and one of the speakers suggested that the way to ensure a healthy and happy marriage is to "let Hashem into your home". At this point my wife and I looked over at each other and smiled. Neither of us is much into God-talk. And while Hashem may be "in our house" by virtue of the fact that we have a Torah home, and we're both kindhearted, ethical people, God rarely if ever enters into the conversation (except sometimes to point out the God-motivated craziness that goes on in the frum world), and neither of us does what we do out of a sense of reward and punishment or Divine scrutiny. We both simply see the value in being observant. So thank God we're basically on the same page! Because I know of situations where that's not the case, and it can be a terrible strain on the marriage. Baruch Hashem, we have a happy and healthy marriage - and without "letting Hashem in" per se.

That said, I understand what the guy was saying in his speech. If you let Hashem into your home, meaning you are living with an awareness of God's will, expectations, presence, and ever-watchful eye, this has some "potential" benefits:
  1. It focuses the couple/family on a common goal/ideal.
  2. It helps keep people from acting inappropriately or disrespectfully toward one another.
  3. (Related to #1 and #2) It helps one transcend everyday interpersonal frustrations.
Now I'm not naive. Certainly being "Hashem-minded" is no guarantee whatsoever of a happy home, or for that matter of any of the three benefits above. (In fact there are many ways that a religious mindset can be downright damaging psychologically and interpersonally in the home, but I don't want to get into that here.) But I do think it's fair to say that to the extent "Hashem" helps give people a common goal and gives the impetus to be "ba'alei middot" (people of more refined character), that's a good thing.

It happens to be that my wife and I find Hashem to be superfluous in this regard. The most critical part of being observant, as far as we're concerned, is treating one another respectfully, kindly, conducting oneself honestly, with integrity, and doing what we can to improve people's lives. You want to use Hashem talk? Ok, use Hashem talk. But the important thing is to walk the walk. I always maintain that I'd much rather have a neighbor who believes in fairy tales and is a gem of a person than a neighbor who's a rationalist purist but acts like a jerk. Hands down.

And come to think of it, that's probably part of the reason I like living in a frum community, even if the Hashem talk drives me bonkers sometimes. We live among so many fantastic families - true gems! That's the "ikar", the main factor in quality of life. Not believing in fairy tales - sure, that's also important, but in a sense I see that as arguably more of a "mehadrin" position.


  1. Nice post AJ!

    > that's probably part of the reason I like living in a frum community . . . We live among so many fantastic families

    We live in an area that should work on paper in terms of my worldview - very secular/multicultural etc., but in practice we have not found a way to really "click" with the neighbors - i.e. there's not really a community feel. It's not that the relations with our neighbors are bad, it's just that they are kinda neutral. There's no - as you called it "common goal" or culture.

  2. Thanks CL. I should add that living in a frum community is certainly no guarantee of having friendly or welcoming neighbors. Often times you'll run into "in groups" which are very hard to penetrate. It just so happens we live among dozens of very fine families, and we're constantly at each other's simchas, having one another over for Shabbat, etc. So even though I DON'T share some of the goals of the frum community (e.g. getting close to Hashem, waiting for Mashiach and the renewal of sacrifices, etc.), I very much share the idea that we're supposed to be looking out for one another, celebrating and mourning with one another. I also share the appreciation and value of being observant - it's a rhythm of life that is nice to be supported in, rather than having to constantly fight to sustain, which was more of our experience when we lived in the States. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I could use a little more of the cosmopolitan end of things!

    Thanks for the comments!